New technology supports language development in signed languages

The new ViBi app allows users to annotate the JSL video translation with video, removing the need for reliance on written language.

(November 2014) Innovations in technology are providing new tools for Deaf translators and others working with signed languages. Several new programs offer tools for video translation and sign language research. SIL congratulates the Asia Pacific Sign Language Development Association on the recent release of two new apps. Two projects with SIL involvement are in the latter stages of development.

Video has become a popular and effective means of communication between people whose mother tongue is a signed language. For someone who is Deaf, reading print on a page is complicated. The experience of learning to read without the auditory connection of symbol to sound has been described as similar to memorizing the numbers in a telephone directory. Furthermore, the grammatical structure (for example, word order) of a signed language doesn’t necessarily bear any resemblance to that of the dominant spoken language. Signed languages aren’t simply signed versions of spoken languages—they are entirely different languages. While various means of sign writing have been devised, many have found that video provides a straightforward means of communication for people whose mother tongue is a sign language.

Recently released by the the Asia Pacific Sign Language Development Association (APSDA), ViBi Player is an app for playing the videos that constitute the translated portions of the Japanese Sign Language Bible on phones and tablets. (Translation of the JSL Bible is ongoing, with 30% now completed.) The app includes additional helpful features, most notably video note-taking, useful for personal note taking or for preparation by Deaf pastors and Bible study leaders. While existing applications allowed users to annotate video with text, ViBi Player allows users to annotate video with video, removing the need for reliance on written language. Developer Simon Cozens explains, “The app uses the built-in camera of the phone or tablet to record a sign language annotation keyed to a particular verse of the Bible; the next time that verse is replayed, the annotation appears as an icon in the corner of the video. Tapping on the video will bring up the video annotation.” ViBi Player is available for free download from iTunes and Google Play.

SignLab builds on the capabilities of the ViBi Player and includes additional advanced features which make it useful for language development activities and sign language research. The application is designed to support translators in the checking and revision process by allowing for video note taking when portions of a sign language video translation are field tested. The program is also ideal for collecting language survey data. SignLab shows great promise for supporting the work of Deaf language development practitioners. SignLab is available for free download from iTunes and Google Play.

Sliss, a project being developed by an SIL staff member and a colleague from a partner organization, will allow users to quickly locate a particular segment of video, audio or text using icons alone. Sliss will provide an icon-based interface for organizing and navigating a thematic collection of files, such as a video translations of Scripture or chronological Bible stories on a smartphone or tablet. Sliss will be helpful for Deaf users as well as non-readers and first-generation readers. The system is being designed with the potential to work with any operating system, but the developers are initially focusing on a version for Android smartphones with a micro SD card slot.

A team of SIL staff are working on a program called SooSL, which is designed to support the creation of video-based dictionaries for sign languages. A development team composed of four people (one Deaf and three hearing) is refining the program’s search capabilities so that users can search for a sign in the database according to the characteristics of how the sign is made. This will enable users to find the sign they are looking for without needing to know the sign’s closest spoken-language equivalent. The team is also producing a demonstration database of American Sign Language (ASL) signs to be distributed with the first release of the program, tentatively scheduled for 2015. SIL's Albert Bickford comments, "SooSL meets a very important need, as Deaf people in many languages want to make dictionaries. It will, I believe, have far-reaching positive effects on Deaf communities, enabling them to document and promote their sign languages."


The ViBi Player development team