College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

Sign language glossary goes for green growth

Experts at Edinburgh have helped created a glossary of environmental terms to make climate science and biodiversity research more accessible to deaf people.


University researchers worked with the Royal Society to develop the British Sign Language (BSL) lexicon, which includes terms such as ‘carbon footprint’, ‘greenhouse gases’ and ‘rewilding’.

Videos demonstrating the 200 new signs can now be accessed online. All of them are technical terms that did not previously have a standardised gesture in BSL.

The glossary project, which involves the Scottish Sensory Centre (SSC) at Edinburgh, is themed around biodiversity, ecosystems, the physical environment and pollution.

Based in Moray House School of Education and Sport, SSC has hosted the British Sign Language Glossary of curriculum terms since 2007. The resource is widely used by teachers of deaf children, deaf young people, their support workers and parents.

Ongoing work

Researchers have begun work on a further 200 signs – themed around energy, sustainability and environmental impacts – that will include ‘global warming’, ‘deforestation’ and ‘nuclear fusion’.

All of the terms have been drawn from the GCSE and A level syllabus and reviewed by environmental scientists before being developed into signs by the glossary team.

The 400 new signs are being developed to help address the current lack of scientific terms available in BSL.

BSL Glossary Project Coordinator Dr Audrey Cameron said: “These signs can enable BSL users to share their appreciation of the natural world and also to join the conversation about current environmental threats.”

Future benefits

Dr Cameron says the glossary will benefit those attending global climate and biodiversity summits as deaf students and scientists will no longer have to fingerspell complex terms.

The glossary will also help to ensure deaf voices are heard in environmental debates – and act as a resource for sign language interpreters. 

Professor Jeremy Sanders, Chair of the Royal Society Diversity and Inclusion Committee, said: “We hope these new signs will inspire and empower the next generation of BSL-using students and allow practising scientists to share their vital work with the world.”

Related links

Scottish Sensory Centre

BSL Glossary