sMAartblog

Sign Language Puzzle Solved

Posted on: 16/12/2009

Scientists have known for 40 years that even though it takes longer to use sign language to sign individual words, sentences can be signed, on average, in the same time it takes to say them, but until now they have never understood how this could be possible.

Scientists Andrew Chong and colleagues at Princeton University in New Jersey have been studying the empirical entropy and redundancy in American Sign Language handshapes to find an answer to the puzzle. The term entropy is used in the research as a measure of the average information content of a unit of data.

The fundamental unit of data of ASL is the handshape, while for spoken languages the fundamental units are phonemes. A handshape is a specific movement of the hand and specific location of the hand.

Their results show that the information contained in the 45 handshapes making up the American Sign Language is higher than the amount of information contained in phonemes. This means spoken English has more redundancy than the signed equivalent.

The researchers reached this conclusion by measuring the frequency of handshapes in videos of signing uploaded by deaf people to websites YouTube, DeafRead, and DeafVideo.tv, and videos of conversations in sign language recorded on campus. They discovered that the entropy (information content) of the handshapes averages at 0.5 bits per shape less than the theoretical maximum, while the entropy per phoneme in speech is around three bits below the maximum possible.

This means that even though making the signs for words is slower, signers can keep up with speakers because the low redundancy rate compensates for the slower rate of signing.

Read more: http://www.physorg.com/news180085938.html

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