The Auslan archive project who_ what_ where_ when_ how _amp; why

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					 British Sign Language Corpus Project:
   Documenting and describing variation in BSL
Adam Schembri, Jordan Fenlon, Ramas Rentelis & Rosemary Stamp

• Background to the BSL Corpus Project
• Methodology
• What we are finding so far
   • Handshape variation
   • Vocabulary variation and change
• Conclusion
 Why a corpus project of BSL?

• Need for more work on BSL vocabulary, grammar,
  variation and change to increase our understanding of
  BSL linguistics (more work needed since Sutton-Spence
  & Woll, 1999)

• One dictionary organized according to linguistic
  principles (Brien, 1992), but fewer than 2000 signs
Why a corpus project of BSL?

• Access to the data for researchers and the Deaf community:
   • Advances in technology make data-sharing possible, using
     new software such as ELAN

   • To provide evidence and material for sign language teaching
     and interpreter training

• Language documentation & language change/endangerment
   • To address concerns in British Deaf community about BSL
     variation and change: heritage forms of BSL not being passed
     on to a younger generation?
Background: Aims of the BSL Corpus
• To create an on-line, open-access collection of BSL digital video

• To research BSL variation, change and vocabulary frequency

• Project timeline: January 2008-December 2010
Linguistic structure

• Grammar / syntax: rules for combining signs into

• Vocabulary / lexicon: the list of signs

• Phonology: the structure of signs (i.e.,
  handshape, movement, location, non-manuals)
Background: Specific studies

• (1) Sociolinguistic variation and change in
   • (a) phonology: signs made with the 1 handshape
   • (b) vocabulary: 101 signs from BSL vocabulary
   • (c) grammar: sentence structure and different groups of verb
• (2) Sign frequency: in a collection of 100,000 signs,
  what are the most frequent signs? (see work on NZSL,
  McKee & Kennedy, 2006)
Methodology: Sociolinguistic approach
•   Film ≥30 Deaf native and near-native
    signers (BSL exposure by 7 years of
    age) in 8 regions across the UK:
     • England (London, Bristol,
         Birmingham, Manchester,
     • Wales: Cardiff
     • Scotland: Glasgow
     • Northern Ireland: Belfast
•   Total sample of ≥240 individuals,
    balanced for age, gender, language
    background, possibly social class and
Methodology: Recruitment & data
• Deaf community                • Pairs of signers from the
  fieldworkers (cf. ‘contact      same region and in the same
  people’) recruited 249 Deaf     age group
  people (minimum of 30 x 8     • Lived in the region for 10
  regions) that match project     years or more
• Filmed over 2-4 visits
• No hearing people present
  during filming
Methodology: Recruitment & data
•   Filming session:
    • blue background screen
    • two lights
    • plain colored clothing (back-up T-shirts)
    • chairs without arms
    • 1 high definition video-camera(s) focused on each participant, 1 on the pair
Methodology: Content
 Phase 1: 249 signers for 2 hours   Phase 2: 100 native
 2008-2010                            signers for 2 hours
 • Warm up activity: 5 minute         (2010>?)
   personal experience stories
    •   (example 1)                 •   More stories
 • 30 minutes free conversation     •   More interviews
    •   (example 2)                 •   Language games,
 • 20 minute interview                  tasks etc
    •   (example 3)
 • 10 minute vocabulary task
    •   (example 4)
Current status: March, 2010
• Data collection: 249   • Why these locations?
  participants filmed       •   All are large cities, with 5 in
   •   Belfast 30               England (South-east, South-west,
   •   Birmingham 30            Midlands, North-east and North-
                                west) and 1 each in Scotland,
   •   Bristol 32
                                Wales and Northern Ireland
   •   Cardiff 30
                            •   All have (or had in the past) a
   •   Glasgow 30               residential Deaf school
   •   London 37            •   Limited time and budget so not
   •   Manchester 30            able to film Deaf people in more
   •   Newcastle 30             places
   So what are finding out thus far?

•(1) Sociolinguistic variation and change in

   •(a) phonology: handshape variation in signs made with the 1
       •preliminary results from 4 out of 8 cities

   • (b) vocabulary: number signs (i.e., 100 target lexical items)
       •results from all 8 cities for 20 number signs (signs for 1-20) out
       of 101 signs
BSL 1 handshape variation

                        • The 1 handshape can
                          •thumb extension
                          •pinky extension
                          •both thumb and pinky
                          •full handshape change,
                          for example, with all
                          fingers and thumb
Why is this important?
•   BSL students often do not develop BSL receptive/comprehensive skills very
    quickly: why is that?
•   One reason is that signs are not produced in conversation in their citation form
    (the way the sign is produced in the dictionary)
•   In the rapid signing of conversations between fluent signers, handshapes,
    locations and movements in signs can change from citation form
 BSL 1 handshape variation

