In August 2006, the Centre for Sign Linguistics and Deaf Studies (CSLDS) of The Chinese University of Hong Kong received a generous funding from the Nippon Foundation, a non-government organization based in Japan, to run the Asia Pacific Sign Linguistics Research and Training Program (The APSL Program). The APSL Program lasts for 6 years, from 2006-2012. It is an extension of an earlier multi-country, multi-phase project ‘Practical Dictionaries of Asia Pacific Sign Languages’ (2003-2007), also conducted by CSLDS.


These projects represent the first attempt ever to set up a regional research program on Sign Linguistics in Asia with joint effort from tertiary institutions, government bodies, and deaf organizations within the Asia-Pacific region. Sign Linguistics is a new discipline of linguistic research. It started in the US in late 60s and has been attracting a lot of attention and vigorous research in universities in the west since then. Unfortunately, Asia is slow in picking up the wave of sign linguistics research due to a lack of expertise and people’s general misconception about and prejudice against sign language.

Why Work with Deaf People?

As almost all linguists in Asia are hearing and they may not be exposed to sign language before, and as there are diverse varieties of sign languages in Asia, collaborating with deaf people from different parts of Asia is of paramount importance because deaf people offer insights about their native language to the hearing linguists in sign language research. This mode of collaborative research reflects the mission of CSLDS: nurturing collaborative research effort between deaf and hearing researchers, as well as among Asian tertiary institutions and deaf organizations.

Long-Term Benefits

The APSL Program will generate teams of professionally trained sign language researchers, deaf and hearing, to support the establishment of sign linguistics research in those tertiary institutions in the Asia Pacific region that intend to develop this discipline of research. Misconceptions about sign language in the absence of scientific research have had ramifications on deaf education in the past decades, leading to thousands and thousands of deaf people not being able to achieve a level of education that enables them to seek social advancement in most parts of Asia. Given the research experience accumulated while working at CSLDS, these researchers will also be capable of supporting the development of sign language in deaf education in their country of residence, which potentially and ultimately supports deaf people in pursuing a regular curriculum, helps them excel in education and raises their status in the society - a process leading to long-term deaf empowerment.

Important Research Outputs

The APSL Program has the practical value of empowering deaf people by nourishing their capabilities of collaborating with hearing researchers in sign language research. Through such collaboration, deaf people learn the skills of linguistic research and with expert supervision, they can use these skills and knowledge in the production of sign language materials such as sign language dictionaries and learning materials to support sign language teaching, sign language interpretation, deaf education and sign language research.