Last updated January 24, 2018 at 4:56 pm
Sign language is now officially practised in almost every country, but diverse heritages and cultures has meant that many have slightly different signs for words. Now, a project by the International Astronomical Union has sought to build a translation book to help deaf communities – and fill in the gaps of astronomical words that don’t have signs.
The project started with 47 words that were the most used in astronomy, such as comet, telescope and asteroid, which were then translated into several languages including Portuguese, German and Japanese. French and English signs had already been recorded in previous astronomical sign dictionaries, and any astronomical words that didn’t have an equivalent hand sign in any language had one developed by deaf communities, educators, and astronomers all over the world.
Australian Auslan was not included.
The group is also analysing words without a sign in some languages. One suggestion is to use the sign of a closely related language, for example, Spanish for the Italian community.
The list, available here, is the first international comparative compilation for astronomical terms.
“Its main goal is to help to reflect on the differences between the various languages, perhaps even helping communities to develop their own sign if they did not yet have one for a particular term,” the International Astronomical Union said in a statement. “The suggested signs are meant to engage the deaf community in scientific discussion.”
Astronomy sign language is strangely poetic. Each planet of the Solar System has a sign which reflects the planet’s own characteristics: Mercury is very close to the Sun, Mars is red, Jupiter is represented by the famous red spot, and Saturn is characterised by its rings. Constellations of stars are represented by their imagery: bear (large or small), swan, fish, whale, etc. The mythological names respect the legendary traditions: Orion is a hunter, and the Centaur is a man mounted on a horse’s body.
“A Universal Sign Language is gradually being developed, mainly to designate objects and situations related to contemporary technology or events. Nevertheless, there will always be differences between signs in each country that need to be noted, as countries have developed its own signs through time”, said Dominique Proust, who was responsible for pulling together the dictionary for the IAU.
It is hoped that the comparative dictionary will help engage the deaf community in astronomy and scientific discussion.
Now, learn some astronomical terms in different languages: