iLex - A Tool for Sign Language Lexicography and Corpus Analysis

Sign languages are the preferred communications medium for most Deaf people around the world. Sign language uses a number of visually distinctively recognisable articulators (hands, facial expression, mouth, body) in parallel and fully exploits spatial and temporal relations to establish grammatical features.

It is therefore not surprising that sign language researchers had been among the first to integrate digital video into tools for corpus analysis and lexicographic work. Most of these tools, however, only served the immediate needs of their developers as they were small-scale by-products of sign language-related research projects. Only recently, the sign language research community has started to fully explore the field of cross-linguistic studies. New research questions were definitely beyond the scope of the "home-brewed" tools available.

Now that a number of LR tools have multimedia capabilities and offer far more analysis functions than available before, one way to go for sign language researchers is to make these tools usable by defining appropriate coding conventions.

Our approach, however, is somewhat different. While we want to make tools available in the LR community usable within our environment, we consider modality-specific requirements that important that we go the other way round: We continue to develop our own environment, opening it up to other tools by a step-wise transition to an open architecture model. As a first step, we have implemented XML import and export facilities for the appropriate components. The import functionality can handle a number of timing models that are in use in the sign language research community, with user-selectable strategies for resolving ambiguities where necessary.

Some of the sign language specific features of relevance here are:

The system described reflects our experience from a number of empirically based lexicographic and corpus analysis (child language as well as longitudinal studies on adult signers) projects carried out over the last twenty years. Support for crosslinguistic research, especially in language mixing and switching situations, has only recently been added. First results, however, are very promising.

Recent articles:

Further information on the predecessors:

In case of questions, please contact Thomas Hanke.