for iPhone
September 23, 2015 8:49 PM   Subscribe

posted by DoctorFedora at 8:58 PM on September 23, 2015

I'm kind of super skeptical about this? I scrolled through the interface, and it primarily seems to be the fingerspelling handshapes with no ability to indicate movement or repetition or loci or anything. So sure, you can type out things in fingerspelling, but that's not how Deaf people parse fingerspelling - in real life situations, we rely more upon the flow and shape of a word as it moves to recognize it quickly rather each individual letter. So, trying to translate that into the discrete form of a text based format doesn't really yield an equivalent speed.

I also watched the video, and it does none of the things it claims where it lets you communicate in ASL over English by text. You still pretty much have to use English syntax since you don't have any spatial loci to convey a sentence in ASL, so it's basically just typing English with a fancy font. And then the woman glosses over video messaging entirely when this IS what people use to communicate in ASL (seriously: check out Glide).

I can get trying to record ASL as a written form for academic purposes of recording culture. But as casual communication? This app seems to be trying to solve a problem no Deaf person really has, and badly at that.
posted by Conspire at 9:24 PM on September 23, 2015 [25 favorites]

It isn't just fingerspelling; it's basically a framework to embed series of itty GIFs into messages. You can already encode a lot of single-sign words, but I think it's ultimately limited only by what can be comprehended by a small moving image. I.e., there's not much scope for the use of space other than the area immediately around each hand.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:27 PM on September 23, 2015

Yeah, there's only 30 gifs and they only show the hand. I need the body and face to communicate things without any ambiguity at least - and given the permutations I'd want things in, I don't see this getting anywhere near being a streamlined texting option if they're gonna design all of these by hand rather through some automated process. And then even if they do, how do I even search the database of gifs to compose my text if my goal is to not have to think about the English translation too much?

Like, I'd rather boot up Glide and sign something quickly if I needed to convey something in ASL.

For now, I'm putting this more into the category of "app made to impress hearing people who think fingerspelling is the entirety of ASL" rather "app that is at all functionally useful to Deaf people."
posted by Conspire at 9:41 PM on September 23, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'm working with a team from Poland on a messaging app for the signing with more functionality planned. I hope to be able to share more details very soon.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 10:05 PM on September 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Huge thanks to the Deaf community for finally pioneering the middle finger emoji!
posted by TheCoug at 10:57 PM on September 23, 2015

Is the middle finger gesture technically a cognate between American English and American Sign Language?
posted by Fongotskilernie at 12:54 AM on September 24, 2015

This is complete nonsense. Do they not understand that deaf people can actually read? You know, read English, German, Japanese or whatever. All those languages that already exist in written forms.

Deaf people already use txt messages when the want to send a text. This seems to be solving a non-existent problem. or one that was already solved by Skype / Facetime / Google etc... i.e. VIDEO!!

A friend works in sign-language linguistics and spends hours "encoding" actual video footage of signers into a meta-language of motions and "words" for analysis. There are methods of translating sign-language into a "written-form" that preserves its syntax, but it is really not practical or useful for actually signing. And the examples presented here are so far from useful for actual signing. Their included animated gifs are so obviously chosen for laughs rather than actual communication.
posted by mary8nne at 3:00 AM on September 24, 2015 [5 favorites]

Actually, this app reminds me of the sort of "orientalist" exoticism that persists with respect to foreign cultures, that Edward Said focussed on in his writings, but transposed into the world of deaf culture.
posted by mary8nne at 3:04 AM on September 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

They're basically pushing this as emojis for people that use ASL ... but I don't really see the point of the letter forms in that case.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:08 AM on September 24, 2015

What everyone else said.
posted by odinsdream at 5:43 AM on September 24, 2015

I'd like to hear more from native signers about whether this is interesting. My reaction was the same as Conspire's. This looks to be mostly fingerspelling, which is really not terribly exciting.

This GigaOM article (which reads like a press release) has more detail. Apparently the thing does have some "common phrases" in addition to the letters. The app is by ASLized so at least it's coming from the signing community, not some well-meaning-but-clueless person who learned a little ASL in college to impress a cute Deaf girl.

As for real written ASL, as one of the post's links notes there's no single common system used everywhere. I am intrigued by the existence of the ASL Wikipedia though, an experiment to use SignWriting to make a Wikipedia. That writing system was added to Unicode recently, in Unicode 8.0 which just came out a few months ago.
posted by Nelson at 7:08 AM on September 24, 2015

I had hoped this would be something that videoed a user signing and translated that into text.
posted by grouse at 7:32 AM on September 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Like grouse, that's what I thought it would be, and then I got to see ... fingerspelling emoji? I don't know a lot, but I have a couple non-deaf friends who know ASL and taught me that it's much more than just hand signs.

This clearly misses that point by many miles.
posted by symbioid at 7:58 AM on September 24, 2015

Also - I liked reading Conspire's description of reading fingerspelling.

" in real life situations, we rely more upon the flow and shape of a word as it moves to recognize it quickly rather each individual letter."

It brings to mind spacial vectors and tracing lines. Not the forms of the objects/hands, but the transforms of position, rotation, translation in 3D space and the transitions between them, almost like visualizing trails of movement...

I could see a really cool 3D rendering of someone doing these moves with light-trails.
posted by symbioid at 8:15 AM on September 24, 2015

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