My work experience in LINCS, Heriot-Watt

By Aurora Sani, LINCS intern during May-June 2018

When I heard that I had to undertake my internship at Heriot-Watt University, I was excited, but at the same time a bit scared. I didn’t know what to except from a great University such as Heriot-Watt. My teacher said that I was lucky because this opportunity comes only once in our lives. Now, after the five weeks I’ve spent here, I can agree with her because it has been the best opportunity of my life. I will never be able to show my full gratitude.

Heriot-Watt University gave me the chance to mature and improve myself. In fact, thanks to this working experience, I haven’t improved only my English, but other important skills, such as computer skills, social and communicative skills. I had the possibility to get familiar with the world of one of the most important universities for Interpreting and Translations. The most exciting thing was walking around the Campus and seeing people from all over the world.

Heriot-Watt is a wonderful mixture of different cultures where you can hear people speaking several languages and spreading their own customs.

Since the very first day, I met kind and approachable staff who were always ready to help me. They were pleasure to work with. During these weeks I worked with many people in different areas of employment. I helped with the preparations of the international conference of CIUTI where I could meet important professors coming from the most important Universities of the world.  I helped with the launch of the Moving Languages app, which I found the most interesting thing. I appreciated even the simplest tasks like replying emails or creating posters because I saw them as a way to improve my expressions and my English.

I always felt comfortable. All the employees and professors made me feel like an adult, despite my young age. At first I was surprised by their confidence and trust in me, but at the end I understood that nothing was impossible, and I could do everything if only I wanted it.

Thanks to this work experience, I became more confident and more responsible. I gained more security in my spoken English and in my abilities. I have been the blessed with finding this amazing workplace which gave me more than I’d hoped for.

I really want to thank everyone I met during this experience because each of them taught me something valuable. But, above all, I want to thank my supervisor, Katerina Strani. She is such a kind person, who always cared about me and made me feel positive.

It has been an honour for me to spend more than a month in this University and work with such wonderful people. I will never forget this great opportunity and I am sure that it will be very useful for my future as I’m interested in potentially returning to study at Heriot-Watt.

I really enjoyed all the time spent here, and I will treasure it always!

Aurora Sani

Aurora has been a joy to work with. She was efficient and punctual, and never afraid of a new challenge. She helped us with major tasks relating to theCIUTI conference, our Summer School in Skills Development for Translators and Interpreters, Summer School in Applied English and Interpreting, the Moving Languages projectand its English application launch, and with the pre-sessional social events programme. We will miss Aurora and wish her all the best! We really hope to welcome her back as one of our students next year.

Aurora Sani’s internship was funded by Erasmus+ and coordinated by Creative Learning Programmes.

 

Workshops on Critical Discourse Analysis – beyond academia

By Katerina Strani

Social inequalities are systemic, deep rooted, and constructed. One of the most powerful ways of constructing and reproducing inequality is through discourse, which is ingrained in everyday communication, perpetuated by the media, established as the norm or as ‘common sense’. A group of Edinburgh University academics, independent researchers and activists decided to run workshops on how language promotes inequality, and they asked me to participate because I had delivered a workshop session for them back in February 2017.

The project, entitled “Critical Discourse Analysis – How Language Promotes Inequality” and led by Dr Callum McGregor and Dr Jim Crowther, received funding from the Global Justice Academy and consisted of three workshops aimed at researchers, practitioners, community workers and activists. The workshops focused on language and power, and how Critical Discourse Analysis can help unveil the power structures that underlie or are promoted by language and discursive strategies. The aim was to show how aspects of CDA can be used to recognise and resist power structures that aim to dominate and oppress. Each workshop ended with a reflection of how this can be done.

The first workshop took place in early April and included inputs by Dr John Player (independent researcher) on Hegemony and Discourse,  Dr Joan Cutting on Engaging with CDA, and by poet and performer Petra Reid, who composed a poem on the day’s topic and discussions and performed it at the end.

