By Grace Igbinoke, S5 pupil and Career Ready Intern at the IRC in LINCS
I have always loved travelling because I get to see new places and know about new cultures. The even more fun part for me is that when you travel, you get to learn new languages. Languages are jigsaws that you have to complete, and it is important that, after you have completed one, you take care of it, and you don’t undo it. When you become bilingual (or perhaps polyglot), your brain is trained to have more than one language ready to answer at the time. This trains your memory retention, your ability to focus and it is a great way to make people more broad-minded as they will acknowledge the existence of how objects and gestures are seen in the different cultures. This in turn makes people more respectful and empathetic.
Maybe my love for languages comes from the fact that I grew up in a polyglot family. My parents speak four languages each, but for one reason or another they never thought me their first language – Edo. This did not stop my love for languages, in fact it only reinforced it.
One of the reasons my parents did not teach me their language is that they needed to learn another language themselves, which left little to no time to focus on teaching their children their own language. Another reason is that they thought that their language was irrelevant compared to my actual first language, Italian, which is a language from Europe.
My point is: the culture is held by the language in which it is spoken. For example, certain words or phrases simply do not make any sense if translated. Also, every language has its own sense of humour, which might make absolutely no sense in another language. Each language is beautiful and different. Therefore, it is important that all languages are valued.
In conclusion, languages are fun and unique, and they are an important instrument which will effectively keep a culture going for generations. So, if you are a free spirit as myself, pack your bags and on you go, your next destination is to be learning a new culture through its language!
Grace Igbinoke, S5 pupil and Career Ready Intern at the IRC in LINCS
This year, our IRC Symposium and Ceilidh was a virtual event and hugely successful. We were delighted to welcome guest speakers, vocalists, poets and a wide range of attendees all in keeping with our overarching themes of ‘People, Landscape and a Sense of Place’.
A welcome was extended by both Dr Katerina Strani, the Acting Director of the IRC, and Prof Mairéad Nic Craith, the former Director, who introduced the event. Dr Strani reminded us that the IRC’s research seeks to build understanding and develop appreciation of the experiences and representations of living with, or between, different cultures, identities, communities or languages. To this end, our research is built around three key themes:
The Symposium was organised around these three research themes and we were delighted to welcome three guest speakers on each of these themes, as we kept in mind our focus on the Symposium’s overarching theme of ‘People, Landscape and a Sense of Place’
An introduction to our first guest speaker was made by Professor Ullrich Kockel, who outlined our ‘Heritage and Sustainability’ theme at the IRC. Dr Nessa Cronin, Lecturer in Irish Studies and Associate Director of the Moore Institute at NUI Galway, Ireland, was then invited to begin her talk entitled ‘Shared Inheritances, Environmental Futures and our Planetary Home’. Dr Cronin brought out some fascinating themes such as placemaking and disruption, prompting some of our attendees to reflect on their own experiences within these fields. Other highlights of her talk included the importance of cultural heritage to promote social cohesion, as she noted the detrimental impact that climate change has had on both tangible and intangible cultural heritage practices, as well as socio-ecological and economic systems.
Secondly, Professor Chris Tinker introduced our ‘Popular Culture and Inclusion’ theme and we enjoyed listening to the thoughts of Professor Heiko Motschenbacher, Professor of English as a Second/Foreign Language at Western Norway University of Applied Sciences and General Editor of the Journal of Language and Sexuality (JLS). Prof Motschenbacher’s talk was entitled ‘Walking on Wilton Drive: A linguistic landscape analysis of a homonormative space’. There were several interesting and enlightening points made, highlighting the negotiation of normativity and the allegory of symbols in relation to gender norms. These thoughts prompted some attendees to consider the power of language and how linguistic landscapes can shape norms. One of our attendees also reflected on the popular and well-recognised symbol of a rainbow and how this has come to be known as an emblem of hope through the difficult period of Covid-19, challenging a previous association with the symbol.
