You Want Me to Sign What?

A Wikipedia for the deaf strives to im­prove sign trans­la­tion

Newsweek - - NEWS - BY SANDY ONG @sandy­ong_yx

LIKE MANY young peo­ple in Singapore and else­where, 25-year-old Quek Kai Yu some­times finds it dif­fi­cult to com­mu­ni­cate with his par­ents. But in his case, the gen­er­a­tion gap isn’t al­ways to blame. Both his par­ents are deaf and mute—and use two dif­fer­ent sign lan­guages. Says Quek. “The same ges­ture could mean some­thing dif­fer­ent in both lan­guages,” says Quek, which is why he and his fam­ily are the ideal mar­ket for the Slinto dic­tionary, the world’s first on­line, crowd­sourced data­base for signs. “If you want to show dog in Amer­i­can Sign Lan­guage, you type it into Google, and a video shows up,” says Slinto’s founder, Ja­panese en­tre­pre­neur Junto Okhi. But it’s much harder to do the re­verse, that is, to de­scribe the hand ges­tures and fig­ure out what they mean. The Slinto break­through: “If you know the sign lan­guage but not the mean­ing, you can use our dic­tionary to search for it,” says Okhi.

To ob­tain a sign-to-spo­ken-word trans­la­tion, users search Slinto’s data­base—which cur­rently com­prises roughly 3,200 words from Ja­panese sign lan­guage—via its spe­cial on­line key­board which is made up of pic­to­rial rep­re­sen­ta­tions of hands or body parts. Users choose from those keys to in­di­cate which fingers cre­ate the un­known sign and where they’re placed against the body (for ex­am­ple, the chest or be­side the ear). The search results throw up some cor­re­spond­ing words for a sign. By watch­ing the short video clip that ac­com­pa­nies each word, users can com­pare the ori­en­ta­tion, hand shape and move­ment of the hands with the sign they’re try­ing to trans­late, and hence de­ter­mine its mean­ing.

It may not work 100 per­cent of the time. “It can­not be as­sumed that there is al­ways sign­word cor­re­spon­dence in mean­ing,” says Robert Adam, who leads a group on sign lan­guage and deaf stud­ies at the World Fed­er­a­tion of the Deaf.

Slinto re­lies on users to con­trib­ute words and videos, as well as to vote on the ac­cu­racy of trans­la­tions. Later this year, Slinto’s data­base will ex­pand to in­clude Amer­i­can Sign Lan­guage, and Okhi hopes it will even­tu­ally en­com­pass as many as pos­si­ble of the world’s 126 sign lan­guages, used by roughly 70 mil­lion peo­ple world­wide.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.