Dr Katerina Strani and Dr Jim Crowther at the first workshop

Dr Joan Cutting at the first workshop

Petra Reid performing at the first workshop

The second workshop took place in early April and included sessions by Dr John Player, by me, and a group discussion in World Café style. I chose not to talk about CDA, as I’m not an expert, but to focus on Membership Categorisation Analysis instead, which is a lesser-used method closely connected to Conversation Analysis. MCA is particularly useful when looking at membership, representation and identity.

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Dr Katerina Strani at the second workshop

The third and final workshop took place in early May and included sessions by Dr Laura Paterson on Benefits Street and poverty porn, and Nike Oruh (Profisee), artist and academic, on language and bias. Scottish writer and rapper Darren McGarvey (Loki) was also scheduled to participate but could not make it in the end, so he sent signed copies of his new book, which were given to participants. The session finished with a panel discussion.

There were about 40 participants who took part in all three workshops. Discussions were lively and stimulating. Here’s some of the participants’ feedback:

“The presenters did a fantastic job of explaining and communicating clearly some very complex CDA methods and analytical tools. I also enjoyed the exercises and World Cafe style discussions in the second workshop which I found very useful and edifying. I also liked the emphasis given to the practical application of CDA to real cases, e.g. by using relevant discourse analysis tools for identifying structural inequalities (as they are discursively manifested, constructed and reproduced) and for challenging them by providing/producing alternative, critical discourses.”

“The mixture of audiences for the workshops. More events should be organised where academia, grassroots initiatives, activists, etc, interact and exchange ideas.”

“I enjoyed learning a new approach to CDA from Katerina but also discover the great work some of the participant community groups are doing.”

“I was very intrigued by the direct and practical use and application of CDA in current community projects and activist campaigns. This was something that I had never encountered before. I would thus be very interested in participating in relevant activities and projects whereby the full transformative potential of CDA methods can be fully exploited, so as to challenge social injustice and inequality while concomitantly inspiring change.”

“I have to say, I have found this whole experience quite novel and almost life-changing. Talking to people who are not linguists but who need to understand language and challenge impositions on them in everyday situations, in contexts of homelessness and crisis, has shown me how useful and impactful this approach is.”

Dr Laura Paterson at the third workshop

Nike Oruh (Profisee) at the third workshop

Nike Oruh (Profisee) wrote a blog post after the third workshop, which can be found here: https://medium.com/@profisee/how-language-reproduces-inequality-and-how-it-is-used-to-challenge-it-165f88188431

Joan Cutting, John Player, Katerina Strani and Petra Reid

We hope to receive some more funding and continue delivering these workshops!

Special thanks to Hannah Bradley, Gillian Lawrence, Jen Ross and Margaret Petrie.

 For more photos from the workshops, please click here 

Moving Languages English Application now live and available!

 

 

The Moving Languages English Application launch took place on Friday 8th June at the George Davies Lecture Theatre, Esmée Fairbairn building, Heriot-Watt University.

The Moving Languages application is the result of an EU-funded project led by Finnish organisation Learnmera Oy, with LINCS at Heriot-Watt as one of the partners. The app is designed to help new migrants learn the host language(s) and familiarise themselves with culture-specific vocabulary and concepts. A user-friendly, versatile and comprehensive app, it also aims to encourage people to learn other languages and promote understanding between cultures.

Our mission is to help combat linguistic and cultural isolation, which is proven to be one of the key barriers to the successful integration and inclusion of migrants. There are plenty of generic language-learning apps on the market that are not designed for the needs of refugees or newly-arrived migrants. While the Moving Languages app is not designed specifically for these groups, it also caters to them, with features such as:

  • Targeted support languages
  • Culture tab
  • Administration and Immigration tabs
  • Dialogues with Audio

This free application provides a gamified language- and culture-learning tool. It contains 4000+ illustrated vocabulary items for easy concept recognition, grammar exercises, flashcards, reading comprehension, listening comprehension, culture, administration, health and immigration tabs, dialogues with audio, audio spelling and comprehension tests and many other features. The app covers topics that are essential during the first steps of living in the host country.