Our final lead theme for the day was ‘Migration’ and this was introduced by Dr Katerina Strani. The IRC Migration theme looks at how cultures, communities and societies in the broad sense are shaped by migration. Some of the key research interests under this theme are identities, including linguistic identities, belonging, intercultural dialogue, as well as racism and othering (in multicultural societies). Our guest speaker for this theme was Dr Emma Hill, Research Fellow at the Department of Sociology at the University of Edinburgh. Emma’s research on Somali populations in Glasgow has informed her more recent work on the governance of integration for asylum seekers and refugees across the UK and Europe. Emma’s talk was focused on ‘Colonial genealogies and the Glasgow Bajuni Campaign’. This is a lesser known and challenging topic, based on Dr Hill’s ethnographic work in Glasgow over 2 years. The talk touched on the self-representation of asylum seekers, noting the construction of a sense of place as well as highlighting identity and language in asylum-seeking procedures.
Our three guest speakers were then invited to participate in a Q&A session with our attendees. The interdisciplinary aspect of the day was extremely evident and participants discussed overlapping interests, themes and key questions. We were delighted to receive positive feedback from those who attended and challenged our guests to continue the conversation offline.
We were tweeting throughout the symposium, using the hashtag #HWIRC2021. This time, we were careful not to use any hashtags that were taken by other conferences. Those of you who were at our previous IRC Symposium in 2019 may remember that #IRC2019 was also used by the International Rubber Conference and the International Rapeseed Congress 2019, which led to some funny interactions on Twitter!
The symposium was interpreted into British Sign Language by our BSL Interpreters.
CEILIDH – MUSIC AND POETRY
7:00pm brought around our IRC Online Ceilidh, where we welcomed talented performers to share vocals, poems and discussions around the focus of our day, ‘People, Landscape and a Sense of Place’.
Our first performer was Steve Byrne, a Scots singer and researcher who was awarded the title of Scots Singer of the Year in 2019. He shared a few songs with us which we all enjoyed, as he recounted his authentic experiences with ‘People, Landscape and a Sense of Place’.
We then welcomed Meg Bateman to share some of her poetry with us. Meg is a Scottish academic, a poet and a short story writer and we were delighted to listen to her recite some of her work exploring Gaelic culture.
Our penultimate performance of the night was by impressive Niillas Holmberg – Sami poet, novelist, scriptwriter and musician. Niillas performed one of his poems and two traditional Sámi yoiks. You can learn more about his work by clicking here: Niillas Holmberg
Our Symposium and Ceilidh were huge successes, and we were delighted to welcome guest speakers and performers to share their knowledge and join the conversation as we focused on key IRC themes, under the main focus of ‘People, Landscape and a Sense of Place’.
For more details about the Heritage and Sustainability theme, contact U.Kockel@hw.ac.uk
IndyLan includes 5 partners from 4 countries (UK, Finland, Norway and Spain) and aims to develop a mobile application which will help to learn the languages and cultures associated with the following indigenous languages: Gaelic, Scots, Cornish, Basque, Galician and Saami. The project will develop an educational tool designed specifically for users to learn not only some of Europe’s endangered languages but also more about the cultures of the people who speak these languages.
The tool constitutes a gamified language-learning solution in the form of a mobile application. Smartphones have become a popular educational tool and the number of the smartphone and tablet users of all ages is constantly growing in the EU. The application is building on a previous project, Moving Languages, with the key difference that IndyLan will produce one application for all languages, and not multiple language-specific applications as Moving Languages did. IndyLan will contain around 4,000 vocabulary items (both terms and expressions) in about 100 categories. The modes that will be available in the application are: Vocabulary; Phrases; Dialogues; Grammar; Culture; Test.
The app is scheduled to be launched at the Final Dissemination Conference in Cornwall in September 2021. It will be available for download globally for free in both iOS and Android. Like all language-learning apps, IndyLan is complementary to other language- and culture courses and can be considered to be part of self-study material.
Our vision is for the IndyLan app to contribute to endangered language learning and revitalisation so that these languages remain alive and relevant in contemporary societies and economies.
News and updates
Our project website was launched in February! The website is available in 10 languages (and soon we will also have Swedish). It has a dedicated section on the languages and people of the IndyLan app, with videos and resources. On our website you can also find news and updates, as well as a list of our downloadable outputs.
