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The Sign Hub: preserving, researching and fostering the linguistic, historical and cultural heritage of European Deaf signing communities with an integral resource

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - SIGN-HUB (The Sign Hub: preserving, researching and fostering the linguistic, historical and cultural heritage of European Deaf signing communities with an integral resource)

Reporting period: 2018-10-01 to 2020-03-31

SIGN-HUB is a comprehensive response to the societal and scientific challenge resulting from generalized neglect of the cultural and linguistic identity of signing Deaf communities in Europe. It provides an innovative and inclusive resource hub for the linguistic, historical and cultural documentation of the Deaf communities' heritage and for sign language assessment in clinical intervention and school settings. To this end, SIGN-HUB created an open state-of-the-art digital platform with customized accessible interfaces. The platform provides core content in the following domains, expandable in the future to other sign languages: (i) digital grammars of 7 sign languages, produced with a new online grammar writing tool; (ii) an interactive digital atlas of linguistic structures of the world's sign languages; (iii) online sign language assessment instruments for education and clinical intervention, and (iv) the first digital archive of life narratives by elderly signers, subtitled and partially annotated for linguistic properties. These components, made available for the first time through a centralized platform to specialists and to the general public, (a) helps explore and value the identity and the cultural, historical and linguistic assets of Deaf signing communities, (b) advances linguistic knowledge on the natural languages of the Deaf and (c) impacts on the diagnosis of language deficits within these minorities. SIGN-HUB thus contributes to the dissemination and reuse of those assets in broader contexts, as part of European identity. SIGN-HUB aims to rescue, showcase and boost that largely unknown part of our common heritage, as well as to ultimately enhance the full participation of Deaf citizens in all spheres of public life on an equal footing with hearing citizens.
The SIGN-HUB project successfully finalized on April 30th. The platform, a resource hub on sign languages, is already open to the general public at but will be officially launched in October 2020.
The platform displays four major types of contents:
i. Grammars: digital grammar descriptions of 7 sign languages, produced with a new online grammar writing tool;
ii. Atlas: an interactive digital atlas of linguistic structures of the world's sign languages;
iii. Assessment: online sign language assessment tools for professionals;
iv. Life stories: the first digital archive of life narratives by elderly signers , partly subtitled and partially annotated for linguistic properties, as well as the documentary movie “We were there, we are here”.
Most contents are immediately accessible to anyone, while other contents require applying for restricted access (all contents are available for free, though).
The grammars are available for viewing online but they can also be converted to pdf files and downloaded. At the moment, the length of the grammars is between 180 and 800 pages, and altogether the grammars’ length is more than 2.000 pages, with approximately 6.000 visual examples (still photos and videos) in total.
To build the Atlas of linguistic structures of the world's sign languages, four extensive questionnaires on 222 sociolinguistic and grammatical features were designed. 213 sign languages have been listed, and nearly 200 different content-providers have been identified. The content-providers agreed to provide data for 95 different sign languages. The Atlas grows as new questionnaires are filled in.
45 online sign language assessment tools for professionals are already available. These tests have been administered to about 235 signers belonging to three groups: native signers; early signers (exposed to SL before the age of 6); late signers (exposed to SL between the age of 6 and 15). Preliminary results of LIS, LSF and LSC show that that age of exposure has an impact on core syntactic competences. Native signers perform better on syntactic tasks compared to early and late signers.
Approximately 125 interviews (with a total length of 150 h) have been conducted within the SIGN-HUB project. The 40-minute documentary movie “We were there – we are here” includes short fragments from interviews that were conducted in the context of the project as well as fragments from previously existing materials (from France and Israel).
Progress beyond the state of the art is foreseen in the following areas, with the associated concrete results: 1. Sign Language transmission for most deaf individuals is atypical and thus strongly impacted upon by the lack of comprehensive linguistic knowledge. The creation of online reference grammars and an interactive atlas of sign language structures addresses this challenge. 2. Very few tools are available for assessment of sign language deficits. The tests developed aim at overcoming some of the limitations in existing materials. 3. No systematic attempt at creating a digital archive of elderly signers’ linguistic and cultural heritage exists. The project fills this gap with an archive of their life narratives, thus documenting the recent history of European Deaf communities and the older forms of the sign languages involved, laying the ground for empirically solid micro-diachronic research and study of grammaticalization in the visual modality of language. 4. Assistive technology is still in its infancy especially when considering Deaf and Deafblind populations. We created a multi-accessible place to store, consult and recover information about sign language and Deaf culture.
The expected impacts of the project are diverse. The first one is scientific: (i) it will boost sign language grammar description and analysis; (ii) it will enhance our understanding of the language faculty, so far strongly biased towards spoken languages; (iii) it will trigger new insights into the cognitive processes associated with language acquisition; (iv) it will deepen our understanding of the factors at play in language change; (v) it will help reconstruct and better understand the recent history of European minorities.
The second impact of the project concerns knowledge which informs policies both at the European and the national level: (i) it will provide linguistic grounding of instruments and policies in education, health and social welfare (curricula, education professionals, interpreter training and monitoring, language assessment); (ii) it will inform critical choices for deaf individuals and communities (such as type of schooling or implants) on reliable knowledge; (iii) it will help integrate sign languages into the landscape of European multilingualism.
The third impact will be societal advance: it will support Deaf citizens and communities in exercising their rights, by increasing their visibility and social recognition, strive to change the social perception of signers by removing the stigma of disability, etc.
The fourth impact is concerned with methodology and research strategy: the many-sided approach to the study of European sign languages, their history and their cultural manifestations guarantees a rich and broad combination of methodological perspectives and research strategies.
The fifth impact is technological. The outcomes of the project will be made available online through the use of a customized platform for Deaf users.
The sixth one is the engagement of agents from civil society in research and policy forming at the local, regional, national and European level.