Those Oh-So-Cool Signing Gloves

You know a video’s going viral when at least three people ask or tell me about it in as many days. 

On one hand*, COOL. And surely a good starting foundation for more advanced technology. On the other hand*, you know there’s a but coming…

  1. It doesn’t seem to address facial expression or body language, which are two essential components of sign language. Those two don’t just add flavor; they add meaning. Not sure how you can track these things just yet.
  2. “Pure” sign languages (i.e., ones that haven’t been adapted for speech) also tend to be more spatial than linear, plus the grammar is typically wildly different from spoken language. Even sign systems designed to transliterate speech generally don’t catch all components of spoken language, so I’d expect the voicing to be piecemeal at best.
  3. There’s no reverse translation; it’s sign-to-voice only, so it doesn’t make spoken language visually accessible for d/hh people.
  4.  The translation would probably be akin to running something through Google Translate– if not worse.

More than that, not all d/hh people know, use, or even prefer sign language. Even among signers, quite a few prefer to use transliteration rather than interpretation. Anecdotally, I’ve heard of captioning gaining far more popularity in colleges than sign language interpreting. Personally, while I have no qualms about using sign language to converse directly with other signers, I’ve had way too many interpreting mishaps to trust it for anything beyond basic conversation with English speakers. It’s far too much reliance on a third party’s understanding and expertise for my liking. I’m not that much more optimistic about a machine.

On the other other hand*, I could see these gloves working better for straight fingerspelling or Cued Speech, especially if they were combined with an automated transcription software. Unlike sign languages, cued speech has a finite set of eight handshapes that can be matched with a similarly finite selection of phonemes to produce words. I expect it’d sound incredibly robotic– which would certainly add an extra twist to the blog name, A Croaking Dalek— but there would likely be less potential for word jumble like what you’d get with ASL or Signed English. 

 * I promise these puns are completely unintentional.

4 thoughts on “Those Oh-So-Cool Signing Gloves

  1. I think that you are totally right. Through our work with sign language translation systems and sign language interpreters, we found that working only with finger feedback to translation is just a waste of time specially for a huge amount of signs. and I’m talking here about 1,000+ signs. Second thing actually that I didn’t like is the gloves itself, people shouldn’t use gloves to communicate, the communication suppose to be natural and intuitive. And believe me translating sign language only without any feedback for voice to d/hh will make such thing null.

    • Mohamed, I read a bit on Kintrans– very interesting! I can easily see how it’d be more applicable than gloves (at least currently). Looks like you’ve considered the multiple facets of sign language translation, and it’s not as outrageously expensive as I expected.

      I heard that someone (else?) installed sensors in a similar glove invention that can read the facial expressions, so that’s a bit better– but still tricky.

      • Hannah, kintrans is for free to the d/hh people. The prices that you saw on the website is for business to turn there location into d/hh accessible one. We believe that communication is a human right and no one suppose to pay to communicate. Also KinTrans is a two way communication device in real time. No calibration no gloves no apps, just as easy as stand in front of the camera and it will translate when others speak it will write on the screen a text feedback with 100% accuracy. You remember the deaf kid who advised me, kintrans was his advice to me then I take it as a goal to support all d/hh around the world the way they want not the way we want as hearing persons.

  2. Reading this has helped me put my thoughts in order…I have so many reactions to these gloves that I’m not quite sure how to articulate them. My first reaction was “pointless!”, but I do have to admit the technology is pretty cool. But watching those guys sign made me laugh. If you have to modify the production of signs so severely to get them to work…not worth it.

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