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 

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.

 

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

The Manchester terror drill – and why we must stop linking Arabic with fanatics

This article was first published in ‘The Conversation’ https://theconversation.com/uk

by Máiréad Nic Craith

Greater Manchester Police staged a mock attack featuring a suicide bomber late on the night of Monday May 9. It began at the Trafford Centre shopping complex when a man in black walked into the centre of the main foyer and shouted “Allahu Akbar” – “God is great” – several times at the crowd. Moments later, an explosion rocked the food hall. The 800 volunteers dropped to the floor or ran into cafes and shops screaming for help, many of them made up to look as if they had horrific injuries.

The reaction has been largely negative, with many making the point that using the words “Allahu Akbar” reinforced the stereotype that terrorists are primarily Muslim. They rightly said that in reality, anyone can be a terrorist. By enforcing the Muslim stereotype, the exercise divided rather than united people and could increase anti-Muslim hate crime.

The police force was quick to put up a senior officer to respond. Stressing that “Allahu Akbar” was not scripted, he called the phrase “unacceptable” and apologised on behalf of the force since it “vocally linked this exercise with Islam”.

End of story? Actually an important point has been overlooked. The commentary has focused on the fact that the attack associated Islam and terrorism, but something else was associated with terrorism, too – the Arabic language. Spoken by an estimated 422m people, it is one of the most common languages in the world. Have we become so used to associating politics with particular languages that the matter is not considered exceptional or worthy of discussion?

UK connotations

This issue goes much wider than Arabic. Staying with the UK, other languages are associated with political ideologies, too. I worked in Northern Ireland for 11 years and could not fail to notice the political stereotypes around the Irish language. I worried that my beautiful Irish language name would generate the perception that my intentions were political – although friends assured me that given I was from the South, the issue did not arise.

Since the days of the hunger striker Bobby Sands, who taught himself and other fellow prisoners Irish in the H-Blocks, Sinn Féin has often been accused of politicising Irish. Linking Irish with political intent makes it uncomfortable for some people without nationalist aspirations to speak it in public.

Last year, for instance, the Belfast Telegraph columnist Claire Harrison wrote that she stopped her university course in Irish partly because of “a growing discomfort with a general assumption that I was a raving republican”.

Sinn Féin conference in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Niall Carson

The perception that Irish is political has been greatly enhanced by politicians from non-nationalist parties seizing the opportunity to score a point at the expense of the Irish culture. Linda Ervine, a prominent unionist Irish-language speaker, last year accused Nelson McCausland of the unionist DUP of politicising the Irish language in exactly the same manner he claims republicans are guilty of. It’s not as if it has to be this way. Many of my friends in Northern Ireland who speak Irish on a regular basis do not associate it with politics and are motivated only by a love of Irish culture.

Over the Irish Sea in Scotland, we are seeing signs of something similar. In my recent TEDx talk on living heritage I noted that Scots has gained a new visibility and credibility as the culture has become more self-confident in the wake of the 2014 independence referendum. Pro-independence daily The National now features a weekly column in Scots, for instance. Yet the emergence of Scots cannot escape the political undertones. As the culture scholar Scott Hames wrote a few months ago, the “question of Scots is now becoming hyper-politicised in crude and distorting ways”. He argued that “national identity is undoubtedly part of the picture; but it needn’t be the whole picture”.

Many of us have heard the slogan that “a language is a dialect with an army and a navy”. Languages now considered “neutral” or “official” have often gained their visibility and credibility with the support of political structures – a fact often forgotten at the beginning of the 21st century.

So how to respond? The Irish-language activist Aodán Mac Poilín has suggested that, rather than attempting to depoliticise languages and break their link with specific communities, we should think about making them appropriate for many communities and in many spheres – multi-politicising them, if you will. With this in mind, it is good to read about the latest Arabic initiative in London, in which “Subhan Allah” (or “Glory be to God”) is appearing on posters on the sides of the red buses. This initiative by Islamic Relief is designed to change the negativity about Islam and foster understanding between different communities.

