UCL Deafness Cognition and Language Research Centre


BSL Corpus Project goes online

26 February 2012

BSL Corpus Project photo ucl.ac.uk/stream/mediaplayer/jwplayer/player.swf" width="320" flashvars="http://www.ucl.ac.uk/dcal/dcal-news/bslcp/image=images/story-3-cover&str..." height="260">

Unique BSL resource becomes available to all online

An important development has been made in a project that will be familiar to many DCAL newsletter readers from updates over the last few years: DCAL is pleased to announce that data from the British Sign Language Corpus Project (BSLCP) can now be accessed by all, having gone live on-line at the end of 2011. 

BSL language recordings

Available at the BSL Corpus Project website, this resource will continue to develop to become the first national computerised and publicly accessible BSL corpus - that is a unique collection of language recordings of British Sign Language. The recordings will be of enormous benefit to students and teachers of BSL and to sign language interpreters across the country, leading to improved services for Deaf people that will better ensure their full participation in society.

The BSLCP was funded from 2008 to 2011 by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and led by staff at DCAL. Project partners are from Bangor University (Wales), Heriot-Watt University (Scotland), Queens University Belfast (Northern Ireland) and the University of Bristol (England).

The collection of video recordings shows 249 Deaf men and women of different ages and backgrounds conversing in BSL with each other in pairs. They answer questions, tell stories, and show their signs for 102 key concepts. The filming took place in 8 cities across the UK to reflect regional variation within BSL.

Anyone can watch the video clips under the data section of the website. For general visitors, clicking on the image on the left is recommended. Those with a research or teaching interest can access more information via the image on the right. This takes visitors to UCL's CAVA website where anyone can view or download clips, and where researchers can register for a licence to access restricted data.

Wider implications

In addition to practical applications in the UK, the web-based corpus video data is set to contribute significantly to international linguistics research. 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 i.e., signing avatars. 

Current BSLCP Director, Dr Kearsy Cormier, explains: "We are very pleased that the BSL corpus video data are now freely available worldwide; this was one of the main aims of the project, but the work is by no means completed. In the future, annotations and translations of the data will be made available online to bring this resource closer to what we mean by a "corpus" today in linguistic research. These annotations will allow anyone to search for specific signs quickly and facilitate peer-reviews of claims about BSL structure and use amongst researchers.

Another aim was to use the data to study why BSL varies and how it is changing, and to investigate frequency of BSL signs - that is to find out which signs are the most common in conversation. These completed studies represent an important first step towards a better understanding of variation and change and lexical frequency in BSL."

Former BSLCP Project Director, Dr. Adam Schembri (now based at LaTrobe University, Australia) explains further: "We expect the BSLCP will contribute to wider research in the field of linguistics worldwide. Internationally the BSL Corpus is one of only a few large sign language corpus projects (along with projects in Australia, The Netherlands and Germany) and it's the second to have video data available online (after The Netherlands)."

Professor Bencie Woll, DCAL Director, expands on the significance of the work: "DCAL hopes the BSLCP video data will lead directly to improved sign language teaching and improvements in training BSL teachers, sign language interpreters and teachers of deaf children. But the BSLCP findings have the potential for much broader impact. Already there are follow-on projects in DCAL making use of the data, which are helping to extend ongoing work on production, comprehension, processing, acquisition and neural bases of BSL." 

PHOTO: Dr Adam Schembri (right) and Dr Jordan Fenlon
show the BSL Corpus Project data to colleagues
and members of the Deaf community at the
DCAL Deaf Open Day, March 2010.