Intellectual Output 1 completed
Our Intellectual Output 1: Report on endangered indigenous languages in partner countries and mobile learning solutions is ready and can be downloaded from our website
The report provides an overview of endangered languages in the partner countries (UK, Finland, Norway, Spain) and a review of mobile and other virtual learning tools for learning and promoting these languages. The report starts with an overview of the endangered languages in Europe, and the current EU policies concerning indigenous and minority languages. Next, it provides some figures and statistics regarding the above six indigenous and endangered languages, which are part of the IndyLan app (Basque, Cornish, Gaelic, Galician, Scots and Sámi), in the partner countries (UK, Spain, Finland, Norway). Finally, it reviews mobile learning solutions and online resources available for these endangered languages in partner countries (for Android, iOS, and Windows platforms).
Each partner researched, downloaded and tested where possible, and evaluated the available language learning applications. The search was carried out on Google, Apple and other markets, using the mobile devices and PCs. The result of this work is not only a rich collection of language learning applications described in detail, but also an important collection of suggestions and useful information for developing the IndyLan app.
Promotional Cornish video
Watch Mark Trevethan from Cornwall Council promoting the IndyLan app in Cornish!
Covid-19 impact on our project
These last few months have certainly been different and difficult for many of us. Many aspects of our work and our lives have changed as we are being affected in ways we could not imagine.
In light of the rapidly changing situation with the Coronavirus pandemic, we had to cancel our face-to-face meeting in Karasjok, Sápmi, Norway which was due to take place on 10-11 June. We met twice online instead, once in April and once in June. If circumstances allow it, we will meet in Karasjok in March 2021 at our scheduled third project meeting, otherwise we will meet in Bilbao as originally planned.
With the help of technology, we were able to hold an online partners’ meeting on the 10th of June instead of our planned one in Karasjok. We had already held a catch-up meeting in April online, where we discussed the current and next stages of the project and made sure that everyone is all right and coping with the situation at the moment. In these two meetings we discussed the project’s progress, dissemination, internal and external reviewing procedures, and Covid-19 contingency planning. The full agenda of the meeting can be found here.
We submitted a progress report to our funder, Erasmus + UK, and we are awaiting results and any recommendations.
Intellectual Output 2 is the application itself, which will be ready in beta version by April 2021. Partners have completed the translation of about 4,000 vocabulary items for each language, which was no easy task, as there were many untranslatable terms (there are no words for yes or no in Cornish), terms with complicated translations (‘to own something’ in Gaelic) and other terms with more than one translations (see snow terminology in Sámi).
Partners are now in the process of translating phrases and dialogues, developing the grammar tabs and the culture tabs. After this, we will be producing audio files for all these terms and phrases!
The developers will have the app backend ready soon, so the app will start taking shape.
Intellectual Output 3 will be the pilot testing of the app which will be carried out by remote users as well as participants in our multiplier events in all partner countries in the summer of 2021.
The app is scheduled to be launched at the Final Dissemination Conference in Cornwall in September 2021.
Next project meetings
–> September 2020 (online)
–> December 2020 (online)
–> March 2021: Bilbao or Karasjok – to be confirmed!
If you are an educator, the Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe has just opened a call for #AdultLearning community to share their stories.
Specifically, the project is developing a modularised training curriculum with qualification standards specialised for Adult Education.
It will also produce a handbook for trainers including a theoretical framework of basic concepts, learning outcomes and the training package itself which will include practical exercises and, where possible, case studies.
All the training materials will be uploaded to a publicly accessible Moodle platform, which will be accessed via our website.
Covid-19 impact on our project
These last few months have certainly been different and difficult for many of us. Many aspects of our work and our lives have changed as we are being affected in ways we could not imagine.
In light of the rapidly changing situation with the Coronavirus pandemic, the team decided that our Joint Staff Training Event which was due to take place on 04-08 May 2020 in Rethymno, Greece, had to be postponed.
If circumstances allow it, we will reschedule for some time in autumn 2020 or winter 2021.
Our 4th project meeting took place online due to Covid-19 restrictions
With the help of technology, we were able to hold an online partners’ meeting on the 18th of May instead of our planned one in Crete. We discussed the current and next stages of the project and made sure that everyone is all right and coping with the situation at the moment. The meeting agenda can be found here.
During this online meeting, the team – joined by our external evaluator, Dr. Jim Crowther – discussed the impact of Covid-19 on our project, the communications between our coordinator and the National Agency and an eventual request for our project’s extension. This would allow us to carry out our Joint Staff Training Event and Multiplier Events in the future, hopefully once the situation with Covid-19 will be clearer.