Users can learn English, Spanish, Italian, German, Swedish, Finnish (main languages) from 20 support languages widely spoken by refugees/migrants in partner countries: Albanian, Arabic, Bulgarian, Chinese, Croatian, Estonian, French, Hungarian, Kurdish (Sorani), Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Somali, Tigrinya, Turkish, Ukrainian, and Urdu. They can also use the main languages as support languages if they wishes. This means that if you download the English app, you can learn English from 25 languages in total.

The UK project coordinator, Dr Katerina Strani, presented the background, the project outputs and the research that led to the development of the app, before hooking up her phone to the projector and presenting the app in real time.

 

Some feedback from participants in the launch event who tested the app:

“The App is easy to use, you learn a new language and culture in a funny way

Well done.

It’s very self- explanatory, especially the fact that you don’t have to press a continue button after a correct answer makes it very user-friendly.

Easy to use.

It’s very snappy, clear and easy/fluid to navigate.

I think that this application is easy to use and it’s a good way to learn the basic expressions of a foreign language.

Outstanding.

It looks great, well done!

Useful and Innovative: the culture part offers practical information that other language learning apps don’t offer (HS – related info, for example).

This is a very good app. It addresses key issues around language learning and the social inclusion of immigrants.”

You can download the app here:

iOS https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/moving-languages-uk/id1389806713?mt=8

Android https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.ml.english

We would love your comments as we continue to update the app and fix bugs until the end of the project in November 2018. Please give us your feedback here:  https://goo.gl/forms/eJwXXtep1BTDz76B2

For more information, contact the UK coordinator, Dr Katerina Strani A.Strani@hw.ac.uk or the project coordinator Veronica Gelfgren Veronica@learnmera.com

Website: http://www.movinglanguages.eu/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/movinglanguages/

LinkedIN: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/8580234

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/movinglanguages/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MovLanguages

 

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission under Project No. 2016-1-FI01-KA204-022678

Visiting scholar, Dr Elisa Calvo

 

LINCS and CTISS are delighted to welcome Dr Elisa Calvo, Senior Lecturer at the Universidad Pablo de Olavide in Seville (Spain) as visiting scholar over the summer.

Dr Calvo did her PhD on Translator Training and Curriculum and has since published a number of articles in related fields such as professional translation processes, translator training approaches, and public service interpreting and translation.

As part of her cooperation with Justino Cerezo, who specialises in clinical psychology, Dr Calvo has also carried out applied research on stress management for interpreting. This key professional skill, very relevant in particular to the practice of simultaneous interpreting, will be the subject of a workshop run by Dr Calvo on Thursday morning for the benefit of Heriot-Watt University students.

This workshop will precede another exciting opportunity for our M.A. and MSc students, since they will have an opportunity to take part in a virtual class run by DGI-SCIC on the afternoon of the same day. This virtual class is one of the initiatives set as part of our cooperation programme with Brussels and will be the second such class this year.”

Prestigious international event hosted by LINCS

The Department of Languages & Intercultural Studies recently hosted the 2018 AGM of CIUTI (Conférence internationale permanente d’instituts universitaires de traducteurs et interprètes), the old­est and most pres­ti­gious inter­na­tional asso­ci­a­tion of uni­ver­sity insti­tutes with trans­la­tion and inter­pre­ta­tion pro­grammes in the world. Delegates attended from 49 member institutions and interpreting was provided in English, French and German. The AGM was followed by the first ever CIUTI academic conference which was centred on the theme of Translation and interpreting in an era of demographic and technological change. There were a total of 30 papers on the programme, as well as panels and a workshop. All were very well received, with the President of FIT, the International Federation of Translators, describing Heriot-Watt as a “true centre of excellence for training translators and interpreters for the future”.

The CIUTI event coincided with a visit from the Head of the Directorate General for Interpretation (SCIC) at the European Commission, Mrs Florika Fink-Hooijer, and Ms Cathy Pearson, also from SCIC. They met with staff members in LINCS and toured the excellent interpreting facilities in the Henry Prais Building. Discussions focused on possibilities for enhanced cooperation between Heriot-Watt and the European Commission; one strand of this will be Pedagogical Assistance where Cathy Pearson will return to Heriot-Watt in September to deliver interpreting classes to the new cohort of MSc interpreting students.

