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 

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

Making an Impact

by Michael Richardson

For the last two and a half years I have been researching the participation of Deaf people in theatre.  With only a few months remaining, I am currently writing up my PhD thesis, wondering what I am doing – and often, why I am doing it.  Of course, working bilingually in English and British Sign Language with a mixed group of Deaf and hearing actors for a week last summer was great fun.  Finding out what audiences thought about the finished work was fascinating.  Turning it all into 80,000 words of highly academic but readable prose?  Well, let’s just say, the 65,000 words I still need to write aren’t coming easily.  I can’t yet see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Fortunately, my PhD journey started well, and I am regularly reminded of the benefit of academic research by emails I receive from people who have changed their practice as a result of my work.  It all started in my first year as a postgraduate, when I was invited by a theatre to conduct a small study for them, attempting to find out why the numbers of Deaf spectators were lower than expected for Sign Language Interpreted Performances (SLIPs).

SLIPs are performances of spoken language theatre that are simultaneously translated into sign language, usually by a single interpreter standing in the downstage corner of the stage at some distance from the actors.  They are the typical method currently employed to encourage Deaf sign language users to attend mainstream theatres.

In my research I interviewed Deaf and hearing audience members, as well as a theatre interpreter, and staff responsible for access in the theatre.  The results suggest that SLIPs do not provide Deaf spectators with an experience equivalent to that of hearing audience members.  Interpreters are inadequately trained and usually given insufficient resources to prepare for a SLIP.  Theatre companies are often uninterested in, if not opposed to, the presence of the interpreter on stage, and insist on her spatial separation from the main production, making it impossible for spectators to follow the show and the translation at the same time. Theatre venues, despite promoting a performance in sign language, often do not use sign language in their marketing materials or in front of house facilities.  As a result they do not present a welcoming image to the very people they are trying to attract.  Understandably my Deaf participants had little positive to say about the effectiveness of SLIPs in providing access.

The aim of a preparatory study such as this within the PhD process is to give an opportunity for postgraduate researchers to develop and refine their research skills; and for academic staff to ascertain whether their PhD student is ready to progress to the full-scale study on which their thesis will be built.  My work on SLIPs, however, has gone far beyond this.

My research was the first to ask Deaf people their views on SLIPs, and there has been significant interest in my results from the academic community.  I have spoken at several conferences in the UK and Europe on the challenges of delivering SLIPs.  Most recently I presented my thoughts on the need to establish a separate professional speciality of performance interpreting to support the development of quality provision of SLIPs, at the Third International Conference on Interpreting Quality in Granada (http://qinv.ugr.es/iciq3-en.htm).  I have also written articles based on my research.  A paper on interpreting and theatre translation was published in 2017 in the online journal TranscUlturAl (https://journals.library.ualberta.ca/tc/index.php/TC/article/view/29265). A second paper, ‘The Sign Language Interpreted Performance: A Failure of Access Provision for Deaf Spectators ‘ will be published in March in the journal Theatre Topics (volume 28 (1), pp. 63-74).

Whilst spreading awareness of my work within the academic community is a desirable part of the PhD journey, I am also pleased that my research is having impact in the real world.  I have been invited to speak at events aimed at cultural managers, theatre practitioners and interpreters throughout the UK:  at the South Bank Centre in London with Deafinitely Theatre; in Ipswich with the Pacitti Company; at Manchester Art Gallery for the Greater Manchester Cultural Group for Deaf People; and as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Each of these events is part of the work in progress towards adequate access to cultural events for Deaf people, as is my ongoing contribution to a working group in Edinburgh that aims to develop opportunities for Deaf-led arts and cultural activities.

More tangible results have followed from discussions with individual practitioners.  Zane Hema, an interpreter trainer based in Australia, is using my ideas about performance interpreting in Continuous Professional Development sessions that he leads.   ZooCo (https://wearezooco.co.uk/), a small touring company that works to make theatre accessible to diverse audiences, is using my research to inform their thinking about how to engage Deaf audiences.  In Gloucester, the Strike a Light Festival took on a number of the recommendations that I made, including having staff Front of House who could greet Deaf patrons in sign language; and keeping seats for Deaf spectators at SLIPs that give the best possible view of interpreter and stage.  Previously they had not attracted any Deaf people at all; having made these changes, they estimate that approximately 5% of their audience during their 2017 festival was Deaf.  In the March 2018 festival they will also use the Difference Engine, a piece of technology that streams captions onto an individual’s smart phone or tablet, for their production of Lucy J Skilbeck’s Joan (https://www.strikealightfestival.org.uk/events/joan/).

As I write this, I am in the middle of slowly redrafting the first half of my literature review, and thematically coding the seemingly endless hours of video data that I generated in my main research project last year.  Nevertheless, I am encouraged by the fact that the work I did in the first year of my PhD is already having an impact, not only in universities, but also in the real world of cultural provision.  My research is contributing to an improvement in the lives of Deaf people, at least in the arts.  And that, I remember, is why I am doing it.