Our teams have completed our Curriculum development on intercultural education and training for Adult educators, which was developed based on O1 and O2 results, and our Intellectual Outputs 5 and 6, the Training guide for adult educators and the course syllabus with final material and useful information and tips will be made available to Adult educators and all interested parties. We also submitted a further progress report to the funder in April 2020, and we are awaiting the results and any recommendations.
We are now working on our Output 4, the learning materials for our online platform. The objective is to elaborate a set of sample training materials organised in modules and divided into topics. We are working on the development of the MOOC, where the training materials will be uploaded and adapted.
Our External Evaluator, Dr Jim Crowther gave us his comments and evaluation of our overall progress and we were happy to confirm that our work runs smoothly despite all the difficulties we face. We are very grateful to our external evaluator for his feedback and guidance so far. His expertise and engagement with the project are invaluable.
Remember that our website and our outputs are available in all project languages: English, Italian, Greek and Finnish.
The InterTrainE Moodle platform
During our meeting, our Finnish partner also showed us the Moodle platform and we discussed the final stages of Intellectual Output 4 – the online course. Finally, we discussed the outputs’ evaluation and peer reviewing process.
In the meantime, and as we all await developments on current circumstances, the InterTrainE partners have been busy getting used to working from home and still trying to engage with our audiences. We are continuing our research activities and development of material from home or from the workplace for those of us who are allowed to do so!
We are very excited and looking forward to presenting our platform soon, as online education has a more crucial role than ever before to support and connect learning communities. Stay tuned and check out our activities on our website: http://intertraine/eu
Online resources accessible now
While you are anxiously waiting for our updates (😊 😊), you can have a look at these online resources and tools for learners, teachers and educators during the outbreak of COVID-19 provided by EU-funded projects:
IndyLan includes 5
partners from 4 countries (UK, Finland, Norway and Spain) and aims to develop a
mobile application which will help to learn the languages and cultures
associated with the following indigenous languages: Gaelic, Scots,
Cornish, Basque, Galician and Saami. The
project will develop an educational tool
designed specifically for users to learn not only some of Europe’s endangered
languages but also more about the cultures of the people who speak these
The IndyLan application
will help speakers of English, Spanish, Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish to learn
Gaelic (designated as ‘definitely endangered’), Scots (‘severely endangered’),
Cornish (‘critically endangered’), Basque (‘severely endangered’), Galician (a
minority language) and Saami (‘severely endangered’).
constitutes a gamified language-learning solution in the form of a mobile
application. Smartphones have become a popular educational tool and the number
of the smartphone and tablet users of all ages is constantly growing in the EU. The application is
building on a previous project, Moving Languages, with the key
difference that IndyLan will
produce one application for all languages, and not multiple language-specific
applications as Moving Languages did. IndyLan will
contain around 4,000 vocabulary items (both terms and expressions) in about 100
categories. The modes that will be available in the application are:
Vocabulary; Phrases; Dialogues; Grammar; Culture; Test.
app will be launched at the Final Dissemination Conference in Cornwall in
September 2021. It will be available for
download globally for free in both iOS and Android. Like all language-learning
apps, IndyLan is
complementary to other language- and culture courses and can be considered to
be part of self-study material.
Our vision is for the IndyLan app to contribute to endangered language learning and revitalisation so that these languages remain alive and relevant in contemporary societies and economies.
News and updates
Our kick-off meeting took place in Edinburgh on 07-08 October 2019.
The first Intellectual Output is a short needs analysis, which will be published in early February. The 2nd Intellectual Output will be the application itself, which will be ready in beta version by April 2021. The 3rd Intellectual Output will be the pilot testing of the app which will be carried out by remote users as well as participants in our multiplier events in all partner countries in the summer of 2021. The app will be launched at the Final Dissemination Conference in Cornwall in September 2021. It will be available for download globally for free in both iOS and Android.
Our project website will soon be available, so stay tuned!
One year on, and our
team grew by two members! Kate Sailer from CLP gave a birth to a boy in May 2019 and Kalli Rodopoulou from EELI also gave birth to a boy in July 2019.
