English-ASL Gloss Parallel Corpus 2012: ASLG-PC12
Achraf Othman, Mohamed Jemni
Research Laboratory LaTICE, University of Tunis
5, Av. Taha Hussein, B.P. 56, Bab Mnara, 1008 Tunis, Tunisia
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
A serious problem facing the community of researchers in the field of sign language is the absence of a large parallel corpus for
signs language. The ASLG-PC12 project proposes a rule-based approach for building a big parallel corpus of English written texts
and American Sign Language glosses. We present a novel algorithm that transforms an English part-of-speech sentence to an ASL
gloss. This project was started in the beginning of 2011 as a part of the project WebSign, and it offers today a corpus containing
more than one hundred million pairs of sentences between English and ASL glosses. It is available online for free to promote
development and design of new algorithms and theories for American Sign Language processing, for example statistical machine
translation and related fields. In this paper, we present tasks for generating ASL sentences from the Gutenberg Project corpus that
contains only English written texts.
Keywords: American Sign Language, Parallel Corpora, Sign Language
To develop an automatic translator or any other tool that
requires a learning task for Sign Languages, the major
problem is the collection of parallel data between text
and Sign Language. A parallel corpus contains large and
structured texts aligned between source and target
languages. They are used to do statistical analysis and
hypothesis testing, checking occurrences or validating
linguistic rules on a specific universe. Since there is no
standard and sufficient corpus for Sign Language
(Morrissey & Way, 2007; Morrissey S. , 2008), to
develop statistical machine translation that requires
pre-treatment prior to the execution of the process of
learning which needs an important volume of data.
For these reasons, we started to collect pairs of sentences
between English and American Sign Language Gloss.
And due to absence of data, especially in ASL and in
other side there exists a huge data of English written text;
we have developed a corpus based on a collaborative
approach where experts can contribute in the collection
and in correction of bilingual corpus and also in
validation of the automatic translation. Experts are
people that are authorized to validate translations and
correct suggestions of translations. ASLG-PC12 project
(Othman & Jemni, 2011) was started in 2010, as a part of
the project WebSign (Jemni & El Ghoul, 2007) that
carries on developing tools able to make information
over the web accessible for deaf. The main goal of our
project WebSign is to develop a Web-based interpreter
of Sign Language (SL). This tool would enable people
who do not know Sign Language to communicate with
deaf individuals. Therefore, contribute in reducing the
language barrier between deaf and hearing people. Our
secondary objective is to distribute this tool on a
non-profit basis to educators, students, users, and
researchers, and to disseminate a call for contribution to
support this project mainly in its exploitation step and to
encourage its wide use by different communities.
In this paper, we review our experiences with
constructing one such large annotated parallel corpus
between English written text and American Sign
Language Gloss –the ASLG-PC12 (Othman & Jemni,
2011), a corpus consisting of over one hundred million
pairs of sentences.
The paper is organized as follow. Section 2 presents a
brief description about American Sign Language Gloss.
Section 3 presents methods and pre-processing tasks for
collecting data from the Gutenberg Project (Lebert,
2008). We present two stages of pre-processing, in which
each sentences had been extracted and tokenized. After,
we present our method and algorithms for constructing
the second part of the corpus in American Sign
Language Gloss. Constructed texts were generated
automatically by transformation rules and then corrected
by human experts in ASL. We describe also the
composition and the size of the corpus. Discussions and
conclusion are drawn in section 5.
Several projects, concerned with Sign Language,
recorded or annotated their own corpora, but only few of
them are suitable for automatic Sign Language
translation due to the number of available data for
learning and processing. The European Cultural Heritage
Online organization (ECHO) published corpora for
British Sign Language (Woll, Sutton-Spence, & Waters,
2004), Swedish Sign Language (Bergman & Mesch,
2004) and the Sign Language of the Netherlands
(Crasborn, Kooij, Nonhebel, & Emmerik, 2004). All of
the corpora include several stories signed by a single
signer. The American Sign Language Linguistic
Research group at Boston University published a corpus
in American Sign Language (Athitsos, et al., 2010). TV
broadcast news for the hearing impaired are another
source of sign language recordings. Aachen University
published a German Sign Language Corpus of the
Domain Weather Report (Bungeroth, Stein, Dreuw,
Zahedi, & Ney, 2006). In 2010, Sara et al., (Morrissey,
Somers, Smith, Gilchrist, & Dandapat, 2010) published a
multimedia corpus in Sign Language for machine
Translation. In literature, we found many related projects
aiming to build corpus for Sign Language. Most of them
are based on video recording and we cannot find textual
data toward building translation memory. Textual data
for Sign Language is not a simple written form, because
signs can contain others information line eye gaze or
facial expressions. So, for our corpus, we will use
glosses to represent Sign Language. In the next section,
we will present a brief description about glosses.
