Sign Language Phonetic Annotation meets Phonological CorpusTools: Towards a sign language toolset for phonetic notation and phonological analysis

Oksana Tkachman, Kathleen Currie Hall, André Xavier, Bryan Gick


The field of sign language linguistics still misses a unified notation system such as IPA for spoken languages. Some previous attempts to create written notation systems are either not suited for phonetic analysis, or language-specific and phoneme-based and thus impossible to use in cross-linguistic studies. We describe a more recent attempt to create a purely phonetic notation system, Sign Language Phonetic Annotation (SLPA) by Johnson and Liddell (2010, 2011a, 2011b, 2012). SLPA aims for narrow phonetic notation, is easily learned by humans and machine-readable, utilizes symbols found on a common keyboard, and does not require the user to be familiar with sign languages. However, SLPA is too exhaustive (a single handshape requires 23-34 characters), incorporates some theoretical assumptions (e.g., binary features), and captures as distinctive handshapes that anatomically impossible, redundant, or perceptually nondistinctive. We propose modifications to SLPA that make it easier to use and avoid coding errors, more user-friendly, and more linguistically relevant, both general modifications suitable for manual notation and software-specific modifications. We also discuss how we intend to adapt SLPA into the Phonological CorpusTools software (Hall et al. 2015), a free tool that allows researchers to make fast, replicable analyses of various phonological patterns.


sign language; notation system; phonetic description; Phonological CorpusTools; Sign Language Phonetic Annotation

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Copyright (c) 2016 Oksana Tkachman, Kathleen Currie Hall, André Xavier, Bryan Gick

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