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About dialects (SIGN VARIETIES)

People who use the same sign language don't all sign exactly the same. Sometimes a group of people all signs the same way, but other groups sign differently. 

For example, in ASL, each state in the USA has some special signs used only in that state. You can see that in the ASL demo database. Other differences might depend on what deaf school people attended, how old they are, whether they are men or women, etc. 

These differences are normal. Every sign language has them. There's no reason why everyone has to use exactly the same signs. We learn each other's signs and we can still communicate.

These different ways of signing are called dialects. Sometimes in SooSL we call them SIGN VARIETIES.

Good dictionaries include signs that different dialects use, and they report which dialects use which signs. They don't have just one sign for each written word.

Dialects in SooSL

SooSL knows about dialects. Some dictionaries include several dialects; some have only one dialect. To see what dialects are used in a SooSL dictionary click Dialects in SooSL Web or click Tools > Dialects in SooSL Desktop. You will see a dialog like this:



Each dialect has a full name and an abbreviation. You will see the abbreviations in the gloss list and in each sense that is marked for a dialect. 

One dialect is special; it is the focal dialect. The focal dialect is the main dialect used for the whole dictionary. It may be the whole languagesigns that everyone uses. It may be the dialect of a specific city or type of people. A person who makes a dictionary chooses which dialect is focal for that dictionary. Most signs in the dictionary are in the focal dialect; signs that are different are marked for other dialects.

If you want, you can hide the abbreviation for the focal dialect by unchecking the checkbox on "Show focal abbreviation". Then you won't see its abbreviation in the gloss list or the senses.

Gloss list with focal abbreviation

Gloss list without focal abbreviation

Technically, dialects are for each sense of a sign, not for the sign itself. A sign can mean one thing in one dialect and mean something else in another dialect. In this example, the sign means 'cabbage' in ASL generally throughout the USA, but in the state of Wisconsin (WI), it also means 'garbage'.

That means each sense shows a sign's meaning in a specific dialect. That's why dialects are marked on each sense. 

That is also why there are two numbers for each dialect in the dialog above: one number shows how many senses are in that dialect, and the other shows how many signs have a sense in that dialect. Some signs have more than one sense in a dialect, so the number of senses is sometimes greater than the number of signs.

You can use dialects to find signs, if you are interested only in one or a few dialects.

In SooSL Desktop, you can change what dialects are in a dictionary.

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