Archive for the 'ASL' Category

Monday, October 14th, 2013


If you’ve come here because of something you noticed in your HTTP access logs, read on.

Who is doing this? This is a personal project of Micah Dubinko. It is completely separate from anything related to any employer.

What is ASLbot? In the immediate future, ASLbot is no more than a personal research project. It consists of a web crawler, like Google, with an emphasis on sites centered around American Sign Language, and in particular reference materials relating to particular signs. At the moment, there is no publicly available search site, but I would like to set that up as time allows. My long term goal is to promote ASL as an effective means of communication while at the same time making it easier to research and learn about.

Will this affect my site? No. I have the crawl settings turned down very low, so that sites crawled have no discernible impact on performance. I also crawl very infrequently, as ASL dictionaries don’t tend to change terribly often. Once a search site is operating, you may notice an increase in traffic as more people are able to find and visit your site.

What do you intend to do with the crawled data? First off, this is a technology experiment. I’ve noticed that Google/Bing/Yahoo do only an “OK” job on queries like “asl sign for awesome” and think a dedicated site can do better. Once the basics are up, I’d like to do a lot more, but this will necessarily take a long time, as this is not my full-time work. For example, I would like to (possibly with manual input, especially from native signers) categorize signs by handshape, position, and movement in a manner similar to William Stokoe‘s groundbreaking research on ASL linguistics. Keep in mind that this, if it happens at all, is far in the future—imagine someone searching for “M handshape shoulder” and getting a list of hits that link to existing ASL dictionaries.

Do you plan to charge money to access the site? Never.

Do you automatically download videos? No. Only web pages.

How do I make it stop? Think of it this way: Does your site appear in Google? If so, people will be searching and finding particular signs anyway, but without the aid of an ASL-positive web tool. But if you really want to, put an entry for “ASLbot” in your robots.txt file, which this crawler fully honors.

This is awesome, how do I help?  Or, I still have questions: Feel free to email me using the contact information listed on this site, or ( <my first name> @ <this> )

Monday, February 18th, 2013


So I did it.

I stood up on a platform in front of a room of native signers, and delivered a (pre-prepared) five minute presentation without making a sound. In front of cameras, with my ugly face beamed out to multiple large screens.

That was stressful, though less so then many different public speaking engagements I’ve participated in. It was a different kind of stress. I’m sure I made all kinds of mistakes of which I wasn’t even aware of. ASL books, videos, and web sites tend to focus on particular signs, and vocabulary is one important part of learning the language–but not the only part. A huge amount of the communication comes through facial expression, body shifting and language, and other “non-manual markers.” I’m learning, if slowly.

It’s also helping me in everyday situations, among hearing folks. I’m better able to express myself and I’ve picked up some new gestures (like non-dominant-hand indexing…more on that later), and I tend to, even if in the back of my mind, think about how you’d express such-and-such an idea in ASL, and having thought it through more, better express it in writing or speech.

It’s also helping to finally tame my inner-introvert. When a fundamental part of communication involves displaying play-by-play emotions on your face (and indeed, entire body) it changes you. Better than acting lessons.

What have you done lately to push yourself out of your comfort zone? -m

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012


My journey into ASL continues. I’ve been reading Oliver Sacks _Seeing Voices_ and Harlan Lane, Robert Hoffmeister, and Ben Bahan’s _A Journey into the DEAF-WORLD_. In short, learning a language in your thirties is a whole different ballgame than learning as a toddler. There are a few different brain plasticity cliffs you drop off especially at around age 6 and again at age 12.

And I’m completely OK with this. I don’t expect to ever get confused for a native signer, which is fine with me. I do expect, however, to become a better communicator–to develop sufficient skill to be clearly understood in ASL. I prefer to think of it like someone with a suave British accent in America. You’d never mistake them for a native and yet they are a joy to converse with. In the right circumstances, they can even grab your attention moreso than someone with a native accent.

This can only do good things for my spoken communication skills as well. It’s a lot like acting classes in some respects, which is a marked departure from my normally taciturn personality. This is encouraging me to quit holding everything inside quite so much, with encouraging results. If you see me walking a little taller, speaking a bit more emphatically, or better conveying emotion to get my point across, now you know what’s behind that. -m

Saturday, December 8th, 2012


I’ve been learning a new language lately: American Sign Language aka ASL. Along with the language, I’ve picked up lots of new friends as part of a thriving culture. A big part of learning is through mistakes, and a big part of said culture is helpful bluntness. The combination of these can be a little rough on your ego sometimes.

Sometimes I notice that, when I’m corrected–say I make a sign incorrectly and my conversational partner demonstrates the correct way to do it–I often can’t tell any difference between what I was supposed to do and what my hands actually did. This kind of fundamental error in cognition seems to happen all the time with me. My helpful friends tell me that’s a good sign. (no pun intended)

A less-bruising kind of error is the “oops” kind–the instant you commit the error, you know you messed up. This, however, can sometimes throw you off if you get self-conscious about it. A third kind of error is when you know exactly what to do, but your physiology holds you back–for instance the ASL sign for either ‘6’ or ‘W’ (made the way most hearing people show a ‘3’ on their fingers; thumb holding down the pinky) is difficult for me to make without slowing way down. And to think, only 13 years ago I was playing keyboards in a little garage band. Guess I need some stretches. It’s good to loosen up.

In ASL, though, there’s a weird kind of middle ground. Sometimes people who don’t know Spanish kind of ‘fake it’ — “Yo no speako español” and the like, which has always come across to me as vaguely offensive. Being overly terrified of making a mistake is itself a fourth kind of mistake. ASL is remarkably flexible; even though it’s a complete language, it has aspects based on pantomime and sometimes “classifiers”, where your hands and fingers can stand in for people, vehicles, or many other things of particular shapes/sizes. I watch some very well-made ASL productions that have equally well-made English paragraphs alongside, and the ASL version uses all of these techniques and more. No word-for-word correspondence here: every time, I’m surprised by the versitility of the language. My theory is that for an earnest student, it’d be a lot harder to accidentally come across as offensive or mocking the language in ASL compared to other spoken languages. And thus, I’m probably committing the fourth kind of error too much.

It’s good to loosen up. -m