Sadiq Khan. Dominic Lipinski/PA

A few days ago, London elected its first Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan. The most recent winner of the Great British Bake Off was the Muslim Nadiya Hussain. With more events like these and fewer ill-conceived terror drills and such like, it raises the possibility of multi-politicising Arabic. Perhaps there will come a time when we don’t immediately think of terrorism when we hear the word “Allah”. Perhaps we might think instead about justice, human rights and good food.

RADAR Workshop: From Hate Speech to Hate Communication

“From hate speech to hate communication:
How racism is produced and reflected through communicative practices”
Free training workshop
16th and 17th June 2016
George Davies Lecture Theatre, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh

 

RADAR – Regulating AntiDiscrimination and AntiRacism (Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Programme JUST/2013/FRAC/AG/6271) is an EU-funded programme that brings together nine partners from six countries. The project’s aim is to raise awareness and develop the necessary tools to identify and tackle hate-motivated and hate-producing communication, which have a racialised dimension. This will be achieved through training activities and events. The project will also provide a handbook as well as comparative studies and analyses. For more information on the project’s objectives, deliverables and individual work packages, please visit the project website and register on our platform.

RADAR workshops are being organised in the six partner countries (Italy, Finland, The Netherlands, Poland, Greece and the UK) from April to June 2016 to test the training material developed as well as the training approach. An international workshop will then be held in September in Perugia, Italy, drawing on the knowledge and expertise gained from the local pilot events.

Who is this workshop for?

  • professionals and trainees in the legal sector, the police, social workers, charity workers, people working in local and national authorities, policy makers, volunteers interested in ethnic equality and diversity
  • trainers interested in participating in the trial / pilot implementation of the proposed training approach and have open access and reusability of the available material.
  • people who have experienced racism or xenophobia and are interested in sharing their experiences and leading discussions.

What are the workshop aims?

  • Understand hate-motivated and hate-producing communication practices. Such an understanding can be empowering for (potential) targets of discrimination or hate communication. It can also help professionals to make better judgments, react effectively to racist and xenophobic behaviours and attitudes and ultimately help to prevent racism, xenophobia, discrimination and exclusion.
  • Recognise explicit as well as implicit forms of prejudice, racism and xenophobia, as well as the situations from which they might arise.
  • Develop skills to produce non-biased and inclusive communication.
  • Develop competence in communicating with people with culturally (and socially) different habits and behaviour models.
  • Distinguish between verbal, paraverbal, nonverbal and visual messages, how they are combined and embodied in communicative practices.
  • Become familiar with communicative techniques, strategies and procedures that apply to different situations and contexts.

In this way, participants may acquire useful tools for identifying and preventing hate-producing and hate-motivated communication practices and, ultimately, hate crimes. Participants should also be able to transfer the approach, either by putting it into practice in other contexts or, in the case of trainers, by training others.

What is the workshop content?

Two main themes are covered in the workshop:
(1)      language use in legal texts (laws and judgments) and its social implications
(2) communication practices reflecting and (re)producing racism, xenophobia, discrimination, exclusion.

We consider the following communicative practices among others: advertisement pictures, promotional and other videos, talkshows, written texts, in particular newspaper articles, and social media posts.

There will be discussion groups, round tables and activities to reflect on these communication practices, share experiences and recommendations. The full workshop programme will be provided following registration.

How to register

The 2-day workshop is free and includes lunch, coffee breaks, a drinks reception and a certificate of attendance. Registration is required. Places are limited so please register here http://goo.gl/forms/YEyCLvePki  by 10th June

Heriot-Watt is located on the outskirts of Edinburgh city centre and is easily accessible by bus and train.  Further travel information as well as the full workshop programme will be provided following registration.

