The Competence Centre for Sign Language and Gesture (SignGes) at the RWTH Aachen University is an interdisciplinary research facility of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities with the aim of investigating the relation between language in the auditory-vocal vs visual-gestural modality, gesture and communication. Major applied research topics are barrier-free communication and education, barrier-free media and didactics, media competency and deaf culture as well as more basic sign language linguistics and gesture research. Because of its interdisciplinary research topics, SignGes connects disciplines from the Faculty of Arts and Humanities with the faculties of Mathematics, Computer Science and Natural Sciences, Business and Economics and Medicine, in particular. The Competence Centre is associated with one of the central project areas of the DFG-funded Excellency Initiative, the Project House HumTec (Humanities and Technology) including the research group „NeuroPeirce” headed by Prof. Dr. Irene Mittelberg, an internationally renowned gesture researcher.
The central research topic of SignGes is the interdisciplinary analysis of gestures and sign language(s) and their impact on cultural communication with a focus on new knowledge and communication media. Gesture and sign language are therefore studied with respect to their (linguistic) structures, their cultural impact, and the changing outlook of media culture and the growing influence of new media. The SignGes Competence Centre links interdisciplinary basic research with a strong interest to translate research findings to cultural applications and reality tests in society. Research activities are linked to national and international cooperating research partners inside and outside universities, who have research projects in cultural and societal fields of application.
The SignGes team comprises about 20 deaf and hearing employees representing a broad range of competencies from psychology, linguistics, cognitive science, computer science, and social science. The team uses qualitative and quantitative research methods for more basic research and translational applications to also provide barrier-free participation of deaf and hearing impaired people in professional, political, business and cultural activities.
The team, affiliated in the SignGes competence centre, has carried out research projects with intramural and external funding by national research funding institutions with a total of more than 9 million Euros since the early nineties. Thus the team has considerable knowledge and a well consolidated research infra-structure, equipped with a motion-capture lab for high time-resolution gesture and signing recording and analyses, a professional video-studio for subtitled sign-language video productions, translation, content systems and homepage management. SignGes runs several highly frequented homepages (www.vibelle.de and www.gateway-online.de) for the deaf community, providing up-to-date information in German Sign Language for deaf signers and hearing impaired persons, regarding higher education, career and deaf culture. Thus the SignGes competence centre is instrumental in transforming communication between deaf and hearing, in providing improvements in barrier free education and work life and changes in policies and programs to support deaf people in our society.