• Aim to try to understand what variation
  can happen in one group of signs: signs
  made with the 1 handshape
• Examples include signs like THINK,
• So far, we have coded 1200 examples
  from 120 participants in Glasgow,
  Bristol, Manchester and Birmingham
• 64% +citation form, 36% –citation form
Distribution: Handshape variation
BSL 1 handshape variation: Factors
Linguistic factors:
• Sign type
    • pointing signs (e.g., THERE, ME, YOU etc)
    • other signs (e.g., THINK, PEOPLE, HEARING, QUICK, WHAT, BUT)
• Handshape in the sign before and in the sign after the 1 handshape sign:
    • 1 handshape
    • some other handshape
    • no handshape due to pause in the signing
BSL 1 handshape variation: Factors
Social factors:

•   Gender (male versus female)
•   Age (18-50 years old versus 51-94 years old)
•   Language background (parents Deaf or hearing)
•   Region: Glasgow, Manchester, Bristol & Birmingham
•   BSL teaching experience (20/120 participants)
BSL pointing signs versus non-pointing signs
Influence from signs before and signs
after the 1 handshape sign
Handshape assimilation


• Our research shows that THINK more likely to
  have thumb extension in (1), pinky extension in
  (2) and neither in (3)
Women produced less variation than men
BSL 1 handshape study

• Pointing signs show more variation in handshape
  than non-pointing signs
• The handshape in the signs before and after the 1
  handshape signs influence the handshape
• Women signers slightly prefer citation forms of
  these signs when compared to men
• Age, region, language background, teaching
  experience not significant
BSL sign variation and change
•   Lexical variation research questions
     • Is there evidence of traditional regional signs disappearing in BSL?
     • Which groups in the Deaf community are using fewer traditional regional
•   Kyle & Allsop (1982) found around 50% in Bristol had difficulty understanding
    BSL varieties from other parts of the UK
•   Deaf community observations suggest sign variation in BSL appears to be
•   This change is perhaps the result of the more national and more international
    Deaf identity in the UK, due to increased mobility, inter-regional and
    international contact, and external influences, such as sign language interpreting
    on television and Deaf programmes, such as BBC ‘See Hear’
BSL sign variation: Number signs
All participants asked to produce their signs for 1 to 20 in a fixed random order, which are
       coded for:
1.     Each specific sign used
2.     Whether each sign is a traditional regional number sign or a non-traditional sign
3.     Whether each sign was two-handed or one-handed (6,7,8,9,16,17,18,19 only)
4.     Gender (male vs. female)
5.     Age (18-35, 36-50, 51-65, 66+)
6.     Language background (parents Deaf or hearing)
7.     School education: local or non-local school

Results from 4,233 examples (i.e., number signs 1-20 –except 1,2 and 5– from all 249
Number sign task
Results: Number sign variation
Factor group      Factor    n             %
                                  traditional signs
Age            16-39       1291        62.5%
               40-59       1594        77.8%
               60+         1268        86.5%

School         Local       1815         71%
               Non-local   2338         79%

Language       Hearing     2862         75%
background     Deaf        1291         77%

TOTAL                      4153
Number signs: age differences
Results: Number sign variation-1 handed
versus 2 handed forms
Factor group      Factor    n        %
                                  2 handed
Age            16-39       478     10.7%
               40-59       552     13.2%
               60+         381     21.5%

Language       Hearing     950     13.7%
background     Deaf        461     16.5%

Gender         Female      719     12.2%
               Male        692     17.1%

TOTAL                      1411
BSL Number sign variation and change
• Number sign use is changing: younger people
  are using fewer traditional regional number signs
• Some Deaf people with hearing parents and
  those educated in schools outside of the region
  where they live also use fewer traditional
  regional number signs
• Older people, people from Deaf families and
  men tend to use more two-handed number signs
BSL Corpus Project: Acknowledgements
•   Thanks to the following researchers whose work influenced our research
    design: Trevor Johnston (Australia), Onno Crasborn (The Netherlands), Ceil
    Lucas (USA), David McKee & Graeme Kennedy (New Zealand)
•   Thanks to the project co-investigators (Kearsy Cormier, Margaret Deuchar,
    Frances Elton, Donall O’Baoill, Rachel Sutton-Spence, Graham Turner,
    Bencie Woll) & Deaf Community Advisory Group members (Linda Day,
    Clark Denmark, Helen Foulkes, Melinda Napier, Tessa Padden, Gary Quinn,
    Kate Rowley & Lorna Allsop)
•   Thanks to Sally Reynolds, Avril Hepner, Carolyn Nabarro, Dawn Marshall,
    Evelyn McFarland, Jackie Parker, Jeff Brattan-Wilson, Jenny Wilkins, Mark
    Nelson, Melinda Napier, Mischa Cooke & Sarah Lawrence
Contacts & websites

•   Adam Schembri
•   Ramas Rentelis
•   Jordan Fenlon
•   Rose Stamp
•   DCAL Research Centre, UCL
• Project website

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