The Indian government has embarked upon one such kind — and first-of-its-kind — project. A 12-member team put together by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment is coming out with an Indian Sign Language (ISL) dictionary, the Indian Express reports.
Over 6,000 English and Hindi words — of everyday usage, legal, medical, technical and academic terms — have already been compiled for the dictionary slated to release in March. Researchers have identified 44 hand-shapes used in India under which each of the 6,000 words would be classified.
The team from the government-backed Indian Sign Language Research and Training Centre (ISLRTC) is working on graphic representations of the most-used signs that vary from region to region given India's rich cultural and linguistic diversity.
ISLRTC was set up in 2015 to "help the five million deaf community of the country [and to] provide for increased accessibility for the hearing impaired in education, in the workplace and in all activities of public life."
This dictionary would serve as a record of the common parlance of the 5 million deaf and 2 million mute people (Census 2011) across the country, the report added. Unlike American Sign Language (ASL) and sign languages of European countries, ISL is yet to gain minority language status in the country.
However, the government is taking steps "for achieving empowerment and inclusion of persons with disabilities" as announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the 9th World Assembly of the Disabled People's International in New Delhi last year.
Presently, there exists a sign language portal, Talking Hands, that combines Indian, international and local sign languages to "maintain communicative environment between hearing and hearing-disabled people across the globe."
It is also available as an Android app and had 5,000 downloads on Google Play store.
India to get its first comprehensive sign language dictionary
The dictionary will have over 6000 words compiled in sign language and will benefit over 80 lakh deaf and dumb Indians and their families.
A different language is a different vision of life, and sign language is a beautiful way of communication in its own right.
The central government is currently working on curating a first-of-its-kind Indian Sign Language dictionary, which is expected to be released in March.
The project is commissioned by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. So far, around 6,000 English and Hindi words have been compiled in sign languages specific to the Indian context.
In 1980, author Madan Vasishta established that Indian sign language was a language in its own right and documented how only five per cent of the total deaf children go to school and only 0.5 per cent receive education in sign language – which is the only way they can comprehend!
To bridge this gap, he compiled sign languages used in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru in his book ‘An Introduction to Indian Sign Languages’.
Now, the Indian Sign Language Research and Training Centre (ISLRTC) will compile its glossary of over 6,000 words by borrowing from the existing pool of information as well from its own research.
In a diverse country like India, not only does sign language vary as per region, certain villages have their own variants/dialects of rural sign languages.
Given this diverse culture, the team from the ISLRTC is working on graphic representations of not only the commonly used country-specific signs but also the numerous regional variations.
Another big issue that India faces is the shortage of interpreters proficient in the art of sign language.
ISLRTC’s Dr Abhishek Shrivastav, who is working on the signs for the dictionary has said,“Like every language, sign language too has its own phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics and pragmatics. The dictionary, once made widely available, will bridge the communication gap between the deaf and the hearing.”
Kudos to this awesome project that ensures the deaf and dumb will not feel alienated from main society. A much needed step that deserves a round of applause!