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The Gallaudet Dictionary of American Sign Language

Clayton Valli, Editor in Chief

Illustrated by Peggy Swartzel Lott, Daniel Renner, and Rob Hills

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Read reviews: Library Journal, Wisconsin Bookwatch, ARBAonline, Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education.


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From the Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education

This dictionary, appropriately named the Gallaudet Dictionary (emphasis mine), contains more than 3000 American Sign Language (ASL) signs that are signed as usually seen in the Gallaudet University and Washington, DC, area, a “melting pot of ASL users from around the country” (p. ix). Thankfully, it warns that local variations do exist and that some of the signs may contain as many as 30 variations. In such instances, the most common two or three signs used in the Washington, DC, area are presented. The dictionary is ably illustrated with clear, simple line drawings, including arrows to indicate movement. This dictionary is meant to be a “learning tool for beginning signers, a reference tool for more advanced signers, and also an English vocabulary reference for Deaf people” (p. ix).

       The dictionary begins with a 40-page introduction, which includes a brief history of the American Deaf community and creation of ASL, and an explanation of its structure. This introduction is clearly not meant to be a thorough linguistic treatise on how ASL grammar works but gives a good flavor for it. A well-deserved separate chapter on the classifier system of ASL describes how classifier predicates work in ASL and highlights the ones most often seen. It also gives a listing of “modified handshapes” that are used for classifiers but not in fingerspelling. Following this is a list of 39 English words that are usually fingerspelled.

       The dictionary part itself is in English–ASL format, consisting of signs listed in alphabetical order of the most common English word assigned to it. These words are presented with a line drawing of the sign and with English synonyms often associated with it. There is an index at the end of the dictionary that contains all the English words (main entries and synonyms) in this dictionary, again in alphabetical order by English spelling. This feature is helpful for Deaf users of this dictionary.

       The accompanying DVD contains all the signs in this dictionary, signed by one of several models, and this allows the viewer to see the sign in actual motion, helping those who are just learning to sign. The talent used in the DVD are both male and female and represent a variety of ethnic groups. The DVD contains features that allow the viewer enlarge the picture to see the signs more easily, slow down the motion, and view the signs in freeze-frame (i.e., frame by frame), There is a vocabulary menu, from which the viewer can choose a word or the viewer can type in a word and have the matching sign shown. English synonyms are also given, e.g., “dissatisfied” is presented with “discontented” and “unsatisfied.” If the desired word is not in the vocabulary list, the DVD will demonstrate the word that has the closest spelling. The list scrolls to the closest match as you type in the word. This may be a disappointment to Deaf people if the particular English word is not listed. An explanation section contains notes on the particular sign being demonstrated. Most signs do not come with additional explanation. Where there is additional explanation, it probably refers to one of the synonyms, and the user should look in the dictionary to find which word the explanation refers to.

       This dictionary is an excellent resource book for both teachers and learners of ASL and perhaps also for Deaf learners of English. It should be on the bookshelves of every library of schools and colleges where ASL is taught and used.

Clayton Valli was an assistant professor in the Master’s Interpreting Program at Gallaudet University.

ISBN 978-1-56368-282-7, 7 x 10 casebound, 600 pages, 3000+ sign illustrations, index, full-color DVD


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