Jason Parks

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

John M. Clifton


This study describes and evaluates a methodology for sign language word list comparisons. The purpose of this sociolinguistic research tool is to identify similarity relationships among sign language varieties by assessing similarities of lexical items. Similarities are calculated using the Levenshtein distance metric which measures the number of differences between signs.

In this study, the methodology was refined for optimal efficiency through an analysis of: which parameters of a sign should be compared, which values should be included in each parameter value inventory, and which items should be used in the word list. As a result of the study, I propose both an efficient coding system and a methodology that is replicable and relatively objective, easily merges multiple data sets, and identifies similarities among sign language varieties. The validity of the methodology is supported by similarity grouping results that highly correlate with intelligibility testing results of other studies.

The word list data for this study comes from video data archived with SIL International that represents 50 sign language varieties from 13 countries, mostly in Latin America and the Caribbean.