Slinto: a look at the world’s first crowdsourced sign language dictionary

It is relatively easy to find a sign language translation for a particular word. A quick Google search will bring up videos demonstrating how the sign is made. This is a valuable resource, however things are a little more difficult when it comes to looking up a specific sign and its translation; a sign cannot be entered into a computer using a standard keyboard. Moreover, there are 130 sign languages in existence, each with their own grammar and vocabulary. However, the lack of a sign-language keyboard has created difficulties in translating directly between them using online resources.

Slinto, an online, crowdsourced dictionary for signs, aims to address these problems. Since 2011, when it was set up by Japanese entrepreneur Junto Okhi, it has grown to become Japan’s largest database of signs. Its special online keyboard is comprised of visual representations of signs, allowing users to indicate the fingers that create the sign and where they are placed against the body. Given that real-life signs are in 3D (whereas the keyboard uses 2D representations) the search results provide video clips that allow users to find the exact sign they are looking for. Later this year, it plans to expand its database to include American Sign Language. This is only the first step in a project which ultimately aims to encompass as many of the world’s sign languages as possible, allowing users to directly translate between sign languages. Through this, it hopes to break down linguistic barriers between deaf communities.

How does all this work? Users contribute words and videos to SLinto and rate the accuracy of translations. Okhi hopes that this can help new signs to be created, allowing the vocabularies of sign languages to grow. His aim is to reach 10,000 signs in Japan, 7000 in the US and 3000 in a developing country, with India being a likely candidate. The project’s aims may be ambitious, but if they can help enable communication worldwide, provide deaf people with better access to public services, and make it easier to learn sign-language, they are certainly worthwhile.



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