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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Progress in Sign Language Research: In Honor of Siegmund Prillwitz

Rolf Schulmeister and Heimo Reinitzer, Editors

From the Preface: He Had A Dream...

In Honor of Siegmund Prillwitz

The academic career of Siegmund Prillwitz began in 1971 immediately after he had finished his Ph.D. in German Language and Literature. It started tentatively first, when he, together with Rolf Schulmeister and Hubert Wudtke, began to investigate why the teaching of oral language and the training of the Deaf in schools showed so little success. He had no clear vision at that time that pointed to a solution of the problem. But his vision developed when we discovered the use of sign language in the communication of the Deaf.

Siegmund Prillwitz may look back with pride and satisfaction on a long academic life. His research successes form a lasting oeuvre, and his managerial achievements as founder of the Institute of German Sign Language will be remembered for a long time.

One of Siegmund Prillwitz’s remarkable characteristics is that he was never satisfied with research on a small scale but instead always initiated large-scale projects. After several research projects which steadily grew in size he developed a human and social vision. One part of his vision was an educational setting that granted deaf children access to knowledge and access to a wide range of professions through the use of sign language. The other part of his vision was the establishment of a large institution where sign language could be studied and taught. He set up the Centre for German Sign Language and Communication of the Deaf in 1986 which, in 1993, became the Institute of German Sign Language and Communication of the Deaf. The Institute has grown significantly during the last decade and has an increasing number of important research projects. For ten years now it offers two study programs, a Master’s programme for sign language studies and a diploma programme for sign language interpreters.

Once Siegmund Prillwitz had discovered the sign language of the deaf as a fascinating linguistic research object, he strongly opposed the oralist tradition in deaf education, the so-called German Method. Even though he had never pursued the idea of substituting oral education but had always proposed a bilingual approach, he was criticised very aggressively by the advocates of purely oral education, and there were many heated public debates. Siegmund Prillwitz was convinced that a holistic view should be followed, not separating language acquisition from socialisation or enculturation. His essentially psycholinguistic approach regarded the deaf person as an entity living within its surroundings in a democratic society.

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