Contact

Dr Katerina Strani, Assistant Professor, Department of Languages and Intercultural Studies, Heriot-Watt University: A.Strani@hw.ac.uk

Social Media

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Project-Radar-Just2013fracag6271-370112223154383/?ref=hl

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RadarProject         @RADARproject    #RADARproject

radar_small_logo

 

Sign Language Interpreting on Chinese television: Some progress and much to expect

by Xiao Zhao

Xiao post

From November 15th, 2014, Qixia television station in Nanjing, Jiangsu province started to provide sign language interpreting in the weekly news programme Xiao Rui Shuo Xin Wen (Xiao Rui (name of the hearing news presenter) Presents the News). The programme received immediate applause from the deaf community all over the country and the academia. There are a few reasons for this.

To start with, the interpreter, Ms Dai Manli (name in Chinese order), is Deaf. Although in the past, there were deaf interpreters on television occasionally, this is the first time that the interpreter was encouraged officially to use natural Chinese Sign Language with clear facial expressions as opposed to the past where interpreters were required to wear a smile all the time and use signed Chinese, which is an imposed sign system based on written Chinese syntax with a lot of signs created on the basis of Chinese characters, very unpopular amongst the deaf Chinese community.

Moreover, this particular programme, unlike many other programmes with SLI, takes into consideration the feedback from the local deaf community. For example, when first broadcast, the size of the interpreter screen was as small as it was in the past, which was not easy to watch for deaf audience. After taking into consideration the feedback, the TV station enlarged the interpreter frame to its current size in the second week. Indeed, the current size is far from ideal if compared with that of the SLI frame in BBC news, but it is still regarded as a positive sign by the audience.

Last but not the least, in order to reach a wider audience in China, Qixia TV station edits a special version of the programme and publishes it on its Wechat account (similar to Facebook) and on mainstream video websites. As a result, deaf people in other cities in China can easily access it on the web.

Almost at the same time, Suzhou TV station, also in Jiangsu province, invited two deaf people to work as interpreters to try out their SL interpreted news programme. These two programmes are especially valuable in the context of nationwide downplay of natural CSL in special education schools and TV stations. We hope that more TV stations and, more importantly, more government leaders will follow the lead and provide quality service to deaf Chinese citizens soon.

Why Language Learning Will Not Reduce Interpreting Costs

This morning, I read that Leeds council want to slash interpreting costs by using children to interpret. Aside from the huge problems with this proposal and the lack of contextualisation of the figures involved (£127,000 in six months might be small compared to other costs like council branding, consultant hire, dog mess cleanup or even website design), what stood out most were the comments.

In general, the logic went like this

If people would learn English, we wouldn’t need to supply interpreting.

It sounds so convincing. We need to provide interpreting because people don’t speak English (oh and because it is a European law) so if people did speak English, we wouldn’t need interpreting. Problem solved.

Such a pity that won’t work, at least not for a long time. The truth is that “speaking a language” can mean thousands of different things. At the moment, I can claim I “speak” German – within strict limits, but I can speak it. I have spent two years learning it and can have a conversation and even write a letter or an email but you bet I would need an interpreter for the doctor’s office or a court.

I also “speak” French. In fact, I have been “speaking French” since I was 8. I have interpreted at high-level conferences and can read and understand everything from contracts to research papers. I have a degree in the language and an MSc in French-English Conference Interpreting and Translation. In fact, you might even want to call me nearly bilingual.

Still, drop me in a court and you bet I would want an interpreter. My legal French is good but not good enough to risk my freedom or someone else’s freedom for. The stakes would be just too high. I have not studied and used enough legal French to be completely aware of what the lawyers were attempting to get at with their questions.

In other words, language ability is not a single skill, good for all areas of life. It is perfectly normal, for someone to have excellent conversational skills in a language and yet struggle to transact business or talk to someone about their government benefits. Even after years in a country, it is very likely that even people who have “learned the language” might need help in certain key places, coincidentally, the same places where interpreting is needed the most now.

Learning a language to any level takes time and during this time, interpreting is required. It is a massive oversimplification to think that language classes will mean interpreting is not necessary.