 

International event hosted by LINCS

Between 28 and 31 May 2018 the Department of Languages & Intercultural Studies (LINCS) is hosting the 2018 General Assembly and Conference of CIUTI, the Conférence internationale permanente d’instituts universitaires de traducteurs et interprètes, the old­est and most pres­ti­gious inter­na­tional asso­ci­a­tion of uni­ver­sity insti­tutes with trans­la­tion and inter­pre­ta­tion pro­grammes in the world. LINCS is a long-standing member of CIUTI and one of only three UK members. The theme of the Conference is Translation and interpreting in an era of demographic and technological change. In addition to CIUTI delegates from around the world, LINCS will also be hosting a visit by Mrs Florika Fink-Hooijer, the Head of the Directorate General for Interpretation at the European Commission, who is coming to speak to colleagues involved with the delivery of conference interpreting programmes and to view the excellent interpreting facilities available to LINCS students.

DESIGNS project update May 2018: Access in employment for in deaf people

By Audrey Cameron & Jemina Napier

 

In this blogpost Audrey Cameron and Jemina Napier provide an update on the work that’s been done on the DESIGNS Project (promoting access in employment for deaf people) since our last blog/vlog post in  December 2017.

Interviews with interpreters working in employment settings and employers have now been completed and analysis of the data has begun. We will be presenting some of the early findings at the next DESIGNS community information event in Berlin in June. On the 14th June, from 6:30pm, we’ll be live streaming another information sharing event via Facebook with presentations from Audrey Cameron, Jemina Napier and PhD students Emmy Kauling and Mette Sommer.

We are grateful to Vercida and to members of the DESIGNS project advisory group for helping us identify employers willing to participate in the research and our thanks also go to those employers who agreed to be interviewed about their experiences of working with deaf sign language users.

We would also like to extend our gratitude to all those who have given up their time to contribute to the project.

The DESIGNS project runs until June 2019 – the next update is due after the summer.

Below is a transcript of the update in BSL.

 

Jemina: We’re here today to give you a bit of an update on the work the two of us have been doing on the DESIGNS Project since December – was it December?

Audrey: … before Christmas, yes…

Jemina: … so we want to tell you what we’ve been doing over the past 4…?

Audrey: … I think it’s been 5…

Jemina: … 5 months.

Audrey: Well, the time has really flown by since it all started over 6 months ago.

So let me update you on a few things. As mentioned in a previous blogpost, we’ve been interviewing people from three different groups – deaf people, interpreters and employers. Well that’s now been done and we’ve collected some amazing data – it’s good isn’t it, Jemina?

Jemina: Yes – there’s a lot of it!

Audrey: The next thing is to do the analysis and start identifying the key themes – whether they’re the same amongst all three groups, what the difficulties or positives have been; what the differences might be, so that’s what we’re working on at the moment.

Jemina: We will be giving you more information about what we’ve found as we go on and at the end of this Vlog we’ll be telling you about one way you can find out more about those findings!

Audrey: Yes!

We want to thank both our Advisory Group and Vercida for helping us to identify employers who were willing to be interviewed for the project – without them it would have been difficult for us to find them and ask about their experiences, so again thanks to them.

Jemina: Yes… we’ve also had an Advisory Group meeting, do you want to talk about that?

Audrey: Last January we had a meeting with, was it 6 Members of the advisory group? It felt a bit strange, we had the meeting online so they all appeared in boxes on the screen and we were signing to one another via Skype, but it worked well and we have another meeting like that in June. The Advisory Group members are from all over the UK, which why we have to use Skype, but like I say, it was good meeting.

Jemina: The Advisory Group members all have experience of working with deaf people in employment or working in an advisory capacity with disabled people in employment and we specifically invited them on to the group to help us get a UK wide perspective.

Audrey: Yes and that’s been really good.