Borderland identities

by Kerstin Pfeiffer

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“Wie, Sie … äh… du weißt nicht wie Snapchat geht?” Three pairs of eyes fix me in complete disbelief. A part of me wants the floor of the rehearsal room to open wide and swallow me there and then. For the third time in less than two hours I am pleading age-related ignorance of this or that social media platform. And it is only day 1 of the workshop.

Catching up with 21st-century culture was an interesting by-product of my work with Čojč Theaternetzwerk Böhmen Bayern (http://cojc.eu/cs/), a Czech-German theatre network in 2017. The network organises bilingual theatre projects on both sides of the border, and I joined last year’s main project, Like/Hate, as a participant observer. For two weeks in August and September, Like/Hate brought together 20 young people aged 14 to 27 living Bavaria and Bohemia to create a theatrical performance centering on the influence of social networks on our thinking, behaviour, and the way we present ourselves to the world. My main reason for observing the project had less to do with the question how we conceive of performing the self in and through social media than with an interest in the participants’ real-life communication and interactions – with each other and with the audience.

In many bilingual youth projects along the German borders, pooling linguistic resources is considered one of the main strategies for facilitating intercultural dialogue and fostering cross-border relationships unencumbered (or at least less encumbered) by the baggage of historical differences between the Germans and their neighbours. Čojč projects are no exception but they go one step further in that they aim to create performances which are accessible to monolingual speakers of Czech and German alike by using a hybrid of Czech and German, Čojč, on stage. The network motto provides a good example of how this can work: ‘Mit divadlem theater hýbat grenzen hranicemi bewegen’. The word Čojč itself is a blend of from the Czech word for the Czech language, Česky, and the use of Czech spelling for the word [d]eutsch – [d]ojč, and in some senses, Čojč (the language) is the verbal manifestation of a strong sense of a distinct regional identity grounded in the historical and cultural particularities of the Bavarian-Bohemian border region that pervades the network.

The city of Plzeň

So how does the Čojč network use language(s) to express, negotiate and potentially transform (individual) identities? How do workshop participants communicate with each other? Which language do they use, when, and why? What are the effects of using a hybrid language on the audience? In other words, how is regional identity performed and how is it changed in and through performance?  And how do such performances integrate into contemporary discourses about the role of regions in responding to societal challenges within the EU? These were just some the questions that guided my observation of the devising process and the interviews I conducted with participants and network members. The larger framework for this research is the Horizon2020-funded project Critical Heritages: performing and representing identities in Europe (CoHERE) (https://research.ncl.ac.uk/cohere/) which investigates the socio-political and cultural significance of European heritages and their role in developing communitarian identities. My work with Čojč Theaternetzwerk Böhmen Bayern forms a case study within the project work package led by Heriot-Watt and the Latvian Academy of Culture focusing on cultural forms and expressions of identity in Europe (PI: Prof Ullrich Kockel).

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Landmarks of Plzeň

Data analysis is still ongoing, but some main themes are already emerging. The first is the importance of liminal spaces in which borders – linguistic, cultural, political – and dichotomies are temporarily suspended a and in which the question of the contours of a particular cross-border identity can be explored and negotiated. The second concerns language use. For Like/Hate, some ground rules for communication were assigned top-down from the bilingual project leader team; more frequently, however, participants made their own decisions about how to communicate effectively with each other and  how to produce theatrical material that is accessible to monolingual speakers of Czech and German respectively. Bilingual cooperation relied quite strongly on translation in the devising and rehearsal process. Within that process, translation was conceived of from the outset as a collaborative activity – and a collaborative responsibility. While translation accountability was sometimes regarded as an unwanted or uncomfortable responsibility by the participants, it also holds the potential to become a vehicle for authority in the co-creative process. Moreover, the communication choices made by the participants clearly went beyond pragmatic concerns: they frequently reflected existing linguistic asymmetries. Or, in other words, German dominated the rehearsal room. These initial findings about communication choices suggest interesting parallels with other bilingual theatre workshops, such as Michael Richardson’s (Heriot-Watt University) investigations into BSL-English theatre. These will be presented as part of a comparative study at the upcoming conference of the International Association for Translation and Intercultural Studies (IATIS) in Hong Kong:

Pfeiffer, K., and Wurm, S., ‘(Un)Performing Barriers: A comparative  study of bilingual theatre in two inter-cultural spaces’, paper to be presented at 6th IATIS Conference, 3-6 July 2018, Hong Kong

Curious about Čojč and Like/Hate? Meet the participants and watch the project vlogs here: https://www.like-hate.com. Two of seven performances in Passau and Pilsen are also available as a livestream on the Čojč Land Network Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/cojcface/.

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Performance: Like/Hate 
Photographer: Valentina Eimer
Photo taken on 25 September 2017 in Passau