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Maltese Sign Language Project
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The Maltese Sign Language Research Project is coordinated by Dr Marie Alexander. In 1996, four adults from the Maltese Deaf community agreed to be recorded chatting to each other in Maltese Sign Language (LSM) and to contribute other more structured or elicited data for analysis. This was the start of the Maltese Sign Language Project at the Institute of Linguistics. It served as a pilot study to determine various aspects related to the collection and analysis of data for future work.

The Dictionary

The Project was made more official in 2002 when the University of Malta Research Committee awarded a grant for a year renewable for up to three years. This allowed four researchers to join the project from outside the Institute – two deaf and two hearing researchers who were ready to start or to refine their ability to use the Valerie Sutton signwriting system. The grant also covered a substantial amount of the cost of publication of the first two volumes. FITA also contributed to the project by allowing their programmer to build a database for the dictionary and to prepare the CD format of the dictionary volumes.

At this stage, work focused on the collection and analysis of data that would be published in dictionary format. The dictionary was structured in themes to enable the publication of usable material without having to wait for the entire dictionary to be finalized.

The first volume – ANNIMALI / ANIMALS was published in 2002. It included signs made by Deaf signers explained and translated into Maltese and English in paper and CD format.

The second volume, POSTIJIET / PLACES was published in 2005. 

Two volumes are currently waiting to be published: RELIĠJON / RELIGION and  XOGĦOL / WORK.


The Teaching of the Maltese Sign Language

Alongside work for the LSM dictionary, the Institute through the LSM Research Project, is contributing to move Maltese Sign Language into national awareness in further ways. One primary means is the organization of courses in Maltese Sign Language at beginners and intermediate level. Both courses are accredited and are very popular as options for students coming from various faculties across the University. It is hoped that more advanced courses will also be organized. The Education Department has adopted the beginners’ course, run by the same Deaf lecturers, as part of its evening course programme for anyone interested. MCAST also runs the course as part of its regular evening programme. The demand for the courses at University is always high. Since classes are restricted to between 15 and 18 students and we have only two lecturers we need to think of ways of training more Deaf adults to teach the courses.

Undergraduate and Postgraduate Research

The Institute also organizes courses in Sign Linguistics and Signwriting for students of Linguistics as part of the undergraduate degree. So far, one student also chose to study Maltese Sign Language for her undergraduate dissertation. Subsequently, she proceeded to a Masters by research in the same area. Another student is currently doing a Masters by research in Maltese Sign Language.

Sign Language Interpreting

The research project constitutes a concrete link with the Maltese Deaf Community and is backed by the Fondazzjoni Riċerka Lingwa Tas-Sinjali Maltija as well as by the KNPD in various ways. As a result, it is coordinating sign language interpreting services in education and supporting the Maltese Sign Language Interpreters in their work with children and adolescents in education. There are currently three LSM interpreters working in schools and at MCAST. The Institute of Linguistics thus also supports children and adolescents who receive sign language interpreting services for their education. It does this within the framework of the bilingual policy advocated by the Kummissjoni għall-Edukazzjoni tal-Persuni Neqsin mis-Smigħ (Commission for the Education of the Maltese Hearing-Impaired). It is hoped that the Institute of Linguistics will be able to organize training for the Interpreters in the near future.

Future Work 

The Institute hopes to be able to continue research in Maltese Sign Language beyond the publication of the Dictionary. There are plans to support the building of resources for the teaching of Maltese Sign Language to families with deaf children as well as for academic research in the language. Moreover, it is planning to obtain funds to be able to organize training for sign language interpreters locally.







Linguistics Circle (21 June)

Mr. Marc Tanti, University of Malta

Title: Making Computers Describe Images Automatically

Date: Friday 21th June 12-14

Venue: GW214


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