Jemina: As part of this project we arrange regular Community Information Events to let people know what’s happening in the project and to explain what’s involved. That’s really important, especially for the Deaf Community but anyone who’s interested, is welcome to come along. So far last year we had two of these – the very first one was in Dublin; the second was here in Edinburgh at Heriot Watt University, that was June last year, and then last January we had one in Bruges in Belgium. The fourth will be in Berlin when the whole project team will come together and we’ll have another community information event which usually includes presentations about what’s going on in the project plus a number of other things. You can still see last year’s event in Edinburgh – it was live streamed and recorded, so if you want to go back you can take a look at it. We also did something in Edinburgh at Deaf Action and thank you to them for hosting that. We had staff there from HW and PhD students who gave presentations about their research topics. Our fourth year students got an opportunity to practise their interpreting skills – they’re in their final year and nearly at the end of the course, so they got in some practise – Audrey, you gave a presentation about the DESIGNS Project.

Audrey: It was good – members of the deaf community were asking questions and will be keen to know more once we’ve finished the project – so that’s exciting.

Jemina: So what’s the plan for the next few months?

Audrey: Next it’s Liverpool for the Deaf Business Academy awards event where I’ve been invited to deliver a presentation about this project and as part that there’s an award ceremony for the best businesses – I’m looking forward to that, so that’s Liverpool in June. Then in September there’s the EFSLI (European Forum of Sign Language Interpreters) conference and I’ll be presenting along with our other partners in the project from Germany and Ireland, so that’ll be good. We’re also doing an ASLI webinar where Jemina will be presenting online to interpreters – that’s in September and we’ll let you know more about that nearer the time.

Jemina: Oh, and one exciting thing to mention that we’ve got planned, is for this June on the 14th, we’ll be having a live streamed Community Information Event. It’ll be here but we’ve decided, rather than have people come to us, we’ll live stream it so that’ll give people from around the UK more of an opportunity to see it. It’s on the 14th June at 6:30pm in the evening. There’s already a Facebook Event/invitation page so you can click on that to let us know if you want to join in. We’ll be live streaming via Facebook with four presenters, the two of us will be revealing some of the findings from the DESIGNS Project from the interviews with interpreters, deaf people and employers and what they said the main themes were, so we’ll be going in to more depth about the findings. Plus we have two other people – one is a PhD student, Emmy Kauling – her PhD is linked to deaf professionals working with interpreters, which is a perfect fit for the DESIGNS Project. The other is a PhD student, Mette Sommer who is deaf and she’s doing research into deaf people who set up their own businesses, how they felt about it, what their experiences have been like and what motivated them to go it alone? And again that’s a perfect fit with the DESIGNS Project, which is why we asked her to give a presentation. So the four of us will be presenting for about 15 minutes each and then you’ll have an opportunity to ask questions via Twitter, or you can watch via FB and the send in comments/questions and we’ll both respond so I hope you’ll join us and be watching on June 14th.

Audrey: We do want your feedback on the 14th – what you think of the findings; also maybe you can add something extra from your own experience that we could explore further with you.

Jemina: This project runs up until June of next year 2019 which means as we go on there will be further updates like this one, letting you know what’s happening. Plus as part of the project there’s an expectation that we’ll produce more training resources for interpreters, deaf people and employers which means there will be more happening right through until the June when we finish.

We want to say a huge thanks to the Advisory Group and Vercida and others who helped us find people to participate in this research project and also a big thanks to everyone who agreed to be interviewed either as part of a group, or one to one – we’ve been so touched by the time they’ve taken to tell about their experiences – it’s been really valuable and much appreciated, so thank you to you all!

Audrey: I’m sure this will help us to make big changes to employment for deaf people – fingers crossed!

Deaf Artists commissioned on Translating the Deaf Self project

manchester heriotwatt

 

Using an innovative approach to re-interpret Deaf Studies and Interpreting research through art, 3 Deaf sign language using artists have been commissioned through Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Follow-on Funding to ‘translate’ the findings of the Translating the Deaf Self project that was initially funded through an AHRC Research Innovation Grant. The original project investigated deaf sign language users’ experiences of being known through translation the representation of deaf people through sign language interpreters and the potential impact on well being. This project explores the findings from that project through artistic exploration and transformation in the visual arts as a means of engaging more deaf people and communities with these ideas.

