Apr 23

Hot off the press!
New paper on lexical variation and change in BSL in PLOS ONE,
by Rose Stamp, Adam Schembri, Jordan Fenlon, Ramas Rentelis, Bencie Woll & Kearsy Cormier

Lexical Variation and Change in British Sign Language
This paper presents results from a corpus-based study investigating lexical variation in BSL. An earlier study investigating variation in BSL numeral signs found that younger signers were using a decreasing variety of regionally distinct variants, suggesting that levelling may be taking place. Here, we report findings from a larger investigation looking at regional lexical variants for colours, countries, numbers and UK placenames elicited as part of the BSL Corpus Project. Age, school location and language background were significant predictors of lexical variation, with younger signers using a more levelled variety. This change appears to be happening faster in particular sub-groups of the deaf community (e.g., signers from hearing families). Also, we find that for the names of some UK cities, signers from outside the region use a different sign than those who live in the region.

See also press release “Language isn’t what it used to be (British Sign Language – that is)”, both in English and BSL

Oct 29

A new project based on the BSL Corpus Project data will begin in December 2012 on directional verbs: a corpus-based study of variation and change in the use of directional verbs in BSL, led by Kearsy Cormier (DCAL, UCL) and Adam Schembri (La Trobe University, Melbourne), working with Jordan Fenlon (DCAL, UCL). The project runs from Dec 2012 to May 2014. For more info: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/silva/dcal/research/research-projects/directional-verbs

Oct 9

The BSL Corpus Project and DCAL respond to the Guardian article “Signs of the times: Deaf community minds its language” (8 October 2012):

8 October 2012

Dear Editor,

We would like to thank The Guardian for recently covering our research, and issues relevant to the study of BSL, in the article Signs of the times: deaf community minds its language (08.10.12). We welcome opportunities to bring our research to the attention of the general public. However, your coverage contained a number of inaccuracies, unsupported claims and (most importantly) misrepresentations of our research.

The aim of the BSL Corpus Project, directed by Dr. Adam Schembri and Dr. Kearsy Cormier, was to create a collection of BSL signing and to find how BSL varies and how it is changing, not just in vocabulary but also in aspects of the grammar. The Guardian article uses findings from this research (and observations unrelated to this project) to create a story about political correctness.

The BSL Corpus Project did collect data about signs for 102 concepts from 249 deaf signers from 8 cities across the UK. This included signs for some countries (USA, Britain, China, France, Germany, India, Ireland and Italy). However, we did not collect data on signs about Jewish or gay or disabled people.

The explanations given for signs for countries are not accurate and should not be reported as fact. Iconicity is a visual link between the meaning and the form of a sign. As signs change over time this link can become more obscure and explanations of these links are often inaccurate or a matter of conjecture. Furthermore, the actual history behind most signs is unknown.

We have never described BSL as becoming more ‘culturally sensitive’ (to do so would imply that deaf people were insensitive before and there is no evidence of this), but ‘cultural sensitivity’ is touted as a ‘discovery’ that appears to be attributed to our research. The claim that such changes in BSL have ‘caused the deaf community concern’ is also unfounded.

Finally we, as language researchers, are absolutely not concerned about the rate of change of British Sign Language: all languages change and this is a natural process. However, we are concerned about the misrepresentation of academic research to create another ‘story’ about political correctness.

Bencie Woll

Director of the Deafness Cognition and Language Research Centre (DCAL)


Kearsy Cormier (DCAL)

Adam Schembri (La Trobe University, Melbourne)

Directors of the British Sign Language Corpus Project

Jan 19

The BSL Corpus Project final report to the Economic and Social Research Council is now available. The final report provides a project overview, summarises the methodology and major findings, and early and anticipated impacts within academia and the community.

Jan 19

The BSL Corpus Project (Jan 2008 – June 2011) would not have been possible without the BSLCP team or the BSLCP participants. Thank you!!

Mar 17

Starting in January 2011, Dr. Adam Schembri has taken up a new post as the Director of the National Institute for Deaf Studies at LaTrobe University in Melbourne, Australia. The team wishes him the best of luck! Adam will stay on as a Co-Investigator on the project and so will continue to be involved. Kearsy Cormier will act as director of the project until June.

Mar 17

We are delighted to announce that the ESRC have granted the BSL Corpus Project a 6-month extension until 30 June 2011. This will enable us to continue our important work on sociolinguistic variation in BSL for a few months more.

Mar 17

Jordan Fenlon and Robert Adam (DCAL) received £12,000 from UCL’s Beacon Bursary for the DCAL Roadshow. The roadshow will visit the following cities: Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Glasgow, Manchester, and Newcastle. These events will run for one afternoon each time and will feature a series of lectures delivered in BSL by hearing and deaf researchers at DCAL, including BSL Corpus Project staff and students. The aim is to provide each local community the opportunity to learn about different areas of sign language research and the chance to put questions to the researchers themselves. The first event will take place in Birmingham on the 19th March with the remaining five events taking place over the following months. For more information click here.

Mar 10

Some of the first results from the BSL Corpus Project have been published in the March 2010 issue of the ‘British Deaf News’, in an article by BSL Corpus Project PhD student Rose Stamp, Adam Schembri, Jordan Fenlon and BSL Corpus Project co-investigator Bencie Woll. If you’d like to read the article, you can download it from this link here.

Feb 19
Filming completed!
icon1 adam | icon2 Academic News | icon4 19th February 2010| icon3No Comments »

Phase 1 of data collection for the BSL Corpus Project is now complete!

We have filmed an amazing 249 Deaf people from London, Bristol, Cardiff, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Belfast and Glasgow, which is a record number of participants recorded in a single sign language corpus project. Each of these participants were filmed telling personal experience stories, engaged in a conversation with another participant, answering interview responses and producing their signs for 100 vocabulary items. All the BSL Corpus Project team would like to thank Jordan Fenlon and Sally Reynolds for leading on the data collection: well done to you both on getting this mammoth task completed! Jordan and Sally’s job would have been impossible without the work of our Deaf community fieldworkers: Jenny Wilkins, Jacqueline Parker, Carolyn Nabarro, Mark Nelson, Mischa Cooke, Melinda Napier, Jeff Brattan-Wilson, Avril Hepner, Evelyn McFarland, Dawn Marshall, and Sarah Lawrence – a big thank you to all of you.

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