With an estimated 2,000,000 speakers, American Sign Language (ASL) is the fourth most popular language in the United States. It’s the most prominent sign language of Deaf communities in the U.S. and Canada and many of its signs are used in countries around the world. Now learning how to sign has become easier thanks to Giphy’s recently-released library of over 2,000 ASL words and phrases.
To help people learn basic ASL, Giphy cut up small clips from “Sign with Robert,” a 30-episode educational series. The result is looping videos of Robert DeMayo performing a sign alongside the word or phrase. “The GIF format has the ability to loop infinitely, so it’s perfect for learning new signs. [It] doesn’t require the back and forth of hitting play, rewind or repeat,” Hilari Scarl, director and producer at “Sign With Robert” said. The library also has a search feature that makes it easy to find specific signs.
The GIFs also teach people the important nonverbal facial expressions that are a vital element of the language. “Many people misunderstand the facial expressions of sign language users and think of them as being ‘animated’ or ‘emoting,’ ” Scarl said. “Facial expressions are an important part of grammatical information and the linguistic structure of ASL. Facial expressions distinguish between interrogative and declarative sentences, modify adverbs, convey emotional tone, define spatial relationships and much more.”
“This not only benefits millions of deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans who utilize sign language, but also doctors, nurses, police and emergency workers who could save someone’s life by knowing a few signs,” Scarl said. Giphy plans to expand its library based on search queries made by users. Frequently-searched words and phrases will be added to teach people the phrases they use most.