multilingual GRAZ / STYRIA

The communicative practices of deaf migrants in Austria

The results of Julia’s MA thesis (Gspandl, forthcoming) indicate that the lexicalization of some sign language elements may not be a dichotomy but a continuum, with less conventionalized constructions also part of natural language practice. This discovery is mirrored in other studies on both sign and spoken languages which question the boundaries of what we consider to be "linguistic" elements (cf. Branson and Miller, 2007). Working in a framework of semiotic repertoires (Kusters, Spotti and Tapio, 2017), Julia's PhD project makes use of this reconceptualization to explore the communicative capabilities and practices of Deaf migrants in Austria.


Deaf migrants constitute a unique, yet heterogeneous group and face a range of linguistic and social challenges upon their arrival in the destination country (Sivunen, 2019). At the same time, they are frequently multicultural and attuned to using different modalities in everyday communication. Furthermore, within the last two decades, several research studies (e.g. Zeshan, 2015; Sivunen & Tapio, 2020) have discovered the unique aptitude of deaf people to cross-sign, i.e. sign across language boundaries, with greater communicative ease and success than found in hearing individuals native in different spoken languages. Yet, deaf migrants and in particular asylum seekers are marginalized in research on language and migration. Julia's PhD study is intended to help bridge this gap by establishing preliminary ethnographic information and investigating the semiotic repertoires of deaf individuals who recently migrated to Austria using semi-structured interviews conducted by a Deaf native signer of Austrian Sign Language (ÖGS). The project team is grateful for the financial support received from the Stadt Graz (Integrationsreferat).