Affirming and rejecting assertions in German Sign Language (DGS)

  • Cornelia Loos
  • Markus Steinbach
  • Sophie Repp


Response elements (REs) like English yes and no fulfil two functions. They may affirm or reject a previous utterance, or they may indicate that the response to the previous utterance has positive or negative polarity. In responses to negative sentences, these two functions come apart. Spoken languages investigated so far seem to display different preferences for the interpretation of REs to signal either the positive/negative polarity of the response clause or the affirmation/rejection of the truth of the previous utterance. The present paper investigates the meaning and use of REs in German Sign Language (DGS). We present the results of a discourse completion experiment in DGS, which is the first quantitative study of the response system of a sign language, and provide a preliminary theoretical analysis of this system. Sign languages are of particular interest in this context since they systematically use multiple articulatory channels, which can, in principle, encode truth and polarity at the same time. The results show that DGS employs manual and non-manual REs which encode both truth and polarity, i.e. are ambiguous, as well as REs that encode only truth. The ambiguous REs are used more often to encode truth than polarity, and are rarely disambiguated by simultaneous non-manual REs. Hence, DGS does not use the potential made available by the visual-gestural modality in the domain of response strategies.
How to Cite
Loos, C., Steinbach, M., & Repp, S. (2020). Affirming and rejecting assertions in German Sign Language (DGS). Proceedings of Sinn Und Bedeutung, 24(2), 1-19.