The Auslan Corpus Project

sign languageHowever, as the bionic ear and new technologies result in greater access to and influence from spoken English in the deaf community, La Trobe University Associate Professor Adam Schembri, Faculty of Health Sciences, and Adjunct Professor Trevor Johnston have launched a project to better understand the ever-evolving sign language.

‘Within sign language communities there are dialectic differences for a substantial proportion of the vocabulary and currently we are recording variations in the language across the country. Colours and numbers for example may be communicated differently in places as little as an hour away.’

‘Because of these obvious differences in vernacular, the deaf community is very interested in seeing the language better documented for improved dictionaries and sign language teaching resources,’ he says.

Dr Schembri collaborated with Dr Johnston on the creation of The Auslan Corpus Project funded by the Endangered Languages Documentation Program within the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.

The project is in the process of producing and securing a reference archive of Auslan and creating a linguistic Corpus and description of the language both now and into the future. So far, over 1,000 recordings have been made and will soon be added to the Auslan Signbank.

‘The Corpus project is a collection of language recordings, a representative sample of the deaf community. The creation of the archive involved recording, collating and describing a set of naturalistic, controlled and elicited signed language samples from deaf native and near-native signers across Australia.’

‘We expect this will contribute to wider research in the field of linguistics worldwide and collaborate with other signbanks across the globe,’ he says.

Dr Schembri was also the Project Director for the British Sign Language Corpus Project (BSLCP) funded from 2008 to 2011 by the ESRC and led by staff at the Deafness Cognition and Language Research Centre at University College London. The project has recently become available online.

The unique collection of language recordings of British Sign Language (BSL) will be of enormous benefit to students and teachers of BSL and to sign language interpreting across the country, leading to improved services for Deaf people that will better ensure their full participation in society.

In addition to practical applications in the UK, the web-based corpus video data is set to contribute significantly to international linguistics research and to the Auslan project.

‘It will also be a valuable resource for people with an interest in technology, particularly those working towards automatic sign language recognition, the signed equivalent of voice recognition, and the development of virtual signers like signing avatars,’ says Dr Schembri.

‘In linguistic terms, sign languages are as rich and complex as any oral language, and it is important to study this type of communication to not only augment the community’s resources but to also apply fundamental research in the field of linguistics.’

Details on The Auslan Corpus Project and Signbank can be found here: www.auslan.org.au/about/corpus/

For more information or to arrange an interview please contact:

Meghan Lodwick

La Trobe University Communications Officer
T:  03 9479 5353 M:  0418 495 941 E: M.Lodwick@latrobe.edu.au