LINGUIST List 6.282

Thu 23 Feb 1995

Sum: ASL dictionary on CD-ROM

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  1. Bernard Comrie, ASL dictionary on CD-ROM

Message 1: ASL dictionary on CD-ROM

Date: Mon, 20 Feb 1995 19:08:45 ASL dictionary on CD-ROM
From: Bernard Comrie <>
Subject: ASL dictionary on CD-ROM

My recent query concerning the new American Sign Language (ASL) dictionary
on CD-ROM generated a substantial response, both from this list and from
SLLING-L. I have summarized the main points of these responses below.
Please bear in mind that I have not seen the products in question.

The dictionary reviewed on PBS is the American Sign Language Dictionary on
CD-ROM by Martin Sternberg and is distributed by HarperCollins.

The following is the positive point that recurs in people's messages:

--It is at the moment the only published ASL dictionary that includes
motion videos of ASL signs, which serves to disambiguate unclarities in
printed representations.

The following are the negative points that recur in people's messages:

--The dictionary is based too heavily on English, being essentially an
English-to-ASL dictionary. This both makes it hard (at times, impossible)
to get an idea of the internal structure of the ASL lexicon, and makes it
less useful to native signers. (There is, however, some categorization into
semantic groups.) There are also more specific problems arising from the
failure to make ASL distinctions that are not made overtly in English (e.g.
English "lecture" is used as a headword, while the ASL equivalent is
specifically a verb, not a noun; classifiers are almost completely

--The dictionary is based on Sternberg's book-form dictionary of the early
1980s, and fails to take account of recent developments in the study of

--There may be technical quality concerns, but since I haven't seen the
product I'm not in a position to judge. It seems to work better on more
modern machines, and the Mac version seems to work better than the Windows


The following other CD-ROM ASL dictionary projects were drawn to my attention:

--Multemedia Dictionary of ASL (MM-DASL), release planned for Summer of
1995. This dictionary is based generally on the work of William Stokoe (who
is involved in the project). It allows direct lookup of ASL signs,
incorporates recent linguistic work on ASL, and is assisted by a panel of
native ASL users. For details, please contact Sherman Wilcox, University of
New Mexico (

--ASL Dictionary on CD-ROM developed by Dennis Cokely at Linstok Press,
4020 Blackburn Lane, Burtonsville, MD 20866, and alpha and beta tested by
Ken Rust at Madonna University, who should be contacted for further details

Thanks to: Jacqueline Anderson, Nancy Frishberg, Marian Macchi, Mark A.
Mandell, Joyce McDonough, Chris Miller, Karen Mistry, Becky Moreton, Cindy
Neuroth-Gimbrone, Steve Seegmiller, Mark Seidenberg, Barbara Sensiba, Dan
Slobin, Leslie H. Stennes, Sherman Wilcox, and the authors of the many
messages that were forwarded to me from SLLING-L.

Bernard Comrie
Dept of Linguistics GFS-301 tel +1 213 740 2986
University of Southern California fax +1 213 740 9306
Los Angeles, CA 90089-1693, USA e-mail
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