May 20, 2022

Reference Resource: A Visual Dictionary for Sign Language Available Online

In a few words, a very impressive resource that will likely be of use and interest to many. It’s also an excellent (and a cool one too) example of a web-based reference resource.

From Tufts University:

The new database of 1,000-plus ASL signs and their lexical and phonological properties, developed by students and faculty at Tufts University and the Laboratory for Language and Cognitive Neuroscience at San Diego State University, won first place late last month in the people’s choice interactive category of the National Science Foundation’s 2017 Vizzies: Visualization Challenge, which recognizes visual conceptualizations that help general audiences understand complex ideas in science and engineering.

Called ASL-LEX, the project is the largest and most thorough database of ASL signs and meanings to date and is already being used by schools including the Learning Center for the Deaf in Framingham, Massachusetts, and Horace Mann School for the Deaf in Boston, Massachusetts, according to Ariel Goldberg, an associate professor of psychology who heads the Psycholinguistics and Linguistics Lab at Tufts.


Source: ASL-LEX Database

“The database will have a broad appeal for psychologists, linguists and others who are working on the science of language and doing their own experiments,” said Goldberg, whose former doctoral student, Naomi Caselli, G15, began creating the database for her dissertation in cognitive science.


“Until now, there have been ASL dictionaries, but they are organized alphabetically based on English translations for each sign. That means you have to know or guess an English translation to look up the sign,” Caselli said. “ASL-LEX allows users to look up signs using the sign form directly.”

Another section of the database contains estimates of how often signs are used on a daily basis. By offering information about how easy signs are to retrieve from memory and how likely they are to be retained, ASL-LEX can help educators determine which signs to teach first, and assist teachers and others in assessing students’ proficiency in acquiring the language.

Learn More, Read the Complete Article

Direct to ASL-LEX

Direct to Begin Exploring the Database

Note: Data in ASL-LEX is available to download (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License).

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.