Research Articles

Documenting sign languages

  • Adam Schembri


This chapter is an introduction to documentary sign linguistics. I am going to focus mostly on the British Sign Language Corpus Project, based at the Deafness, Cognition and Language Research Centre, University College London — in particular, issues to do with data collection (e.g., the Observer’s Paradox) and the notion of having an open access archive. Unlike some other corpus projects (e.g., the Auslan Archive or the Sign Language of the Netherlands (NGT) Corpus) which received funding specifically for the creation of a corpus, the funding for the BSL Corpus Project comes from a grant by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of a research project to create a corpus while conducting linguistic research into BSL. The key research questions focus primarily on issues related to sociolinguistic variation and change in BSL. Obviously corpus data lends itself rather well to this kind of study, and I will explain below why we have such an interest in variation.

Keywords: documentary sign linguistics, British Sign Language Corpus Project, BSL Corpus Project, data collection, observer's paradox, data repesentation, ELAN, methodology, archiving, linguistic diversity, language endangerment, community endangerment

How to Cite:

Schembri, A., (2010) “Documenting sign languages”, Language Documentation and Description 7, 105-143. doi:

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Published on
31 Jul 2010
Peer Reviewed