Sign Language on Maps

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Imagine asking for or giving directions in a language you don’t know. How difficult would it be to communicate where you need to go, or to direct others where they should go? A new map created in Canada is making geography more accessible to members of the deaf and hearing impaired community.

Much like spoken languages, sign language can have its own dialects based on regional language differences. The Atlantic Provinces Sign Language Place Names map is an interactive map with place names described in American Sign Language, commonly used across the United States and Canada, as well as a regional dialect known as Maritime Sign Language.

Transcribing a map with sign language can present unique challenges. Some place names have their own sign, while other place names must be spelled out alphabetically. Standardizing these place names and making them commonly used across American and Maritime Sign Language helps members of the hearing impaired community communicate with others when it comes to cartography and geography.

Saint Mary’s University members began the project and soon began partnering with organizations like the Society of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Nova Scotians, the St. John Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services, the Association of Visual Language Interpreters of New Brunswick, the Maritime Association of Professional Sign Language Interpreters, the Atlantic Provinces Special Education Authority, Deaf Literacy Nova Scotia, and the Nova Scotia Cultural Society for the Deaf.

The Atlantic Provinces Sign Language Place Names map for Newfoundland and Labrador.
The Atlantic Provinces Sign Language Place Names map for Newfoundland and Labrador.

The researchers chose to include the endangered dialect of Maritime Sign Language to preserve the region’s diverse European heritage, as much of MSL is derived from British and Scottish roots.

Approximately 120 places have been named using American Sign Language and Maritime Sign Language. The mapping project was designed to create a connection between place names and language to continue that location’s history and culture.

Watch the video for an introduction to the Atlantic Provinces Sign Language Place Names map: