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World’s Largest American Sign Language Database Makes ASL Even More Accessible

Boston University deaf studies researchers say the ASL-LEX 2.0 database could aid ASL learners and lead to new ASL-based technologies akin to Siri, Alexa. The words “joke” and “ruin” might not rhyme in English. But, thanks to a new, interactive database of American Sign Language (ASL), called ASL-LEX 2.0, we can now see that these two words do in fact rhyme in ASL.  “In ASL, each word has five linguistic parameters: handshape, movement, location, palm orientation, and non-manual signs. Rhymes involve repetition based on one or more of these parameters,” says Michael Higgins, a first-year PhD student in Boston University’s Wheelock College of Education & Human Development’s Language & Literacy Education program. He is deaf, and has been using the ASL-LEX 2.0 database to investigate the relationship between ASL and English proficiency in deaf children.  Since launching in February 2021, in conjunction with a published paper highlighting the ways the database has expanded, ASL-LEX 2.0—now the largest interactive ASL database in the world—makes learning about the fundamentals of ASL easier and more accessible. “ASL-LEX 2.0 is an invaluable resource. Being able to access linguistic information—including the five parameters on every sign—in one place is enormously helpful,” Higgins says.  “English speakers know cat and hat rhyme in English, and we have all kinds of resources for thinking about the properties of English, French, and many spoken languages, but at the outset we really didn’t know much about the lexicon of ASL,” says Naomi Caselli, a Wheelock assistant professor and researcher of deaf studies who helped create the database, and leads the LexLab. A lexicon is the vocabulary that makes up a language—for ASL, the lexicon describes the language’s entire universe of movements and sign forms…”

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