UCL News


Unique British Sign Language resource becomes available to all online

20 October 2011

A unique collection of language recordings of British Sign Language - the language of the British Deaf community commonly known as BSL - is now available to all online.

The recordings, collected as part of the BSL Corpus Project, led by staff at the Deafness Cognition and Language Research Centre (DCAL) at UCL, 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. 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.

The collection of video recordings shows 249 Deaf men and women of different ages and background 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.

Current BSL Corpus Project (BSLCP) Director, Dr Kearsy Cormier, explains: "This video data going online is the culmination of years of hard work by researchers and members of the Deaf community, thanks to funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). 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."

Available at the website: http://bslcorpusproject.org/data, this resource will become the first national computerised and publicly accessible BSL corpus. It has been produced as part of 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 (DCAL) at University College London. Project partners are from Bangor University (Wales), Heriot-Watt University (Scotland), Queens University Belfast (Northern Ireland) and the University of Bristol (England).

Anyone can watch the video clips under the data section of the website -
www.bslcorpusproject.org. 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.

Former BSLCP Project Director, Dr. Adam Schembri (now based at La Trobe 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, expanded 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."

Deafness Cognition and Language Research Centre (DCAL)

BSL Corpus Project website