Italian Sign Language

Italian Sign Language
Lingua dei Segni Italiana
RegionItaly, San Marino, Switzerland[1]
Native speakers
40,000 (2013)[2]
French sign
  • Italian Sign Language
Language codes
ISO 639-3ise – inclusive code
Individual code:
slf – Swiss-Italian SL

Italian Sign Language or LIS (Lingua dei Segni Italiana) is the visual language used by deaf people in Italy. Deep analysis of it began in the 1980s, along the lines of William Stokoe's research on American Sign Language in the 1960s. Until the beginning of the 21st century, most studies of Italian Sign Language dealt with its phonology and vocabulary. According to the European Union for the Deaf, the majority of the 60,000–90,000 Deaf people in Italy use LIS.


Like many sign languages, LIS is in some ways different from its "spoken neighbour"; thus, it has little in common with spoken Italian, but shares some features with non-Indo-European oral languages (e.g. it is verb final, like the Basque language; it has inclusive and exclusive pronominal forms like oceanic languages; interrogative particles are verb final (You go where?).

A sign variety of spoken Italian also exists, the so-called Signed Italian which combines LIS lexicon with the grammar of spoken Italian: this is not Italian Sign Language, however.

Some features of LIS are typical of sign languages in general, e.g. agreement between nouns, adjectives and verbs is not based on gender (masculine, feminine, neuter) but it is based on place, that is the spatial position in which the sign is performed: nouns can be placed everywhere in the space but their position must be consistent with that of pronouns and verbs. The LIS translation of the sentence "The child speaks to the mother" appears as Child-here mother-there this-speak-that, rather than involving forms like "he, she". The voice intonation is replaced by facial expressions which mark interrogative sentences, imperatives and relative clauses. Other features of Italian Sign Language which can be found also in oral languages are: classifiers; dual, trial, quattrial and even quinquial forms in addition to the general plural; verbs inflected for person.[citation needed]

The most detailed analysis of a part of the grammar of LIS is by Chiara Branchini, On Relativization and Clefting: An Analysis of Italian Sign Language.[4] Tesi di Laurea has described sociolinguistic features of LIS, including differences in use by gender.[5] There are also some deafblind in Italy who use a form of tactile sign language.[6]

French Sign Language family tree
Old French Sign Language
(influenced by l'Epée c. 1760–89)
Belgian Sign Language
(c. 1790–2000)
Austro-Hungarian Sign Language
(c. 1780–1920)
American Sign Language
(c. 1820–present)
French Sign Language
(c. 1790–present)
French Belgian Sign Language
(c. 1970–present)
Flemish Sign Language
(c. 1970–present)
Dutch Sign Language
(c. 1790–present)
Italian Sign Language
(c. 1830–present)


  1. ^ Pizzuto, Elena; Corazza, Serena (1996). "Noun morphology in Italian Sign Language (LIS)". Lingua. 98 (1–3): 169–196. doi:10.1016/0024-3841(95)00037-2.
  2. ^ EUD: Italy Archived 2011-07-20 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Italian Sign". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. ^ Branchini, Chiara. 2014. On Relativization and Clefting: An Analysis of Italian Sign Language Berlin: De Gruyter.
  5. ^ Tesi di Laurea. 2015. Slang terms in Italian Sign Language (LIS): a sociolinguistic perspective. Universita Ca’Foscari Venezia: Masters thesis.
  6. ^ Checchetto, Alessandra, Carlo Geraci, Carlo Cecchetto, and Sandro Zucchi. "The language instinct in extreme circumstances: The transition to tactile Italian Sign Language (LISt) by Deafblind signers." (2018): 1-28.

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