This interdisciplinary project is being led jointly by a deaf-hearing research team from the Social Research with Deaf People group in the School of Health Sciences at the University of Manchester and the Centre for Translation & Interpreting Studies in the Department of Languages  & Intercultural Studies at Heriot-Watt University.

The team are working collaboratively with Deaf Explorer – an artist agency supporting Deaf creatives – to support artists-in-residence in Deaf community organisations, including Deaf Action in Edinburgh, DeafPLUS in London, Manchester Deaf Centre and the Royal Association of the Deaf in Romford.

Three professional artists, and one artist intern, will spend a period of time in each organisation where they will be given the time, space and resources to delve into the issues reported in the preceding Translating the Deaf Self project with local Deaf people and to inform their artistic inspirations.  Other arts based workshops will happen in further locations.

This is a community-participatory project that not only involves local deaf communities but also offers the opportunity for deaf artist capacity building through the recruitment of a new deaf artist to shadow one of the professional artists as an intern.

An exhibition of the artwork will take place in September 2018, and community responses to the art will be gathered in order to further explore the extended concept of Translated Deaf Selves.

INTRODUCING THE ARTISTS

CS

Christopher Sacre will be based at Deaf Action. His work involves exploring the flow, boundaries and the shape of humanity and human populations, the inclusion and exclusion and how some humans move through the world differently to the rest.

RT

Rubbena Aurangzeb-Tariq will be based at Deaf Plus and her installations and paintings explore how we collect our feelings and thoughts within ourselves and how we learn to contain them within our own personal space and cultural boundaries.

LS

Louise Stern will be based at the Royal Association of the Deaf and has produced visual arts, films, and literature that work around ideas of language, communication and isolation.

RLH

Ruaridh Lever-Hogg recently graduated with a Masters in Fine Art from the University of Dundee and will be involved as an intern.. In his artwork he explores emotional responses to place, events, form or object.

 

Want to know more?

Twitter @UoMSORD    @HW_CTISS    @deafexplorer

Search the hashtag #ArtviaTDS on all social media platforms (Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.) The artists and research team will be using this hashtag to post about this project and its progression!

 

For more information about the preceding Translating the Deaf Self research project, follow the blog posts, linked below (BSL versions also available on these websites):

2 October 2014 [Uni of Manchester] Translating the Deaf Self: understanding the impact of mediation

8 March 2016 [LINCS] Translating the Deaf Self: An update

30 Aug 2016 [LINCS] The Translating the Deaf Self project: Where are we now?

13 Jan 2017 [LINCS] The Translating the Deaf Self project: Wrapping up and what’s next?

 

This project is funded by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (Ref:  AH/R003750/1)

For further information contact alys.young@manchester.ac.uk or j.napier@hw.ac.uk

Deaf ExplorerAHRC

 

Links to project team & partners:

https://www.bmh.manchester.ac.uk/research/nursing-groups/social-research-with-deaf-people/

http://www.ctiss.hw.ac.uk

https://deafexplorer.com

http://www.deafaction.org.uk

http://www.deafplus.org

https://royaldeaf.org.uk

http://www.manchesterdeafcentre.com

 

 

Links to deaf artists:

https://www.rubbena.com

http://www.christophersacre.com/website/Home.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louise_Stern

http://www.tenartists.co.uk/artists/ruaridh

 

 

Signing up a storm?

Not for the first time, the Eurovision Song Contest has managed to draw attention to language issues in a revealing way.

We all know the controversies over the years about countries choosing to sing in English. If you thought that wasn’t happening so much nowadays, the 2017 final featured 42 songs, of which 35 were sung entirely in English – at 83%, that’s the highest proportion ever.

You may be less aware, though, that Eurovision has also offered its own unique window on the place of sign language in society.

