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Sign Language Translator
Posted: 17 September 2007 05:04 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Technology that translates spoken or written words into British Sign Language (BSL) has been developed by researchers at IBM.
The system, called SiSi (Say It Sign It) was created by a group of students in the UK.

SiSi will enable deaf people to have simultaneous sign language interpretations of meetings and presentations.
It uses speech recognition to animate a digital character or avatar.
IBM says its technology will allow for interpretation in situations where a human interpreter is not available.
It could also be used to provide automatic signing for television, radio and telephone calls.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/6993326.stm

I think this is an excellent idea. smile

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Posted: 17 September 2007 05:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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WOW!  You know, the rest of us would be able to learn sign language right along with this too!  This is VERY neat!

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Posted: 17 September 2007 05:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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It will be very interesting to see how it handles different dialects within a given language.

I have visions of the interpreter from Father Ted shrugging her shoulders in admission that she has no idea what the singer is actually singing.

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Posted: 17 September 2007 05:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I have two responses:  as a certified Interpreter for the Deaf (though I haven’t done it professionally in about 8 years now), I think it’s a terrible idea!  grin


Also, the story seems to be pretty overhyped for what the technology really can do.  At most, it can transliterate a string of English words to their sign glosses.  I don’t think they’re even claiming it makes an attempt at evaluating syntax.  It’d sort of be like trying to understand a foreign language that you aren’t familiar with by using a dictionary.  I doubt very much that this can actually render English as BSL.

I’ve seen another sort of technology that can take the deaf person’s fingerspelling and display it as text (or even voice it).

Many Deaf do have a knowledge (to greater or lesser degree) of the spoken language (English, in the case of the U.K. and the U.S.), so such a device might give them some degree of independence.  Others, though, have virtually no knowledge of that language, so the string of signed glosses would be nearly meaningless to them.

I know, the objection is—as mentioned in the article as “will allow for interpretation in situations where a human interpreter is not available”—that it’s better than nothing at all. 

According to the code of ethics I learned when I began working as an interpreter, though, poor interpretation is NOT better than nothing.  With nothing, all parties understand that no communication is happening.  Poor interpretation raises the possibility of profound misunderstandings where the parties involved might think they understand one another. 

An example involved an under-qualified interpreter here in the U.S.  She was qualified as a Pigdin Signed English interpreter, but not ASL.  There was a murder, and a deaf man was arrested as the suspect.  Her interpretation of the Miranda Rights were meaningless to the guy—yet, as most do in this situation, he nodded throughout, which she voiced as assent.  He confessed to the crime, but had to be freed later.

This sort of thing was drilled into me—I am obliged to refuse assignments when I’m not qualified.  It is NOT better than nothing.

Anyway, that’s my 2 cents.  It’s still pretty cool technology!

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Posted: 17 September 2007 08:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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wouldn’t subtitles be better?

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Posted: 17 September 2007 09:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Sharruma - 18 September 2007 12:17 AM

wouldn’t subtitles be better?

Only if the person can read and understand English. 

BSL (and here, ASL) are not merely manual versions of English.  They are distinct languages.

With cochlear implants and emphasis on non-signing education, the number of people in this category is getting smaller, but it is still substantial.

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Posted: 17 September 2007 09:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Just a little example of an exchange between a hearing person speaking English and a deaf person using ASL:

Hearing person:  “Are you going to buy a notebook for class? “
[interpreter renders this into decent ASL]

Deaf person’s answer:  “Finish.”  [or rather the sign that is glossed to the English word “finish”]
My interpretation of this quick sign would be:  “I’ve already bought it.” 

(Or perhaps even “I already got it” depending on the speech register appropriate.)

The above is more about the ASL-to-English direction. 

The other way (that this device addresses) is just as tricky. English is particularly rich in vocabulary, whereas ASL (and I would suppose BSL as well) relies on inflections of the same sign to cover all the same nuances in meaning.  I doubt very much that this machine would produce an animation that would distinguish among English words such as gaze, stare, look, see, observe and watch.  Losing the differences among these could turn out to be pretty important.

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Posted: 17 September 2007 09:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I remember reading somewhere that some sign-language users have trouble with written English, seeing as it is a totally distinct language. I’m not sure how widespread that is, but I could understand if a sign-language user had trouble reading subtitles. When most of their inter-personal communication is done via sign-language I can see why they might not equate the written words to their meanings.

Seeing as they’ll only ever encounter those words in print, never actually USE them.

