The British Sign Language (BSL) Corpus Project is a three year project (January 1 2008-December 31 2010) funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) that has two main aims:

  • to create an on-line, open access corpus of annotated BSL digital video data
  • to conduct corpus-based studies into sociolinguistic variation, language change, language contact and lexical frequency in BSL

Data collection
During 2008, data will be collected from a minimum of 240 Deaf native and near signers of BSL, from at least 8 sites across the United Kingdom (the sites are yet to be confirmed, but may include London, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Glasgow, Cardiff and Belfast). The dataset will be as representative of the language community as possible, including a balance of men and women, adults with Deaf parents and those with hearing parents, signers who are young and old, and individuals from working and middle class backgrounds and different ethnic groups. In each site, local deaf community fieldworkers will recruit 30 individuals that match the project criteria (e.g., exposure to BSL by age 7, long-term residence in the region etc).

BSL Corpus
This data will be used to create the foundations of a centralised archive of BSL data for ongoing research efforts to understand the language of the British Deaf community. Advances in technology have made it possible to collect sign language recordings that can be stored digitally, given linguistic annotations and accessed on-line.

Sociolinguistic variation, language change, language contact and lexical frequency in BSL
The data collected will be used to investigate a number of aspects of BSL usage. First, a set of studies will be conducted on sociolinguistic variation and change in the phonology, vocabulary and grammar of BSL and their relationship to social factors, such as a signer’s gender, regional background, educational experience, age or social networks. A second study will be undertaken on a subset of 100,000 signs as part of an investigation into the frequency of lexical items in BSL. A third study may also be undertaken on the outcomes of language contact between BSL and English, such as sociolinguistic variation in the use of mouthing, fingerspelling and/or contact signing.

Project team:
Project director and principal investigator:
Adam Schembri

Kearsy Cormier (UCL), Margaret Deuchar (Bangor University), Frances Elton (UCL), Donall O Baoill (Queens University Belfast), Rachel Sutton-Spence (University of Bristol), Graham H. Turner (Heriot-Watt University) and Bencie Woll (UCL)

Project technician:
Delroy Nelson

Project website:
A more detailed project website is being planned, with information in BSL, and will be launched in early 2008.