All this has assumed that we are dealing with new arrivals to a country. What about Deaf people? Their need for interpreting will be ongoing.

So what do we do to save money? Simple: get a good system, don’t waste time and pay professional interpreters a professional rate. Getting things right first time will always cost less than having to clear up after a mess.

Author: Jonathan Downie

Vow of Silence: Day 4

Having committed to a week of silence to demonstrate solidarity with the UK’s Deaf sign language users, Professor Graham Turner has made it to Thursday without a squeak. Will everyone else’s luck run out before the weekend?

Imagine you’re completely blind. Can you do that? It’s not too difficult: you start by closing your eyes…

Now imagine you’re stone deaf. Not just a wee bit fuzzy round the edges, like your granddad or when you come out of a loud gig. Deaf as a post.

You can’t, can you? We don’t have ear-lids. You can’t switch your hearing off, no matter how hard you try.

This is at the root of the hearing world’s inability to comprehend what Deaf people are on about. Three key things follow from being Deaf.

One, everything the hearing world takes for granted about receive incoming information from the world through hearing, doesn’t apply. I’m on a train. The tannoy says the café closes in five minutes. If I’m Deaf, it could be a long, stomach-rumbling journey to Edinburgh.

Two, fortunately, the eye is a fantastic device. Persuasive evidence shows that Deaf people’s eyes are sharper and wired more responsively to their brains than hearing people’s. The way Deaf people do ‘being alive’ is re-jigged from top to bottom to exploit their different biological make-up.

Notice: not ‘deficient’ – just DIFFERENT.

Three, the kind of language that perfectly suits the bodies of Deaf people is signed language. British Sign Language has evolved naturally over centuries to match Deaf capabilities. Just as spoken languages work for the hearing, signing is perfectly designed to exploit the visual nature of Deaf people.

My ‘vow of silence’ hasn’t turned me into a Deaf person. If I had a heart attack right now, I can confidently predict that I wouldn’t wait for an interpreter to show up before communicating with the paramedics. I’d speak. (And I can’t NOT know that the café has now closed. Fear not: I brought my own biscuits.)

But as I can sign, and I’ve taken the time to learn from Deaf people what their experiences are like, I can get that much closer than most to seeing the world from a Deaf perspective. Our languages powerfully influence the way we think. Language both shapes and reflects our identities. I’m not Deaf, but – bearing in mind that it’s taken me over 25 years to develop my understanding – I do begin to ‘get’ what it means to be Deaf.

What about that heart attack scenario I just envisaged, though? The hearing world has often treated Deaf people as being in need of medical treatment. The urge to ‘fix’ those different ears runs deep… Deaf people say – SHOUT – “Leave us alone! We’re perfectly OK! We don’t need to be cured!”

But when a Deaf person suffers a heart attack, the real nightmares begin. The British Deaf Association’s discussion paper, launched yesterday, reports again  on the life-threatening barriers BSL users face when they actually do need healthcare.

However, it being the 21st century, new ways are being found to bridge this communication gap with Deaf people. In Scotland, NHS24 has piloted the use of video technology to bring ‘remote interpreters’ into the frame. It can work, but of course it depends upon a supply of competent interpreters.

They’ve thought of that, too.

In a UK ‘first’, NHS24 is seconding a group of its staff to Heriot-Watt University’s BSL interpreting degree. That’s a commendable commitment on the part of the service. Investing in four years’ full-time training per student underscores a really serious response to the problem.

And it shows that they know it’s THEIR responsibility to make healthcare properly accessible to BSL users.

That perfectly illustrates what we need to see across the board. Public services – health, education, social services, the legal system – facing their lawful obligation to ENSURE their own accessibility.

Not just by hoping for the best, but by nurturing skilled professional interpreters. And, when it makes sense to use limited resources in this way, to provide frontline practitioners who can sign, fluently and directly, with Deaf citizens.