For the rest of us, it’s business as usual. The 3rdInterTrainE partners’ meeting took place in Helsinki on 12-13 September 2019.
always, all partners participated and we were joined by our External Evaluator,
Dr Jim Crowther. We
are very grateful to our external evaluator for his feedback and guidance so
far. His expertise and engagement with the project are invaluable.
We discussed the 4th intellectual output (IO4 – Training material for online use). Work is already under way. Georgia Zervaki from EELI, the IO4 leader, presented the timeline for material development and Monica Miglionico from Studio Risorse showed us some concrete examples of material developed so far.
Marja-Liisa Helenius (LFI)
presented the updates on the InterTrainE platform (Moodle), which is starting
to take shape, at least it in its technical form.
Katerina Strani (HWU), as
coordinator, was tasked with updating the partnership on internal evaluation,
peer reviewing and external evaluation, both by Dr Jim Crowther and by the EU.
We are very pleased to announce that our Progress Report satisfied the funder and there are no issues to address! As we are approaching the completion of the first half of the 26-month project, we are busy preparing the documents for the Interim Report to the funder.
The project is on track, and the timeline is as follows:
IO5 (Training guide for Adult Educators) – December 2019
IO6 (Course Syllabus) – January 2020
IO4 (Training material for online use) – April 2020
The Joint-Staff Training Event (JSTE), which will test
the course material with non-project participants from the partner countries
(both educators and learners) will take place in Rethymno, Crete, 04-08 May
2020. Our next project meeting will take place on 07 and 08 May in Rethymno,
which will give us the opportunity to look at the JSTE and the feedback and
plan the necessary changes to the course.
More updates on the JSTE will be sent later on in the year. Watch this space!
partnership had dinner at a traditional Karelian restaurant in Helsinki. Thank
you Marja-Liisa Helenius for the hospitality J
For more information about the
project, please visit our website, which
includes information and updates on our project, as well as all Intellectual
Outputs to date. The website is available in all partner languages – English, Greek, Italian and Finnish.
Updates are published
regularly on social media. To make sure you don’t miss out:
Specifically, the project develops a modularised training
curriculum with qualification standards specialised for Adult Education. It
will also produce a handbook for trainers including a theoretical framework of
basic concepts, learning outcomes and the training package itself which will
include practical exercises and, where possible, case studies. All the training
materials will be uploaded to a MOOC.
Multiplier Events will take place in each country in 2020
(watch this space for details!).
A Joint Staff Training Event will take place in Rethymnon,
Crete, in March/April 2020, where the partners will test the
curriculum and training materials before these are finalised and presented at
Dissemination Conference in Edinburgh
in September 2020.
the recommendations from Outputs
1 and 2 (Needs analysis on Intercultural Training for
Educators of Adult Migrants). More than 250 educators and
learners took part in the research for these outputs, which aimed to identify
existing needs on intercultural training for educators of adult migrants in the
the external evaluator’s feedback. The external
evaluator for the project, Dr
Jim Crowther, Senior
Lecturer in Community Education, University of Edinburgh,
participated in the meeting, gave extensive feedback on Outputs 1 and 2 and
recommendations for the next stages.
curriculum development and the design for Output
We have agreed on a curriculum structure for Intellectual Output 3 (O3). The curriculum for our Intercultural Training course will be designed in a modularised form and translated into the partners’ languages (Finnish, Italian and Greek) by July 2019, after which the relevant O3 report will be published on our website.
Each partner will develop course materials which will be
adapted according to local needs (see recommendations
in national reports for O1 and O2). These course materials
will constitute Output 4 and they will be online
in the form of a Moodle by April 2020.
In the meantime, Multiplier Events will be
organised in each country (UK, Italy, Greece, Finland) to test the material
before they are live on the project platform / Moodle.
March/April 2020 will also see the project’s Joint Staff Training Event will take place in Rethymnon, Crete.
The conference had a very welcoming atmosphere, despite the sheer size of it. Although I have only been working on my research for just over a year, there were several familiar faces present and I quickly felt at home. Amongst those attending there was a large delegation from Scotland, not only from the IRC but also many from the Elphinstone Institute in Aberdeen. For it really being a small country, it always surprises me how many ethnologists there are in Scotland. Discussing our work with peers from nearby and far away is always rewarding. For me, these are the most valuable experiences of such a conference, more so than the presentations I attend.
