26 May 2008

Boston University Researchers Developing Sign Language Video Dictionary

This is pretty cool (by way of the ACM TechNews):

Boston University doctoral student Joan Nash, who has used American Sign Language (ASL) for most of her life, is part of a team working on an interactive video project that would create a virtual sign language dictionary, allowing someone to demonstrate a sign in front of a camera and have a computer program interpret and explain its meaning. The researchers are working with a three-year, $900,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, and are currently in the early stages of the project, which involves capturing thousands of ASL signs on video. As Nash goes through the hundreds of words in English, Elizabeth Cassidy, a native ASL speaker, signs them in front of four different cameras, three in front of her and one to her right. Two of the cameras in front of her capture close-ups from different angles and one is a wider shot. The goal is to develop a database of more than 3,000 signs, with the meaning of each sign being determined by the shape of the hands, the movement of the hands and arms, and even facial expressions. Eventually, the researchers hope the technology will be used to develop a multimedia ASL dictionary to help hearing parents better communicate with deaf children and to help sign language students.

I've often wondered if groups of people who sign, say from a particular community or geographic location, have an "accent" when they sign? Can a person signing have a "twang" or a "drawl" or something akin to a Boston accent? For instance, German telegraph operators during WWII were sometimes known to have a certain "hand" or touch to their transmission that those intercepting the transmission in Bletchley Park could identify as belonging to a certain operator. Does the same stylization or accent occur in signing?

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