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Sign Linguistics Corpora Network

The Sign Linguistics Corpora Network (SLCN) started in 2008 and was a three-year project funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), led by Onno Crasborn at Radboud University Nijmegen. Its last activity took place in 2011, but it had a follow-up in the Digging into Signs project between 2014-2016, and several CLARIN-NL projects that created new functions in annotation tool ELAN.

The aim of the network was to collect and strengthen existing knowledge on the creation and exploitation of sign language corpora and draw a map of what is needed for high-quality research in the decades to come. A series of four small-scale international workshops have been organised in 2009 and 2010. The final workshop, in December 2010 in Berlin, also included a public event for the deaf organisations in Europe.

Mission statement

Documentation of the sign languages of deaf people poses specific problems due to the lack of generally accepted writing systems, the brief history of sign language linguistics, and the minority status of these languages. Technological advances have facilitated the development of digital tools for the collection of sign language data in recent years. However, still very few research groups have the resources and skills to employ such tools for the creation of large-scale sign language corpora that might inform linguistic research and aid in the development of language technology, be of use in teaching and training contexts, and benefit a wider deaf and hearing public.

SLCN brought together relevant European initiatives in order to combine and share expertise in sign language corpus development and promote international cooperation. Discussion within the network aimed at encouraging wider European initiatives for the preservation of sign languages as part of our cultural heritage for future generations.

The SLCN partners recognised that social transformations are changing sign language communities. Deaf communities have always faced categorically worse social conditions, and are facing new challenges that arise from an unprecedented impact of science and technology on society. Since SLCN itself was a new science and technology actor, it recognised that the construction of corpora as e-research technology and sign linguistics as a scientific community entailed social responsibilities and commitments. SLCN was therefore dedicated to promoting linguistic rights, nurturing native sign languages and developing corpus linguistic research as an engaged form of social action.


During a series of international workshops, researchers from all over the world discussed a variety of topics: data collection, technological formats, organisation of metadata, annotation processes as well as questions of accessibility, dissemination and use of sign language data.




Workshop 1

Data collection


26 & 27 July 2009

Workshop 2



13 November 2009

Workshop 3



14-16 June 2010

Workshop 4



3-4 December 2010


The workshops were a great success in bringing together researchers that were in various stages of creating and using a sign language corpus. It stimulated standardisation in data collection and annotation methods, and supported many grant applications to create national sign language corpora in countries like Sweden, Finland, Slovenia, Poland, Belgium and the UK, to name but a few. As a result, we are now seeing more and more corpus-based and corpus-driven research on sign languages, with publications in a large variety of journals. Many of these datasets are at least partly open access. This may well at least partly be the result of the open and supportive atmosphere at the SLCN workshops, which created a community of users in Europe that have supported and promoted each other's efforts.


Chair: Prof. dr. O. Crasborn, Radboud University Nijmegen


  • Dr. E. Efthimiou, ISPL, Athens
  • Prof. dr. J. Hessmann, Magdeburg-Stendhal University of Applied Sciences
  • Dr. J. Mesch, Stockholm University
  • Prof. dr. G. Turner, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh

Associate partners:

  • Dr. T. Hanke, University of Hamburg
  • Dr. A. Schembri, University College London; now at University of Birmingham
  • Dr. E. Thoutenhoofd, Virtual Knowledge Studio, Amsterdam; now at University of Gothenburg


Would you like more information about the presentations given at the workshops or more information about the Sign Linguistics Corpora Network in general, please contact us via o.crasborn@let.ru.nl.