It’s not a pipedream. It’s a perfectly achievable goal, as other countries have already shown. It just means paying attention to informed advice, especially from the BDA, which represents BSL users nationwide. And then, when you say you will treat Deaf people fairly, it means putting your money where your mouth is.

Now that’s what I call using your imagination.

Author: Graham Turner

Vow of Silence: Day 3

In solidarity with British Sign Language users in the UK, Professor Graham Turner is subject to a self-imposed vow of silence. Can he remain speechless and last for an entire week in BSL? What will he learn from the experience?

Living in Edinburgh, I can barely step out of my front door before someone’s playing the bagpipes at me.

As a matter of fact, I love it. What other country is associated with such a distinctive, pervasive symbol of identity? Ever been to Edinburgh’s Military Tattoo? Once in your life, you should. I may not be a Scot, but up on the battlements, silhouetted against the stars, the piper sends those skirling notes up to the heavens…

Not much use if you’re Deaf, of course.

So is a cultural heritage something you only get if you’re hearing, then?

Do me a favour. Not a bit of it.

The pipes may be great – but YOU HAVEN’T LIVED until you’ve experienced signed art. Had your heart squeezed by signed stories. Washed your eyeballs in tears of laughter at signed comedy. Seen the past re-kindled and the future set ablaze in signed drama.

Oh sorry, I keep forgetting. You ignored sign language until just lately because you thought it wasn’t really as good as speech, didn’t you? Trust me – and I say this as one who’s forgotten more than he cares to remember of the French, Greek, Latin and Swedish he studied in days of yore – you have been mightily misled.

British Sign Language was named – in Edinburgh: where else? – back in the mid-70s by the late, great and much-missed sign linguist, Dr Mary Brennan. The British Deaf Association backed the BSL Training Agency a decade later as it encouraged Deaf people to become professional BSL teachers and pass on their expert knowledge to others – and thousand upon thousand hearing people have opened their minds to BSL since. And it was the BDA again that published its doorstoppingly substantial and globally groundbreaking bilingual BSL-English dictionary in 1992.

So there’s no doubt whatsoever of the linguistic status of BSL. Not only is it a language: it’s a language that can blow your mind.

Unlike users of any spoken language ever discovered, signers can produce more than one word at a time – what did you think you had two hands for? And BSL isn’t just about what the hands do. It’s a full-body experience. Facial expression and bodily action are also exploited as integral features of the grammar. Signed languages are spectacularly creative, constantly playing with words and drenching every expression in a cascade of meaning and nuance.

The signed universe is an astonishing, achingly poetic place to live.

As it happens, Edinburgh is one of the most happening places in the BSL firmament right now. Part of that energy is coming from Heriot-Watt University, where a dozen sign language specialists, from as far afield as the USA and China, passionate and fizzing with ideas, are assembling research evidence  and educating the next generation of UK and global interpreters.

But Edinburgh is also a place to enjoy the cultural depth of the Deaf community, and to experience the rich heritage embodied in BSL. Just last weekend, you could have been at the Storytelling Centre on the Royal Mile at the latest Visual Virus show. Three Deaf exponents of the most vivid BSL, and not a sound to be heard all evening except for the cultural heartbeat of the Deaf nation – and that noise people make when they laugh their socks off.

In fact, Scotland stands on the verge of transforming the BSL landscape. With all-party support, Mark Griffin MSP  intends to put a BSL bill before the Scottish Parliament later this year. It will focus minds and energies on securing the future of this language community, and on safeguarding its linguistic human rights.

As yesterday’s BDA BSL Symposium in London clearly showed, the rest of the UK is paying close attention to progress at Holyrood. Deaf people, just like others, are entitled to enjoy our uniquely visual cultural heritage. Our children – including those born to hearing parents – are entitled to share that extraordinary linguistic inheritance.

And, if you only have eyes to see, you’re more than welcome to come in. Just enter through the doorway marked ‘BSL’ and find out for yourself. The future signs.

Author: Graham Turner