The SIGN-HUB project aims at developing the following objectives. The University of Amsterdam participates in Task 1 (grammar) and Task 4 (elderly signers) .
While various dictionaries have been created, reflecting national and local variants, comprehensive (or even basic) grammars are still lacking even for major sign languages used in Europe. Online grammars for the following sign languages will be written: German Sign Language (DGS), Catalan Sign Language (LSC), Spanish Sign Language (LSE), Italian Sign Language (LIS), Sign Language of the Netherlands (NGT) and Turkish Sign Language (TID). The work will follow the guidelines established by the COST SignGram Action IS1006 Unraveling the Grammars of European Sign Languages: Pathways to Full Citizenship of Deaf Signers and to the Protection of their Linguistic Heritage (https://parles.upf.edu/llocs/cost-signgram/welcome), which has led to the creation of uniform standards for the compilation of grammars. Each individual online grammar will cover the core properties of phonology, lexicon, morphology, syntax and semantics/pragmatics. The level of details of online grammars produced by SIGN-HUB is bound to reflect the current grammatical knowledge at the moment of writing, ranging from fully-fledged descriptions when the described properties are well studied, to preliminary descriptions for phenomena that have been documented but not yet studied. However, one important goal of SIGN-HUB will be promoting research in areas that are currently unexplored by using the checklist provided by COST SignGram Action as a guideline. All six online grammars will have the same general structure and will be implemented on the same digital platform.
The Atlas of sign languages will fill an important gap in typological research, since a full understanding of correlations, universals, and range of typological variation in natural languages can only be achieved if both modalities are investigated thoroughly. Based on our work on online grammars for sign languages, we will build a web interface that will allow to display the content of the online grammars in an “atlas format”. The Atlas will directly be based on the online grammars because they already include all features relevant for the description of typological variation and will be extended in the course of the project by including current knowledge on other sign languages as well. Among the many features that will be implemented, unlimited feature search, searchable examples (i.e. the search results may include videos and pictures) will be provided. The search engine will include search request in texts or icons (i.e. in the case of handshapes). Interactive maps will display the results of the search.
The peculiar conditions under which sign languages are often acquired, namely, the lack of a native deaf signer model during the sensitive period of language acquisition, pose special challenges to the diagnosis of linguistic deficits in special populations, e.g., children with Specific Language Impairment, people with aphasia and elderly people for whom the effect of aging is not always easy to disentangle from very early stages of neurodegenerative diseases. We aim at building reliable tests to diagnose language pathology and to facilitate intervention with special populations of signers. The outcome of SIGN-HUB will be useful also with respect to the population of signing children with a cochlear implant. In this very special case of bilingualism, it is important to have reliable assessment tools in both the spoken and the sign language used by the child; yet, at the moment, such tests are available only for the spoken language involved. The interface implementation will allow administering the tests both on computers and mobile devices (e.g. tablets). For repletion tasks, an automatic system of evaluation will be developed.
An important part of SIGN-HUB is documenting and preserving part of the European linguistic and cultural heritage by creating, analyzing and making available a digital archive of life narratives of elderly signers about their individual and collective memories in different European Deaf communities. This archive will constitute an unprecedented stepping stone towards the documentation of the history of Deaf communities since the mid-20th century and the language change attested from that generation on. The project will systematically record, document, subtitle, analyze, make available online and thus preserve and disseminate the linguistic uses as well as the cultural heritage and historical memories of elderly deaf people in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Turkey (in France and Israel SIGN-HUB will digitalize and/or extend existing archives of deaf signers that are at the risk of loss). The project guarantees systematic data collection, the digital archiving of videos, subtitling, professional annotation, and scientific study of the life stories of elderly signers. we will also support the production of documentary movies collecting the most salient parts of the interviews with elderly signers, to report aspects of the life of minorities and disabled people in the European past. These documentary movies will center around different topics, including: (i) the life in the Institute for the Deaf across Europe; (ii) the impact of World War 2, Shoah, Civil War, or Cold War on the Deaf community; (iii) the situation of women inside the Deaf community; (iv) the situation of signers from minorities (ethnic, gay/lesbian); (v) the first encounter with a deaf person from another (European) country.
The primary goal is to provide a platform to host the varieties of contents that are created. Users will easily access such contents through customized interfaces. Contents in the format of videos, text and images are to be made accessible online in various ways (webpages, archives and streaming). The platform will be made ready to interface with signing avatar systems and with tools like robotic hands that would allow communication (and eventually browsing) towards Deafblind people via tactile sign language.