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Posted: 17 September 2007 10:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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In Kentucky, a person has to have a special cert to translate for the deaf. This is the state, after all, that has one of the oldest schools for the deaf. No other language has this privliage in this state yet. This needs to be because the deaf do not have the advantages we hearing people do.

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Posted: 18 September 2007 02:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I am an ex associate - 18 September 2007 02:55 AM

In Kentucky, a person has to have a special cert to translate for the deaf. This is the state, after all, that has one of the oldest schools for the deaf. No other language has this privliage in this state yet. This needs to be because the deaf do not have the advantages we hearing people do.

I’m pretty sure most states now have some certification requirement for interpreters for the Deaf.  That’s mostly due to the efforts of the R.I.D. (the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf—the national professional organization for interpreters). 

ADA requires reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities, so there are many situations where an interpreter is mandated, but that’s a separate issue from certification and licensure.  (I’m assuming immigrants aren’t covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act—but I do know plenty of government agencies and hospitals do accommodate various immigrant communities with foreign language interpreters.)

Missouri has had a state certification and licensure program since around 1998, and I believe we were among the later states to get it.

For the record “translation” refers to what you do to a frozen text (in sign language it’d be things like a scripted play or a videotaped sign storytelling).  Interpretation or “simultaneous” interpretation is the more common, real-time activity.

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Posted: 18 September 2007 10:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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JoeDaJuggler - 18 September 2007 01:44 AM

Just a little example of an exchange between a hearing person speaking English and a deaf person using ASL:

Hearing person:  “Are you going to buy a notebook for class? “
[interpreter renders this into decent ASL]

Deaf person’s answer:  “Finish.”  [or rather the sign that is glossed to the English word “finish”]
My interpretation of this quick sign would be:  “I’ve already bought it.” 

(Or perhaps even “I already got it” depending on the speech register appropriate.)

The above is more about the ASL-to-English direction. 

The other way (that this device addresses) is just as tricky. English is particularly rich in vocabulary, whereas ASL (and I would suppose BSL as well) relies on inflections of the same sign to cover all the same nuances in meaning.  I doubt very much that this machine would produce an animation that would distinguish among English words such as gaze, stare, look, see, observe and watch.  Losing the differences among these could turn out to be pretty important.

I was thinking this same thing.  Years ago, my dad had a relationship with a woman who has a deaf son.  The relationship ended, but the son was friends with my brothers, and he actually comes to our house about once a week b/c he works nearby.

Anywho…I know I have seen him sign many things that when looked at LITERALLY or individually, wouldn’t make sense.  Like you mention with the gaze, stare, see, look thing…all those signs are basically the same.

Plus, there are other signs that are SIMILAR, where you place your hand in the same position (next to your head for example), but change the shape of your hand to mean something else.  Would the machine pick up on that?  Or end up using the same translation over & over?

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Posted: 18 September 2007 03:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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In fact, there’s an ASL joke that’s sort of the shibboleth for the ASL-using Deaf Community.  It involves the issue of being deaf in a hearing culture and how the gloss of sign reads in English.  I’ll give you an English version of it.  The punch line will make no sense unless you know what the English words represent.  (I’ll explain it after, but it won’t be funny—it’s basically hearing a pun in a foreign language.)

A deaf man was driving along when he came to a railroad crossing.  The barriers were down and the lights were flashing, so he stopped and waited.  There was no train.  He looked to the left as far as he could see—nothing.  To the right—-nothing.  He waited longer, and the gates remained down and the lights flashed on, but still no train came.

After a bit, he noticed there was a little sort of guard shack next to the railroad crossing that seemed to belong to the railroad company.  He parked the car and knocked on the door.

Naturally, the man who came to the door couldn’t understand sign, so the deaf man pulled out a piece of paper and a pencil, thought for a minute and wrote the following on it: 

“Please but!”

Get it?

No??

OK—“Please” is a pretty straight translation, but the word “but” is really a gloss for the sign that means “but” (or “however”).  However, in this situation, he was using it as a classifier.  A classifier is sort of the visual equivalent of a onomatopoeia.  There are specific rules for how they’re done (just as there are phonological and orthographic rules for words like “buzz” and “pop”—even made up ones like “da doop clash”), but the basic idea is to draw a visual image.  In this case, the classifier “but” represents the two gates opening.  If I saw a deaf person signing this in this context, I would voice it as “Please open the gate” or “Please raise the barriers”.

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