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International Day of Sign Languages at ELAR

Last year, the United Nations General Assembly declared the 23rd of September as International Day of Sign Languages on the 19th of December, thus marking today the first official International Day of Sign Languages (as part of the International Week of the Deaf). Worldwide, it is unclear exactly how many languages are signed, and sign languages are particularly vulnerable to language endangerment and extinction, as languages spoken by oft-minoritized communities. The Endangered Languages Archive is committed to preserving endangered languages, including sign languages, which are often severely underresearched and under-documented. To mark this event, we would like to highlight the 11 curated collections available at ELAR which contain sign language data.

  1. Documentation and description of a sign language in Cote d’Ivoire: Analysis of Ivorian Sign Language (Langue des Signes de Côte d’Ivoire, LSCI), including digital corpus.

This collection consists of documentation and analysis of LSCI. It includes a digital corpus that features a representative sample of signed discourse, a lexical database and a description and analysis of selected features of the language.

2. Sand stories and sign languages from Central Australia

Sand stories from the arid lands of Central Australia are a traditional form of verbal art in which speech, sign, gesture and drawing work together. Some of the stories are children’s games, some are recounts of everyday events, and others more formal stories related to ancestral country and its Dreamings. These stories begin by clearing a space on the soft ground. Between ‘scenes’ the sand space is erased before the narrator begins to draw again. In these desert communities, traditional sign languages also play an important part in everyday communication. Sign may be used alongside speech or instead of it, and in some cultural circumstances sign is used to show respect. Sign is important in situations where silence is essential – for example when hunting. Sign can be used in communication between people who are at some distance from each other and out of ear-shot. This collection contains examples of sand stories and of sign language documentation from Central Australia.

3. Auslan Corpus: Auslan, the sign language of the Australian deaf community

Video recordings (some with ELAN annotations) of interviews, narratives, re-tells, conversations and elicited language material.

4. Un Corpus de Reference de la Langues des Signes Malienne

 African sign languages are severely under-researched. This project is a documentation of the Langue des Signes Malienne (LSM). In the absence of deaf education, LSM has emerged naturally. Once deaf schools were established, LSM was initially used for instruction but was replaced by American Sign Language in 2001. Having virtually no child users, LSM is seriously endangered. During three field trips, a team consisting of three native LSM signers and the applicant, recorded a diverse sample of texts, transcribing them in a time-aligned annotation system. In addition, the project generated a video vocabulary and a basic grammar CD ofLSM.

5. Longitudinal Documentation of Sign Language Acquisition in a Deaf Village in Bali

This collection contains documentation on the acquisition of Kata Kolok, a rural signing variety of Bali, over an extensive period of time.

6. Signing in a ‘deaf family’ – documentation of the Mardin Sign Language, Turkey

Mardin Sign Language (MarSL) is a recently-documented, small-scale sign language used by an extended family in Turkey. MarSL originated in Mardin, a town in south-eastern Turkey close to the Syrian border. Its development, dispersion and user community approximates the situation of other rural community sign languages. Beginning around the 1930s, MarSL developed as a result of genetic deafness in this family, which includes at least four successive generations of deaf individuals (Dikyuva & Dilsiz 2009, Dikyuva & Zeshan, in press). The family’s name, Dilsiz, means ‘deaf’ (literally ‘tongue/language-less’) in Turkish. The name Mardin Sign Language was coined by researchers; the signers themselves refer to their language as dilsizce (Turkish for ‘deaf language’) or eski işaretler(Turkish for ‘old signs’).

7. Preliminary Documentation of Macau Sign Language

Macau is a small city on the Southern coast of China. Around 1200 Deaf/hard of hearing people live there, and over 200 are users of Macau Sign Language. However, due to the enforcement of inclusive education, Macau Sign Language has ceased to pass on to the deaf youngsters under the age of 20. The Deaf Community has a strong wish to document and conduct research on their sign language. This project aims at providing foundational documentation training to the Deaf Community and assisting them in the documentation groundwork, with a long-term goal to preserve and promote the language.

8. Documentation of Extreme North Cameroon Sign Language and Cameroon Sign Language: A documentation of a sign language of North Cameroon

This project documents and compares two languages: the rural sign language referred to here as Extreme North Cameroon Sign Language (ExNorthCamSL), which is used in and around the town of Maroua, and Cameroon Sign Language (CamSL) which is used in the rest of the country (Central, Littoral, North-West, South-West, and West regions). CamSL has been influenced by American Sign Language (ASL) and Langue des Signes Française (LSF, or French Sign Language) through educators and missionaries. The linguistics of both sign languages is undocumented (De Clerck, 2011). Approximately 150 signers use ExNorthCamSL, while an estimated 4,500 use CamSL.

9.Documentation of Hawaii Sign Language: Building the Foundation for Documentation, Conservation, and Revitalization of Endangered Pacific Island Sign Languages

 Hawaii Sign Language (HSL) developed indigenously in Hawaii. After the introduction of American Sign Language in 1941, HSL has become a critically endangered language in urgent need of documentation. Fewer than 40 users have been identified, all elderly, many above 80. In the documentation process, teaching materials with companion dictionaries are developed and conversational histories about the lives of HSL users collected, annotated and archived. This is the first in-depth study of any indigenous Pacific sign language, providing an important foundation for future research on other undocumented indigenous sign languages in the Pacific.

10. Documentation and description of Inuit Sign Language

Inuit Sign Language (abbreviated to IUR) is the language used by deaf Inuit of Nunavut, Canada. It has probably evolved from hunting and gathering signs used in Inuit culture. Three communities where deaf Inuit live are included in the documentation.

11. Investigation of an endangered village sign language in India: Documenting Alipur Village Sign Language, an endangered sign language of India.

The data for AVSL, an endangered sign language in a village community, relates to a rare situation where hereditary deafness over several generations has given rise to an indigenous village sign language.

In addition to the curated deposits, ELAR will be holding the following forthcoming collections in the near future:

  1. Australian Irish Sign Language: a minority sign language within a larger sign language community
  2. Documenting language across modalities: visual and tactile sign language in the Bay Islands
  3. Investigating an undocumented sign language in a Chatino speech/sign community

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