New approaches add scientific lexicon to sign language

Sign language is a versatile tool for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. But the more specific and technical words and phrases become, the more complicated it can be for the language to keep pace. To fix this, students and educators are getting together and wikifying the process of creating brand new signs for science.

Consider all the scientific terms that have no direct translation into sign language. Words like "amygdala" and phrases like "covalent bond" have to not only be somehow translated into ASL and BSL (the British equivalent), but also disseminated and accepted into the deaf and hard-of-hearing scientific community. That's a process that is too slow for the pace of scientific research. Imagine a lecture where an ASL interpreter has no sign to describe the topic at hand and has to spell technical terms out letter by letter, and the problem becomes clear.

The New York Times has written about a project that simplifies the process of adding scientific terms to ASL and BSL. Gallaudet University in Washington DC, the world's leading deaf and hard-of-hearing school, is collaborating with the University of Washington on the ASL-STEM Forum. This forum is a federally sponsored program that allows users to submit and vote on new signs for scientific terms in a community-driven, wiki-style approach. Users are free to both submit ideas for new signs and offer critiques on existing signs, and the feedback and voting system ensures that the best and most popular signs are adopted for use. So far, users have contributed 2,800 new ideas for signs. Check out the proposed sign for "concatenation" to get a sense of how the forum works.

A project like this doesn't just improve the learning process for those in the ASL community; it's also possible that the overall shortage of STEM workers and educators could be partially addressed by opening the field more widely to the deaf and hard-of-hearing. For a look at more of the ASL-STEM Forum's work, head on over to the New York Times' GIF-tastic feature on the subject.

New York Times via Gizmodo

Thanks, Leile!

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