Back in 2005, the Latvian entry ‘The War Is Not Over’ featured a final chorus in which the performers, Valters & Kaža, left their stools and laid down their acoustic guitars to sign alongside their signing. It’s not clear why. The song received the famous douze points from IrelandLithuania and Moldova, and finished 5th overall.

Things nearly got more interesting in 2009 when a Deaf artist, Signmark, competed in Finland’s national Eurovision qualifications. Signmark (real name: Marko Vuoriheimo), who was born into a signing family, performed ‘Speakerbox’ with a hearing singer. But the song ended up in second place in the Finnish competition and so narrowly missed out on being chosen for the grand Eurovision final. Nevertheless, Signmark went on to great things and goes down in history as the first deaf person to sign a recording contract with an international record company (Warner Music).

In 2015, the focus shifted from signing performers to a signing interpreter. In Sweden, the national competition was presented with Tommy Krångh delivering Swedish Sign Language renditions alongside each song. His work was so popular that there were demands for him to appear for the grand final, too

And what’s the story in 2018?

This year, the UK has decided to experiment with signing. SuRie, our representative in Lisbon, has recorded a British Sign Language version of her track ‘Storm’. The BBC proudly reported that she learnt it “in just a few hours”. SuRie has, we’re told, “been wanting to learn BSL for a long time” and jumped at the chance to pursue this when a fan sent her a video of himself signing ‘Storm’. The BBC’s Newsround said: “She got in touch and asked if he would teach her how to sign the lyrics too”.

The initiative soon started to attract interest. A clip was released on Twitter, but not everyone was enthusiastic, with one person even saying “this makes me want to poke my eyes out”. The singer anxiously replied “I realise there’s tons more to BSL than I was able to portray here and that I have a helluva lot more to learn”. More discussion followed, spinning out – that’s social media, folks! – into strongly-worded antagonism and much taking of sides.

A 24-hour Twitter poll summarised three stances that were emerging. Respondents voted as follows to the proposition that SuRie’s BSL version should be seen as either:

  • Inspiring: a model of inclusivity and artistic creativity – 16%
  • Harmlessly well-intentioned but misguided – 60%
  • Cynical, crass, ignorant and disrespectful – 24%

So what’s going on here? And why is this a LifeinLINCS issue?

Well, as a department, LINCS teaches both spoken and signed languages. And we specialise in both translation and interpreting studies, and intercultural research. The SuRie ‘Storm’-in-a-teacup touches on every part of this.

British Sign Language (BSL) wasn’t even understood to be a language until the mid-1970s. Ten years later, it started to be taught in earnest. And within 20 years of that point, it had become one of the most popular adult education subjects in the UK. Almost all of that teaching was being led by Deaf BSL users.

Now, thanks in part to a Heriot-Watt initiative, plans are afoot to offer BSL as a full language subject in schools across Scotland. LINCS’ own Dr Ella Leith is currently on secondment to the Scottish Qualifications Authority, coordinating a project to develop BSL qualifications for high schools. Exciting times!

But this starts to show why SuRie’s BSL work has frustrated some. BSL simply can’t be learned meaningfully in two hours: “It’s a complex language, you know” noted one tweeter, “way beyond swear words and song lyrics and Trump’s sign name”. The professionalisation of BSL teaching has been pursued for over 30 years. Reversing the historic oppression of the language has been wrapped up with highlighting, as teachers, Deaf people for whom BSL is a preferred language.

Then there’s the question of the quality of the BSL translation. LINCS students work their socks off not for hours but for years (eg on our main undergraduate programme to develop the ability to produce effective BSL output from English source material. And they wouldn’t start with artistic matter like song lyrics, either!

Above all, perhaps, an opportunity has been missed to do some valuable intercultural work. A Eurovision entry that had been seriously planned with both sung and signed content, developed by artists with profound knowledge of the underlying issues of language and heritage, would have been much less likely to have been viewed as ‘cultural appropriation’ at work.

Can there be a happy ending to this story?

Eurovision reached over 180 million television viewers in 2017. Sending any kind of message to such an audience about effective engagement with sign language and with considered, high-quality translation would have to be welcome. The big prize, though, would be to show clearly that Deaf people aren’t so much “in need” of some crumbs of “access” from the hearing world’s table, but are contributors to society with extraordinary artistic, linguistic and cultural riches to share.

LINCS’ own work on the intangible heritage of the Deaf community reinforces that there are many creative artists using BSL. The Scottish Government’s National Plan for BSL envisages “promotion” of BSL as part of the shared cultural life of the nation. We’re working to get that message out through initiatives like the current two-year Royal Society of Edinburgh project to construct a Deaf Heritage network which can feed BSL inspiration into national cultural institutions.

SuRie appears to have quickly realised that there was more to all of this than meets the eye, saying: “Probs best if I leave it to the professionals, I really never intended to disappoint anyone in the community… but I realise I’m out of my depth and I do apologise”. Perhaps the very best thing she could do would be to turn this outcome on its head by coming out as a true champion for BSL in society and the arts. Now that really would send a clear signal.

Professor Graham H. Turner

LINCS post-graduate researchers hold first symposium

 

Wednesday 25th April was the occasion of the first LINCS PGR Symposium.  Over the course of the day, nine post-graduates presented papers to an audience of their peers, lecturers and professors from within the department.  Reactions were universally positive, succinctly summarised by this tweet by @HW_LifeinLINCS:

Incredibly insightful and thought-provoking presentations.

Contributors ranged from those who had only recently started their PhD journey, to two who are busy writing up their theses with a view to submitting the finished works at the end of the summer.  Research interests were grouped in four panels:  translation, language and identity, sign language interpreting, and spoken language interpreting.  Sites of research ranged from the Heriot-Watt University classroom to Faroese fish-processing factories, by way of theatres and mental health clinics, court-rooms and police custody suites, Google translate and the Galician community in London.

The papers delivered on the day were as follows:

Paola Ruffo: Literary Translators’ perceptions of their role and attitudes towards technology in contemporary society

Nga-Ki Mavis Ho: Academic translation from English into Chinese: Increasing awareness and handling of academic rhetoric by the introduction of the Graduation system

Elisabeth Holm: New Speakers of Faroese and the Sociolinguistics of Labour Market Access and Participation

Michael Richardson: Deaf and hearing theatre – creating an intercultural third space

Alex Dayan- Fernandez: Reinventing transnational networks: Contemporary language activism, linguistic ideologies, and cultural identity (re)constructions of the Galician diaspora in London

Emmy Kauling: “He’s a professional *something*” – Co-constructing professional identities through interpreted professional discourse.

Christopher Tester: Perceptions of the Role and Function of Deaf Interpreters Working in the Court of Law

Rob Skinner: Ap-proximately there:  Video-mediated interpreting services at Police Scotland

Natalia Rodríguez Vincente: Rapport management in interpreter-mediated mental healthcare encounters: a shared responsibility?

Inevitably you can find more information about all these papers on Twitter – post-graduates can be active tweeters!  Look for #HWPGRsymp18.

The value of the day lay not only in the opportunity for students to present their papers, but also in the responses those papers stimulated.  Each presentation was followed by lively questioning and debate and the day was notable for the supportive and collaborative atmosphere created by all the participants.  Post-graduates were inspired to think about new aspects of their work, and everybody developed greater insight into the breadth of interesting research that is being carried out across the department.  Importantly, we were able to make links between individual research projects that will lead to further discussion where interests or methods overlap.

In summary, the PGR Symposium was an important and successful experience for all involved.  There have already been calls for it to become a regular feature of the LINCS calendar, perhaps twice a year, to ensure all PGRs have a chance to present their work in the safe environment that the symposium offers.  Personally, I hope not to be here for the next one (I’m one of those working towards submission of my thesis in a few months), but I very much look forward to seeing my own Twitter feed filled by photographs and summaries of the research undertaken by future cohorts of LINCS PGRs.

Michael Richardson

LINCS PGR Representative