CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 11 . . . . January 31, 2003
The Canadian Dictionary of ASL is an extremely comprehensive dictionary of American Sign Language that includes over 8,700 signs, many unique to Canada. This reference book was developed in conjunction with the Canadian Cultural Society of the Deaf, and, as a result, it draws upon the expertise of members of the Deaf community all across Canada. This is particularly evident through the inclusion of regional sign variations. Throughout the dictionary entries, when different signs are used to indicate a particular concept in any of the four regions of Canada (Pacific, Prairie, Central, and Atlantic), these are clearly specified. The close networking with members of the Deaf community involved in the development of this material adds to the overall accuracy and credibility of the work.
There are several features that make this dictionary easy to use. The first is the fact that illustrations are included for all the signs. These illustrations are similar to those used in other sign language dictionaries in that they are line drawings, indicate movement with arrows, show the starting position of hands in dotted lines and the final position in solid lines, and include two panels if handshapes change within the production of a sign. The second feature that helps to clarify the signs, and is unique to this dictionary, is a verbal description of how to produce each sign. Examples of these descriptions can be noted in the excerpt above. Although these initially may seem cumbersome, once the codes for movement and handshapes are known, these explanations can be very helpful in ensuring the accurate production of signs.
A key feature that makes this dictionary such a valuable resource is the emphasis on meaning. Words and signs are linked to a similar concept; therefore, separate signs are specified for each meaning of an English word. In the past, American Sign Language dictionaries have indicated a one-to-one correspondence between words and signs, which can limit communication and cause misunderstandings. Each English word is also used within the context of an example sentence, and this further clarifies and emphasizes its meaning. English words that are not indicated with a specific sign are also included in the dictionary. These entries indicate how the ASL sentence structure, sign movement, or facial expression will be modified to communicate the concept expressed by the English word. These translations focus on meaning and facilitate awareness regarding the language as a whole, rather than an emphasis on vocabulary only.
The Canadian Dictionary of ASL includes several separate sections outlining specific ASL structures, like Fingerspelling and Pronouns, and specific vocabulary categories, including Numbers, Time Indicators, and Geographic Place Names. Keeping these as separate sections makes for easier and more rapid referencing of these items. Another very important section is the one describing ASL Handshapes. This is done in a chart format so that all modifications and the accompanying descriptive labels (bent, clawed, open, spread, etc.) are clearly indicated. As handshapes are key elements in producing signs, this chart is an important reference guide to understanding the verbal descriptions included in each word entry of the dictionary.
There are always limitations in trying to represent a visual-gestural language on paper. It is difficult to clearly and consistently reflect the dimensions of space and movement in hand signs and facial expressions. The authors of The Canadian Dictionary of ASL, although not perfect in this regard, strive to overcome these limitations through representing the production of signs in multiple ways. The only other limitation of the dictionary is the flipside to its comprehensiveness - it is a very large and weighty tome! This is not a dictionary that can be carried in a pocket and referred to mid-conversation. It must clearly serve as a reference guide that remains in a central location in the home, classroom, or office.
This dictionary is highly recommended for hearing people who want to improve their knowledge of ASL signs, and Deaf people who want to improve their use and knowledge of English words. In both cases, the manual is extremely user-friendly due to its emphasis on meaning and range of options for describing the concepts presented. This dictionary should have a place in any classroom or home where there is a Deaf child, and it is an essential resource for anyone working with Deaf people in Canada. The thorough and careful work in the development of The Canadian Dictionary of ASL will ensure its use as a reference tool for many years to come.
Charlotte Evans is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba. She teaches in the area of Inclusive Special Education and is currently conducting a research project to determine the efficacy of a literacy learning curriculum with Deaf students using both ASL and English.
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other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.