The dictionary part of the iltyem-iltyem website is organized around short video clips. The clips are grouped into categories, which roughly follow the categories found in the IAD Picture Dictionary series. Read on for instructions about how to interpret the identifications that go with each clip, and how to browse and search.
Sign clips and labels
Each video clip shows a ‘chunk’ of communication or an ‘utterance’. The chunk always includes a sign or a series of signs, and more often than not there is also speech.
Each clip is labeled to show the signs and speech used, as shown here (click on the image to view a larger version):
A label for each sign in the Indigenous language of the signer is shown in CAPITALS.
English sign identification labels are shown in CAPITALS underneath.
If the signer speaks as well as signing this is shown in plain writing under the sign labels, along with an English translation.
While in many of the examples sign and speech convey similar meanings this is not always the case. Sign and speech work together to create meanings that are complementary. Where these meanings are not easy to understand, a discussion is provided in the box below the English translation.
How do I find clips?
It is possible to browse through the website, and also to search for particular signs.
For browsing from the home page, click on a language group or a location to find the category page for that language or community group (remembering that a community may have more than one language group). Then choose a category to browse. This takes you to a list of signs for each category.
Each image is a link – click on that to view the clip.
To change the community or the language, use the menus at the top of each page.
To search for a particular sign, use the search function on the home page. This search function is also located at the top of each page.
Here you can do a simple search based around an English word or a language word. This search will look across all data categories to find the search term.
The advanced search function allows you to focus your searching – you can search through categories, search on a particular language, or search sign identification labels, including the English versions.
Where is the English translation?
You can hide or reveal the English translations for both Sign Identification labels and the whole clip. The link for this command is at the bottom of each page.
What do the sign identification labels mean?
The Iltyem-iltyem project is working with consultants from a number of different language groups and communities in Central Australia and northern Australia. Each spoken language is different, and each has a conventional writing system, or orthography.
The sign identification labels are based on words from the spoken language of each language group. It is important to note that they do not represent the full range of meaning of the signs. They are just labels which relate to a core concept conveyed by the sign. The English equivalents are provided to give a translation equivalent for each sign. The English sign labels also enable searches across language groups in the sign dictionary for signs with equivalent meanings.
Sometimes it is really clear that a particular sign form has several meanings, and where this is so the different meanings are separated by a forward slash. For example CAR/DRIVE A CAR or BURN/COOK. It is not necessarily the case that the distribution of meanings in sign is the same in all the languages represented on the website.
How do the sign identification labels link to the signs?
If a particular sign video clip in the dictionary has more than one sign, the sign identification labels for separate signs are separated by commas. These show the signs that are used in the clip, in the order that they appear.
This is an example of a sign clip with two signs: Clarrie Kemarr Long signing IRRETY and ARLKWEM (EAGLE/EAT).
Sometimes a signer will repeat a sign, and when this happens we usually repeat the sign identification label.
In this clip Clarrie signs ANKA, ARLKWEM, IRRETY, then repeats ANKA and ARLKWEM before signing another sign AHERR. This is an example of a more complex sign sentence, and you may need to play the clip a few times to be able see each sign as it appears.
It may be hard to see the subtle changes in position and movement that show the transition from one sign to the next. If this is the case, do a search for the individual sign identification label, as there may be another clip that has this sign on its own.
Why include speech in a sign language resource?
Many of the sign clips on this web-site also include speech. Sometimes sign and speech are closely co-ordinated and at other times either the sign or the speech may add different things to the total communicative message. Local spoken languages were the starting point when we were recording signs for the web-site – mostly we asked questions using speech and the consultant responded with signs. Sometimes the signers spoke as they signed and other times they signed in silence.
So far we have been working with hearing signers, rather than signers who are deaf. The reasons behind this lie in the particular nature of these sign languages. Whereas sign languages used in Deaf communities operate with little or no connection to speech, Australian Indigenous ‘alternate’ sign languages are used in various contexts by hearing people who also use spoken language. Sign is used in everyday communication for particular cultural reasons. Female bereaved kin may use sign to replace speech during mourning, and for this reason it is the women who are assumed to be most knowledgeable about sign. All members of the community may use sign to support other modes of communication. Sometimes sign replaces speech when talk is not practical or desirable. Signs are used in certain types of restricted ceremonies and in other situations where speaking is inappropriate. Sign is used when hunting (as noise would scare off prey), when giving directions, and for communication between people who are a long way from each other. For some speech and/or hearing impaired individuals sign is the primary mode of communication.
Sometimes the signers’ hands move too quickly to see the signs – how do I deal with this?
At this stage of web-site development the clips play at one speed only! We have attempted to show a range of clips – some have one sign only, and others have a number of signs that follow each other in quick succession. There are a couple of ways that learners can deal with this. Where you encounter a clip with a number of signs, the sign identification labels show which signs are included in the clip. You can then do a search using the individual sign labels to find other clips which have those signs.
A note about pointing
As you watch clips you may notice that signers often point to indicate places and people in the signing space. The role of pointing in sign is complex and interesting, and a topic for further research. Some pointing actions are similar to deictic words such as ‘this’ and ‘that’ and ‘there’, and when people use these words in spoken languages pointing to a particular place or location is often needed to complete the message. For an example of a clip with a locational point, view Eileen Campbell signing IRNTANG (HILL). In this clip Eileen is pointing to show where something is. The point is tightly integrated with the lexical sign that precedes it (INTEM/LIE).
Pointing actions function as pronouns (which express meanings such as ‘I’, ‘you’, ‘him/her’, ‘their’, ‘your’ etc). Many of the spoken languages in the communities represented on this website have very complex pronoun systems which distinguish between singular, dual and plural pronouns as well as marking the kin relations between the people who are being referred to. Further work is needed to really see which of these meanings are represented in signed communication.
So far we have focused on lexical signs – signs that have a form and meaning that is consistent whenever the sign is used. Quite often pointing is combined with a lexical sign, to show where something is located in space, the direction of movement, or its relationship with something.