3 Jul 2013

Vanuatu sign dictionary step towards national sign language

5:37 pm on 3 July 2013

The publishers of a dictionary of Vanuatu's local sign language are hoping it will add momentum to moves to introduce a national language for deaf people and their communities.

A New Zealand Volunteer Service Abroad sign language trainer compiled the dictionary of local or 'home' sign, as it is known - the basic signs developed by deaf people and their families in the absence of a sign language.

Jacqui Iseli says the main purpose of the publication is to teach young children the signs and get some continuity of language throughout the country.

She told Annell Husband at the moment every deaf person who is not in contact with others has their own sign language.

JACQUI ISELI: It's different between islands and areas and villages, so I suppose we're hoping to develop something a bit like a Bislama sign language that actually unites the deaf everywhere.

ANNELL HUSBAND: How widely are you going to be able to distribute the dictionary to achieve that aim?

JA: We intend to distribute it countrywide. The process is still in discussion, but there is a strong intention to distribute some to the preschool co-ordinators, because they will know through the teachers in each province who has got deaf children in their preschool. And they have attended a workshop I took previously that Jenny James very kindly organised for me to attend. And that was on the needs of deaf children and students and the need for sign language to be in use in the class environment.

AH: Have you got enough copies to go around at the moment, or are you going to have to do another run of printing?

JA: I think we've got enough at the moment. Norman Kirk Memorial Trust very kindly funded 500 copies. So it's a good start. I understand the Department of Education has shown some interest in it and, subject to approval by the curriculum authority, they would like to print the book again with French in it, as well, 'cause at the moment it's just got Bislama and English. So they'd like to look at the possibility of doing that, which would be really exciting, and making it in a bigger format, 'cause at the moment it's in an A5.

AH: So putting it into what sort of format, do you think?

JA: Just a larger size.

AH: The thing is, you've got pictures to accommodate, as well.

JA: Yes, you've got pictures and it's in colour. And because of the conditions here, some of it I've had to film inside a village hut without lighting, just with the door open and it raining outside. So the bigger it can be, the better for clarity. And also the hand shapes are quite difficult to see when they're quite small, so to have something bigger... It's just like young children have bigger printed words than high school age children, you know? It's along that line, really.

AH: Do you think the government is considering now bringing in a sign language from another country?

JA: Yes, they've been talking about it for a while. I think that they were leaning toward Melanesian sign, but Melanesian sign is actually just Australian signed English, so it's not actually a language.