Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

The Making of the Shillong Sign Language Multimedia Lexicon (ShSL MML)

Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

The Making of the Shillong Sign Language Multimedia Lexicon (ShSL MML)

Article excerpt

This article provides a glimpse into the Deaf community of Shillong, the capital city of Meghalaya (as shown in the map) and describes the development of the Shillong Sign Language Multimedia Lexicon (ShSL MML) in order to capture the language used by this community. Shillong, with a population of 2,966,889 (2011 census), comprises eleven districts that are home to three major tribes: the Khasis, the Jaintias, and the Garos, speaking the three dominant languages: Khasi, Pnar (also known as Synteng or Jaintia), and Garo, respectively. The Deaf people of the Khasi community were of great interest to me, and they became the subject matter of both my master's degree and my doctorate.

Comprehensive research on sign language began with the publication of Stokoe's i960 monograph, Sign Language Structure. Stokoe's description ofAmerican Sign Language (ASL) demonstrates that sign language fulfills the same functions as spoken languages. Hence, at the very beginning, an investigation into the linguistic structures of the ShSL was essential, and a methodology was developed. As in other linguistic descriptions, methods of data collection are more or less the same, but because of the differences in modality, one has to immerse oneself in the language.This motivated me to take a short-term course in Indian Sign Language and to volunteer in one of the schools for deaf children in Shillong while carrying out fieldwork with the native signers, who were also members of the M.eghalaya Deaf Association and residing in and/or working at these schools.

Native signers' linguistic intuition about the nature of their language plays an important role in any linguistic analysis, especially of sign language (see the later section on the selection of informants). As table 1 shows, these informants were selected to participate in the research studies carried out in both 2002 and 2011.They are regarded as native signers as they either were born deaf or acquired deafness before the age of two years; they were exposed to sign language at an early age and were members of the Deaf community. In addition, they were able to make judgments as to whether a sign was grammatical. All of the data elicitations both at the lexical and the sentence level were discussed with members of the deaf community who had a working knowledge of English.

The primary informants for data elicitation for both the linguistic analysis and the ShSL MML are the informants mentioned later in the section on notation, transcription, and glossing. The first three informants mentioned in table 1 determined whether a sign or a sentence was grammatical. Lexical items (as mentioned in the section on the characteristics of the dictionary) were prepared for eliciting data, and a dataset comprising sentence structures was also compiled through video-recording.The data were then analyzed and transcribed using the notation system mentioned in the section titled "Notation, Transcription, and Glossing." All of the data collected were verified repeatedly by all of the informants.

Sign Language Research in India

In the 1970s, India initiated the country's first attempt to document its sign languages (Vasishta, Woodward, and Wilson i978;Vasishta,Wood- ward, and deSantis 1980, 1985, 1986, 1987). Researchers endeavored to learn whether there was a single sign language in use throughout India.They conducted a study in the country's four major cities: Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi, and Bangalore.Though their findings showed lexical variations in basic signs, similar syntactic patterns of sign structure also appeared across India, leading to the conclusion that only one sign language was being used in the country, but it had regional variations. These studies were compiled and outlined in four dictionaries.

Further sociological studies of ISL were carried out (Jepson 1991a, 1991b; Culshaw 1983; Gopalakhrishnan 1998).The comparative study of ISL and Pakistani Sign Language (Zeshan 2000),1 which is known as Indo-Pakistani Sign Language (IPSL), is another significant work. …

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