Learn NZSL: an e-learning website for NZSL beginners, 2015–2017

Learn NZSL an e-learning website for beginner learners of New Zealand Sign Language, was launched on 6th April 2017. This resource was developed by the DSRU in collaboration with Kineo, an award-winning e-learning company. Learn NZSL was funded by the NZSL Fund and a donation from the TAB Book Project Committee.

Learn NZSL is the first resource of its kind to provide a large-scale, free interactive and sequential learning experience for NZSL. The course is split into nine topics, supported by interactive tasks and 660 videos. This resource affirms Victoria University of Wellington’s continuing leadership in NZSL documentation and resource development.

In 2017, DSRU undertook a study to evaluate the user experience and learning outcomes of a small group of autonomous beginners with Learn NZSL. This study was funded by Victoria University of Wellington’s PBRF Strategic Grant. The study was published in NZ Studies in Applied Linguistics.

E-learning of New Zealand Sign Language: Evaluating learners’ perceptions and practical achievements.

For more information in NZSL, see our presentation at Signs of Professionalism Conference on 25th November 2017: NZSL online learning: Does it actually work?

Our Place: Geographical signs in the Online Dictionary of NZSL, 2016–2017

The DSRU were funded by the NZSL Fund to research and document signs that are commonly used for New Zealand place names in NZSL.

Signs were collected in 11 locations (Whangarei, Auckland, Hamilton, Napier, Te Puke, Palmerston North, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch, Dunedin, and Invercargill). A total of 101 Deaf community members took part in data collection meetings in these locations.

More than 1000 signs were collected, of which 443 have been added to the NZSL Online Dictionary.

A description of the different types of place name signs can be found in the conference presentation:
Signposts: Placename reference in NZSL.pdf743KB

Assessing the Ethnolinguistic Vitality of NZSL, 2013–2014

The status of NZSL has advanced in recent decades, improving Deaf people’s opportunities to participate in society and increasing recognition of their minority language identity. NZSL was legally recognised as an official language in 2006. The provision of interpreting services is common, and the number of NZSL users participating in higher education has expanded. NZSL is taught in two universities, community education programmes, and is an option in the national primary school curriculum. Documentation of NZSL has progressed steadily since the 1980s.

Nevertheless, it is anecdotally known that current conditions for the transmission and maintenance of NZSL are precarious. Common threats to the survival of signed languages include the shrinking of Deaf/signing populations which is linked to high rates of cochlear implantation in deaf children, mainstream school placement and closure of deaf schools (which isolates deaf children from a community of signing peers), and medical advances in the prevention of deafness. Institutional factors that weaken the vitality of NZSL include barriers for deaf children and families to acquire NZSL, limited quantity and quality of access to NZSL as a first or second language within the school system, and the absence of NZSL in broadcasting.

In 2013–2014, the DSRU undertook a project to gather data that would inform an assessment of the ethnolinguistic vitality of NZSL. Mixed-methods were used to collect quantitative and qualitative information, including surveys, interviews, statistics and other documentary evidence. According to criteria in the UNESCO “Language Vitality and Endangerment” assessment tool, NZSL has a “vulnerable” status. Reports on this project are posted as they are completed, at this site.

See videos explaining some results from the project in NZSL:

Vitality of NZSL—Introduction to project
Vitality of NZSL—Survey of the Deaf community
Vitality of NZSL—NZSL Acquisition by children
Vitality of NZSL—Deaf community feelings about NZSL future
Vitality of NZSL—full version (32 minutes long) Link: Presentation at TISLR 12, Melbourne, 2016pdf11.0MB

For further information on sign language endangerment, see: Worldwide Project on Sign Language Endangerment.

Online Dictionary of New Zealand Sign Language project

The multimedia Online Dictionary of New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL Online) was launched in 2011, developed by the Deaf Studies Research Unit (DSRU), in collaboration with partner organisations. The project (2008–2011) was publicly funded by the Tertiary Education Commission, “Encouraging and Supporting Innovation (ESI)” fund.

NZSL Online builds upon the database of A Dictionary of New Zealand Sign Language(1998), and A Concise Dictionary of New Zealand Sign Language (2002), (still available in print). In the development of NZSL Online, content was updated and video clips were added to demonstrate how each sign is produced. Example sentence videos illustrate how each sign is used in a natural context. A large proportion of the usage examples are based on a corpus of authentic NZSL conversation and narrative data.

“User Requirements Survey” pdf118KB was undertaken prior to making NZSL Online, to determine dictionary user needs and preferences.

The dictionary has over 5,000 entries and expansion of content is ongoing through specific projects; for example, adding signs relevant to young children, and New Zealand geographical place names.

The dictionary can be searched in several ways: by English word, by Māori word, by features of a sign (handshape and location), by topics, and by other categories.

NZSL Online was Highly Commended in the Australia NZ Internet Awards, 2011.

The development of NZSL Online is described in more detail in this article:
McKee, R. and D. McKee. (2013). Making an Online Dictionary of New Zealand Sign Language. Lexikos, 23.

Technical queries about the database or content inquiries can be made via the Contact Us link on the dictionary website.

Christchurch Earthquake Deaf History project

In 2011–2012, DSRU was funded by the Victoria University of Wellington Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences to undertake an oral history project about Deaf people's experiences of the 2010 and 2011 Christchurch earthquakes. Narratives in NZ Sign Language were recorded and translated for archiving and edited into a documentary film made primarily for a Deaf community audience.

Watch the file here: Deaf people's experiences (in NZSL, with voice-over).