Research

Current projects

DSRU is working on two projects funded by the 2015 NZSL Fund.

  1. LearnNZSL: developing an e-learning website that will be a freely available introduction to NZSL. The project is due for completion mid=2017.
  2. Our Place: Geographical Signs in the Online Dictionary of NZSL: researching NZ geographical location signs and adding these to the NZSL Online Dictionary. The project is due for completion mid-2016.

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, 2016 pdf11.0MB

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 VUW Faculty of Humanites 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).

Previous projects

The Deaf Studies Research Unit (DSRU) was established in 1995 with the goal of conducting research on topics relating to Deaf people and their language in New Zealand. The first major work of DSRU was the production of A Dictionary of New Zealand Sign Language, the first of its kind in New Zealand. This project was completed by a team of deaf and hearing researchers over the period 1992-1997. While this dictionary is no longer in print, having been superceded by the Online Dictionary of New Zealand Sign Language, the concise edition is still available. The Concise Dictionary of New Zealand Sign Language can be ordered from Bridget Williams Books. Research on the lexicon and grammar of New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) is ongoing in the DSRU.

Other topics investigated in connection with the DSRU include the use of NZSL amongst Deaf people, description of NZSL grammar, sign language interpreting, curriculum development for teaching NZSL, the community and culture of Deaf people in New Zealand, Deaf people in education.

The DSRU conducted a three-year study (2005-2007) of sociolinguistic variation in NZSL, supported by the Marsden Fund of the Royal Society of NZ. Using quantitative methods, the study examined the relationship between variation in linguistic structures used by NZSL signers, and their social characteristics.

A research project in 2000-2003 investigated deaf children in mainstream classrooms pdf192KB in terms of their access to academic and social aspects of learning. The study gathered case study data on six children, and surveyed the views of national samples  of parents pdf491KB, mainstream teachers pdf287KB, teacher aidespdf108KB, itinerant teachers of mainstreamed deaf students pdf194KB, and Deaf paraprofessionalspdf205KB. You may view a summary of key issues from this project pdf46KB.