A multimedia feature published this week in the New York Times, "Pushing Science's Limits in Sign Language Lexicon," outlines efforts in the United States and Europe to develop sign language versions of specialized terms used in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The article shares newly defined signs for terms like "light-year," "organism" and "photosynthesis." It also describes a successful crowdsourcing effort started at the University of Washington in 2008 that lets members of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community build their own guide to the evolving lexicon of science.
"It's not a dictionary," explained Richard Ladner, a UW professor of computer science and engineering. "The goal of the forum is to be constantly changing, a reflection of the current use."
A scientific and technical dictionary for American Sign Language has existed since the late 1990s. It is called Science Signs Lexicon, launched by Harry Lang, an early proponent of science in the deaf community and a professor at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology.
But a dictionary can't include the newest terms, Ladner said, and many graduate students won't find the specialized terms used in their chosen fields. For example, Ladner helped organize a 2008 workshop where a deaf scientist said only about one-quarter of his field's specialized terms existed in his native language, American Sign Language, or ASL. Many workshop participants reported that at some point they had had to work with their interpreters to develop their own code words.
That year, with funding from Google Corp. and the National Science Foundation, Ladner's group launched the ASL-STEM Forum, an online compilation of signs used in science, technology, engineering and math that is more like Wikipedia or the Urban Dictionary.
"The goal was to have one place where all these signs could be," Ladner said. "We're not trying to decide on new
|Contact: Hannah Hickey|
University of Washington