The IRC had a very strong presence in SIEF 2019, as was the case in past conferences. We presented a large variety of research using different methods.Chiara Cocco presented a paper on “Pilgrimage as a means of memory of dark heritage: the case study of Misija Sibiras in Lithuania”. This paper focuses on the expeditions to Siberia organized by the Lithuanian organization Misija Sibiras (Mission Siberia). Chiara interprets these journeys as secular pilgrimages through which young Lithuanians commemorate their past and deal with the painful heritage of their country.
Cait McCullagh presented a
paper on “Tracking futures at 60 Degrees North – co-curation
across Orkney and Shetland: collaboratively deliberating praxis, value
formation and learning for sustainable development”. Based on
ethnography and practice-based research in Scotland’s Northern Isles, this
paper considers a performative praxis of co-curating maritime heritage-making
as future assembling, deliberative value formation, elicitive of social
learning for sustainable development in vulnerable environments.
Harvey presented a paper on “The
Scotland’s sounds’ network: exploring the participatory role of soundarchives in continuing traditions.” The paper discussed the ‘Scotland’s Sounds’ network of sound
collections, exploring how this ‘distributed archive’ model functions through
participatory work across the sound archive sector, and looking at how
increasing access to archives has an impact on the practice of cultural
Pfeiffer chaired and co-convened the panel “Through
the lens of affect and emotion: exploring the potentials [SIEF Working Group on
Body, Affects, Senses and Emotions (BASE)]” with Jonas Frykman from Lund
University. This was the most popular panel of the conference, with 30+
abstracts submitted, and spin-off panels created as a result.
“Ethnologists and folklorists employ a
range of perspectives when probing different aspects of socio-cultural
phenomena related to the body, affects, senses and emotions. Rather than
constituting a field in its own right, their research engages with and enriches
established research areas. This panel continues to explore the creative
potential the perspective has brought to research areas discussed at previous
BASE working group meetings, like migration, sports, material culture,
religious practices, theatrical performances, music, dwelling and so on. What
are the most rewarding outcomes? In how far are they innovative in the context
of a particular research field? How do they fill the gaps in the existent
understandings of particular phenomena, notably those engaging body and senses?
Which difficulties do resarchers encounter when trying to apply this lens to
the existent ethnographic and folkloristic data? In what way does it change the
ways we engage in ethnographic work and does it allow for establishment of
novel fieldwork-based epistemologies? We welcome proposals for papers that deal
with historical and contemporary materials, old and and new topics, original
fieldwork or archived material, However, by clearly addressing the questions
noted above, the papers should focus on exploring the creative potential – as
well as the challenges – presented by the lens of affect and emotion. “
lost: inheriting the summerhouse. Jonas Frykman (Lund University).
and its role in ethnicity creation within Konkani community, Kochi, India. Alina
Kaczmarek-Subramanian (The Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology PAS).
festival. Making the city and region into sensual places. Connie
Reksten (Western Norway University).
affective strategies and counterstrategies: examining political emotions as
cultural practices. Monique Scheer (University of
the ocean of suspicion: affective politics and materiality in Cairo. Cairo.
Maria Frederika Malmström (Lund University / Columbia University).
integration: conceptual and empirical contributions of the lens of affect to
migration research. Maja Povrzanovic Frykman (Malmö University).
Affective practices of
unemployment. Tytti Steel (University of Helsinki).
Body in traditional costume – new approach to
traditional costume research. Maria Gacic (Museum of Dakovo Region).
Sensual engagement in sports: researcher’s and actants’ emotional involvement and the productive use of emotions in and of the field. Yonca Krahn (Universität Zürich).
Marc Romano presented a paper on “Digital Media, a tool to redefine a contemporary Scottish Identity”. Following the Brexit referendum, the question of national identity and belonging wa raised and challenged particularly in Scotland where their origins are strongly aligned with Europe. This paper explores the redefinition of contemporary Scottish identity through the use of digital media.
I presented a poster on “New meanings of European identity in Scotland”. The poster presents results of my ongoing PhD research project on the perception of European identity in post-Brexit Scotland with a particular focus on the relation between European identity and small state vulnerability.