3. Glossing signs
Stokoe (Stokoe, 1960) proposed the first annotation
system for describing Sign Language. Before, signs were
thought of as unanalyzed wholes, with no internal
structure. The Stokoe notation system is used for writing
American Sign Language using graphical symbols. After,
others notation systems appeared like HamNoSys
(Prillwitz & Zienert, 1990) and SignWriting (Sutton &
Gleaves, 1995). Furthermore, Glosses are used to write
signs in textual form. Glossing means choosing an
appropriate English word for signs in order to write them
down. It is not a translating, but, it is similar to
translating. A gloss of a signed story can be a series of
English words, written in small capital letters that
correspond to the signs in ASL story. Some basic
conventions used for glossing are as follows:
• Signs are represented with small capital letters in
• Lexicalized finger-spelled words are written in small
capital letters and preceded by the ‘#’ symbol.
• Full finger-spelling is represented by dashes between
small capital letters (for example, A-C-H-R-A-F).
• Non-manual signals and eye-gaze are represented on
a line above the sign glosses.
In this work, we use glosses to represent Sign Language.
In the next section, we will describe steps for building
4. English-ASL Parallel Corpus
3.1 Problematic issues
As we say in the beginning, the main problem to process
American Sign Language for statistical analysis like
statistical machine translation is the absence of data
(corpora or corpus), especially in Gloss format. By
convention, the meaning of a sign is written
correspondence to the language talking to avoid the
complexity of understanding. For example, the phrase
“Do you like learning sign language?” is glossed as
“LEARN SIGN YOU LIKE?”. Here, the word “you” is
replaced by the gloss “YOU” and the word "learn-ing" is
rated "LEARN". Our machine translate must generate,
after learning step, the sentence in gloss of an English
3.2 Ascertainment and approach
Generally, in research on statistical analysis of sign
language, the corpus is annotated video sequences. In our
case, we only need a bilingual corpus, the source
language is English and the language is American Sign
Language glosses transcribed. In this study, we started
from 880 words (English and ASL glosses) coupled with
transformation rules. From these rules, we generated a
bilingual corpus containing 800 million words. In this
corpus, it is not interested in semantics or types of verbs
used in sign language verbs such as "agreement" or
"non-agreement". Figure 1 shows an example of
transformation between written English text and its
generated sentence in ASL. The input is “What did
Bobby buy yesterday?” and the target sentence is
“BOBBY BUY WHAT YESTERDAY?”. In this
example, we save the word “YESTERDAY” and we can
found in some reference “PAST” which indicates the
past tense and the action was made in the past. Also, for
the symbol “?” it can be replaced by a facial animation
with “WHAT”. For us, we are based on lemmatization of
words. We keep the maximum of information in the
sentence toward developing more approaches in these
corpora. Statistics of corpora are shown in Table 1. The
number of sentences and tokens is huge and building
ASL corpus takes more than one week.
Figure 1: An example of transformation: English input
‘What did Bobby buy yesterday?’
Figure 2: Steps for building ASL corpora
The input of the system is English sentences and the
output is the ASL transcription in gloss. In table 2, only
simple rules are shown, we can define complex rule
starting from these simple rules. We can define a
part-of-speech sentence for the two languages.
According to figure 3, when we check if the rule of S
exists in database, the algorithm will return true, in this
case, we apply directly the transformation. Of course, all
complex rules must be created by experts in ASL. Table
2 shows some transformation from English sentence to
American Sign Language. We present the
transformation rule made by an expert in linguistics.
Corpus size English
Corpus size ASL Gloss
Table 1. Size of the American Sign Language Gloss
Parallel Corpus 2012 (ASLG-PC12)
English sentence: what is your name?
ASL sentence: IX-PRO2 NAME, WHAT?
1_VBP 2_PRP 3_JJ 4_. ! 2_PRP 0_DESC- 3_JJ 4_.
English sentence: Are you deaf?
ASL sentence: IX-PRO2 DESC-DEAF?
