Sign language enables and facilitates communication for people who, for various reasons, are unable to receive sounds from the world around them. It belongs to the group of visual-spatial languages, which are acquired by natural activation by deaf children from deaf parents. Over the years, it has undergone many changes that have led to the formation of an officially functioning Polish Sign Language (PJM).
The first mention of the PJM dates back to the 19th century, when priest Jakub Falkowski founded the Institute of the Deaf and the Blind in Warsaw – it made it possible to educate deaf people in their natural language. It is worth noting that PJM uses a one-handed manual alphabet derived from Old French Sign Language, while it may also have features in common with Russian and German sign language, which is largely due to historical conditions. What is interesting from the mid-19th century to the 1980s. in the 20th century, the deaf were forbidden to use signs – the deaf had to learn to read lips. They even practiced radical measures, such as tying hands. The official initiator of the name “Polish Sign Language” was Michael Ferris, who used it in his 1994 work “Sign language research and Polish Sign Langauage” (“Lingua Posnaniensis” 1994, no. 36) .
PJM, like other sign languages, creates a system with its own grammatical structure, different from Polish. With the help of sign language, it is possible to express complex concepts in any subject known to hearing persons. In Polish Sign Language there are no equivalents of phonemes, i. e. the basic units of the phonological structure of speech, but there are their visualrealizations. Also special is the rich morphology – both flexion and derivation. PJM has analytical and synthetic mechanisms. The inflection categories are different from those found in Poland, for example, there is no coincidence. In terms of syntax, longer sentences are dominated by SVO (the subject in the sentence precedes the sentence and the object is at the end), while shorter sentences are dominated by SOV (the subject in the sentence precedes the object, and the predicate is at the end). An important role is also played by non-manual elements – the position of the torso and head (deviations, turns) and facial expressions.
Piotr Tomaszewski, professor at the Department of Research on Polish Sign Language and Communication of the Deaf, confirms that there is a negative prefix NEG- which can be attached to base polygraphs. He suggests that the typological model of irregular negatives in sign languages should be changed, as it states that “all known cases in sign languages contain a negative morph (the smallest identifiable element of significance) after vaccination”.
As with other documented sign languages, PJM also uses negator suffixes. The existence of restrictions on the placement of the NEG- prefix seems sufficient to explain this phenomenon. There are phonological limitations on the stems with which the negative morph NEG- can combine. This may be language-specific, for example, motion may not be compounded within a character, and there may be only one change of orientation per character. In addition, phonological limitations of morphological processes have been described for other sign languages. In German sign language, plural reduction of nouns is not possible if the noun has a complex motion or is permanently anchored .
In Poland, sign language is used by 40 to 50 thousand people – it is their primary, native language. Therefore, it is worth getting acquainted with PJM, for example through free videos on YouTube or numerous courses available both online and stationary. Its knowledge, even to a small extent, will facilitate and improve communication with deaf people and make them visible in society.
- “Constraints on Negative Prefixation in Polish Sign Language” Piotr Tomaszewski, November 2015; URL: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0143574#sec011
- PWN Encyclopaedia URL: https://encyklopedia.pwn.pl/haslo/migowy-jezyk;3941120.html
- Michael Farris, Sign language research and Polish Sign Language, „Lingua Posnaniensis”