The „JelEsély” project, TÁMOP 5.4.6/B-13/1-2013-0001, of the Research Institute for Linguistics is researching the use of Hungarian sign language within deaf communities in order to support and create a strong basis for sign language and bilingual (in sign language, as well as in Hungarian) education.
The aim of this research is to describe the Hungarian sign language in a scientific way for making it appropriate for education; mapping of the use of sign language within deaf communities and analysing the social and linguistic situation of deaf and hard hearing people. The project aims to promote the introduction and use of sign language in schools for deaf children, as well as to support deaf and hard hearing communities, to increase their chance of getting high level education and to practice sign communities rights for communication.
In Hungary, the deaf community is the third largest linguistic and cultural minority. However, for a long time they could use the Hungarian language only to a limited extent; sign language was barely used in schools for deaf children, since education was based merely on an auditory-verbal/oral model. But this model is not effective enough: according to the census data the dropout rate among deaf children is quite high in Hungary and the proportion of deaf students receiving higher education and the proportion of deaf employees within the Hungarian population is well below the national average.
In 2009, the CXXV law about the Hungarian sign language and the use of the Hungarian sign language was passed by the parliament: it recognizes the Hungarian sign language as an independent, natural language and it regulates the introduction of the bilingual (bilingual: sign language and auditory-verbal/oral) educational model, as well as the introduction of sign language as a subject in deaf education.
For the introduction of sign language and bilingual education and for creating the proper teaching material and for starting the education of teachers in the future, several things are needed: it is necessary to describe the Hungarian sign language in a scientific way, to research the use of sign language within deaf communities and to research the sign language and Hungarian language skills. Further researches and practical steps are also needed, which will enable the introduction and teaching of sign language at school.
The aim of the „JelEsély” project is to do these researches and to support further researches and practical measures. This project is significant and one of its kind at an international level: it is based on nationwide sampling, complex sociolinguistic ideas, it researches the sign language and its use with the help of a very large, self-made, colourful linguistic corpus from multiple aspects, with different methods. During the research of the sign language and its use empirical data, online surveys based on these data and different thematic tests have also been used.
It is an innovative project both on national and international level: methodology, size of the sign language corpora and the multidisciplinary approach. Sociolinguistic, psycho- and neurolinguistics, applied linguists, sign linguistics and researchers of language technology are working together with educational and special educational, law and IT specialities, thus jointly using their knowledge.
The directive of the project is „Nothing about us, without us!”, thus the stakeholders, deaf and hard hearing language users play a significant role, creating a bottom to up structure. We have several deaf colleagues working on various subtasks of the project.
Similar researches were not carried out before this project in Hungary, thus its results are necessary for creating the background for the introduction of bilingual deaf education, thus promoting equal rights for deaf communities. The linguistic corpus, the grammar of sign language, the ever-growing digital dictionary, educational materials and information on the online E-learning platform are invaluable for developing teaching material, for the accreditation of new educational programs involving deaf people, thus supporting lifelong learning and improving their chances at the labour market.