1_VBP 2_PRP 3_DT 4_NN 5_. ! 4_NN 2_PRP 5_.
English sentence: are you a student?
ASL sentence: STUDENT IX-PRO2?
1_VBP 2_PRP 3_DT 4_NN 5_. ! 4_NN 2_PRP 5_.
English sentence: do you understand him?
ASL sentence: IX-PRO2 UNDERSTAND IX-PRO3?
1_VB 2_PRP 3_VB 4_PRP ! 2_PRP 3_VB 4_PRP
Table 2. Example of full sentences transformation rules
In figure 2, we describe steps to transform an English
sentence into American Sign Language gloss. The input
of the system is the English sentence. Using CoreNLP
tool, we generate an XML file containing morphological
information about the sentence after tokenization task.
Then, we build the part-of-speech sentence and thanks to
the transformation rules database, we try to transform the
input for each lemma. In some case, we can found that
the part-of-speech sentence doesn’t exist in the data-base,
so, we transform each lemma. Transformation rule for
lemma is presented in table 3. In the last step, we add an
uppercase script to transform the output. The
transformation rule is not a direct transformation for each
lemma, it can an alignment of words and can ignore
some English words like (the, in, a, an, etc.).
3.3 Transformations rules
Not all transformation rules used to transform English
data were verified by experts in linguistics. We validate
only 800 rules and transformation rules for lemma. We
cannot validate all rules because there exist an infinite
number of rules. For this reason, we developed an
application that offer to experts to enter their rules from
an English sentence, without coding. The application is
just a simple user interface that contains lemma
transformation rule, and the expert will compose lemma.
After that, he save the result and rebuild the corpora. The
built corpus is a made by a collaborative approach and
validated by experts.
3.4 Collecting data from Gutenberg
Acquisition of a parallel corpus for the use in a statistical
analysis typically takes several pre-processing steps. In
our case, there isn’t enough data between English texts
and American Sign Language. We start collecting only
English data from Gutenberg Project toward transform it
to ASL gloss. Gutenberg Project (Lebert, 2008) offers
over 38K free ebooks and more than 100K ebook
through their partners. Collecting task is made in five
Obtain the raw data (by crawling all files in the FTP
• Extract only English texts, because there exist ebook
in others languages than English like German,
Spanish. We found also files containing ADN
• Break the text into sentences (sentence splitting task).
• Prepare the corpora (normalization, tokenization).
In the following, we will describe in detail the
pre-processing steps to clean collected data.
3.5 Sentence splitting, tokenization, chunking
Sentence splitting and tokenization require specialized
tools for English texts. One problem of sentence splitting
is the ambiguity of the period “.” as either an end of
sentence marker, or as a marker for an abbreviation. For
English, we semi-automatically created a list of known
abbreviations that are typically followed by a period.
Issues with tokenization include the English merging of
words such as in “can’t” (which we transform to “can
not”), or the separation of possessive markers (“the
man’s” becomes “the man ’s”). We use also an available
tool for splitting called Splitta (Gillick, 2009). The
models are trained from Wall Street Journal news
combined with the Brown Corpus which is intended to
be widely representative of written English. Error rates
on test news data are near 0.25%. Also, we use CoreNLP
tool (Toutanova & Manning, 2000; Klein & Manning,
2003). It is a set of natural language analysis tools which
can take raw English language text input and give the
base forms of words, their parts of speech.
3.6 Releases of the English-ASL Corpus
The initial release of this corpus consisted of data up to
September 2011. The second release added data up to
January 2012, increasing the size from just over 800
sentences to up to 800 million words in English. A
forthcoming third release will include data up to early
2013 and will have better tokenization and more words
in American Sign Language. For more details, please
check the website (Othman & Jemni, 2011).
5. Discussions and conclusion
We described the construction of the English-American
Sign Language corpus. We illustrate a novel method for
transforming an English written text to American Sign
Language gloss. This corpus will be useful for statistical
analysis for ASL. We present the first corpus for ASL
gloss that exceeds one hundred million of sentences
available for all researches and linguistics. During the
next phase of the ASLG-PC12 project, we expect to
provide both a richer analysis of the existing corpus and
others parallel corpus (like French Sign Language,
Arabic Sign Language, etc.). This will be done by first
enriching the rules through experts. Enrichment will be
achieved by automatically transforming the current
transformation rules database, and then validating the
results by hand.
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