Maltese sign language is the third official language in Malta. On the eve of World Sign Language day, TVM spoke with Prof Marie Alexander who is the editor of the only dictionary of this sign language, which collects hundreds of signs which represent concepts, items or ideas.
Sign language, like any other language, has its own rules and over time it develops and is strengthened with the addition of new signs as needed. Recently, this language has taken on a new lease of life as it is being used frequently by educational and European institutions as well as other sectors so that those who are hearing impaired can play a bigger role in society.
“The language has its own grammar and therefore where the order of the signs is concerned, they do not follow the same order which we use in Maltese and you cannot compare the sequence of worlds in Maltese with these signs. If you had to do that, it would make those who are hearing impaired laugh because it would not be understood properly. In other words it is another language completely.”
Marie Alexander is a linguistics and language technology professor at the University of Malta. She has spent many years collecting the information so that together with Dr Maria Galea they could collect the sign language which is used by those who are hearing impaired into a dictionary. Today, the deaf also communicate by mobile using sign language and the new signs which have been created would have been discussed by them after following certain characteristics which can identify one sign from another. The dictionary is spilt into themes such as the names of animals, places, countries and professions. By means of this sign language dictionary a better and more permanent structure has been given with the aim to continue strengthening this language.
“We began collecting signs and taking photos, and obviously since this is a hard copy, we have videos which cannot be used in the book. Since we had collected so many we thought, let us split it into themes at least we would have finished something. So we made about 90, but for example, they didn’t used to have a sign for ladybug, but now they do, so when they need a new sign they often speak to one another about it.”
The dictionary which was published 17 years ago today can be found online. This is the result of the work carried out by the two scholars. The dictionary includes drawings which represent every sign and how it should be formed by each person who uses sign language. Online one can find videos and photos of how to sign. Like every language, sign language has to adapt over time and in fact because off the pandemic around 100 new signs have been added to help those who are deaf communicate better and more quickly.
PBS will be launching a series of initiatives in connection with this sign language which will be announced later today.