This was my first poster, a medium I was
unsure off at first but came to appreciate more when it started to function as
a billboard for my research, present throughout the conference. For two of my
fellow doctoral students, Chiara Cocco and Marc Romano, it was their first time
presenting at an international conference. All presentations were very well
received and followed by useful discussions with an interdisciplinary audience.
I also attended some excellent
presentations. The closing event started with a fascinating keynote by
Kirshenblatt-Gimblett on the POLIN Museum of the history of Polish
Jews, of which she is the Chief Curator. This was followed by a roundtable
entitled ‘Listening to objects’, in which three established academics, Regina
Bendix, Dorothy Noyes and Sharon Roseman, presented an object (for example a
strand of hair or a pot) which seemed bland at first, but about which each of
them had a fascinating and often hilarious story to tell. The keynote lecture
by Professor Tim Ingold, entitled
‘Strike-through and wipe-out: tactics for overwriting past’ provided much food
During the opening of the conference we
were encouraged to take part in at least one panel which did not relate to our research,
just for fun and to expand our horizons. For me, this was a panel on cuteness: a concept
I hadn’t really considered before (apart from the occasional cat video) but
which was fascinating. In particular, the presentation by Professor Irene
Stengs from the Meertens Institute on the King of Thailand’s cute cartoons was thought-provoking.
Beside the interesting panels and discussion, we also find time to explore Santiago de Compostela and to experience the local cuisine. I was a particular fan of pulpo (octopus), a local delicacy which somehow also became our team mascot.
You can check out #SIEF2019
on Twitter for more details, and in particular #team_hwu_irc
** Our colleague Katerina Strani found pulpo on the window of high-street shop Anthropologie on George Street in Edinburgh. Clearly it is not only us who think an octopus is the perfect mascot for our discipline!
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 Ireland, Lithuania 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).
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.
John Cleary and Katerina Strani from LINCS led the 2nd Training Module on International Cooperation Agreements and Networks, which is part of the Erasmus+ Marco Polo project (574027-EPP-1-2016-1-ES-EPPKA2-CBHE-JP), led by the University of Seville. The project includes 9 partners from Spain, the UK, Austria, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, and seeks to strengthen International Cooperation amongst Higher Education Institutions by establishing new mechanisms to exchange experiences and good practices, providing training to HEI staff, creating a framework for mobility of students and staff, and fostering research abilities by creating international research groups.
The 2nd Training Module on International Cooperation Agreements and Networks took place on 21st – 25th August at Universiti Sains Malaysia, in Penang, Malaysia. The first day was spent presenting the participating institutions: the hosts, Universiti Sains Malaysia, the University of Malaya, Prince of Songkla University, Naresuan University, Hanoi University, PTIT and Heriot-Watt University. On the second day, John and Katerina led discussions on internationalisation in the Higher Education sector and what this means for individual institutions. Differences in conceptualisations, priorities and strategies already started to emerge. The day continued with an interactive workshop on international cooperation agreements and networks and a subsequent talk by Dr Khairul Anuar Che Azmi from the USM legal office. The workshops continued on template agreements, analysing risk and developing institutional strategies for network building and internationalisation.
The third day continued with more workshops on teamwork and building trust in cross-cultural teams, as well as building and sustaining virtual networks using social media.
The fourth day focused on discussion and reflections on the week’s activities and drew parallels between institutional strategies. It also focused on future collaborations and included meetings with USM Heads of Schools and Departments. We were particularly honoured to have had the opportunity to have a meeting with the Vice-Chancellor of USM Professor Datuk Dr. Asma Ismail and discuss with her the university’s vision, priorities and opportunities for collaboration.
The final day continued the networking activities at a more informal basis and included a tour of Georgetown, the capital city of Penang. Georgetown is unique in its diversity and richness in culture, heritage, architecture and food. The oldest portion of the city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A blend of Chinese shophouses (“clan jetties”), Chinese temples, Hindu temples and Mosques Georgetown has also retained some colonial-style buildings, English street names and an Anglican church, St George’s (unsurprisingly). The Street of Harmony is testimony to the matchless diversity of the city.
A promising project module that establishes important international networks could not have taken place in a better setting than unique Penang, in an unparalleled environment of rich cultural heritage, tremendous hospitality an and mouthwatering food.