LINCS and SBE Announce New Studentship

We’re delighted to announce that recent interviews have confirmed the offer of a PhD studentship to a new cross-disciplinary project which brings together expertise from LINCS and from Heriot-Watt’s School of the Built Environment (SBE). The studentship is one of a set offered under the University’s ‘Creativity, Design & Innovation’ theme  earlier this year. The LINCS-SBE partnership has led to the development of an emerging programme of work under the banner ‘Environment and Interaction’ (EnvInt for short). In a globalised world where people are more and more mobile, spaces are becoming increasingly multilingual, multicultural and multimodal. The EnvInt group is interested in such matters as the following:
• Environmental planners take care to consider the experiences of individuals within the spaces that people design and manage. By working closely with linguists, planners will be able to interrogate more closely the ways in which the use of human languages responds to the designed environment.
• Linguistic interaction is not confined to a single modality. We communicate with one another in many different ways – speech, writing, signs and gestures. The ideal designed space will anticipate and accommodate all of these forms.
• The modern world is a place of immense human and cultural diversity. Throughout the world, it is now commonplace to encounter more than one language in the course of everyday life. Different languages interact differently with the features of social spaces. Evidence-based planning can help to sustain and indeed enhance effective communication between people.
• The environments within which we interact increasingly incorporate both material and virtual elements. Understanding the relationships between these for communication-participants will lead to more satisfying experiences of interpersonal contact.
Initial scoping of the theme will be developed through the studentship which will be examining the effects of acoustics on speech intelligibility in multilingual spaces. We very much hope that Kivanc Kitapci will soon be a familiar face in both LINCS and SBE. EnvInt members are working on further proposals for research in areas of mutual interest – watch this space for news of what happens next!

Public Engagement in LINCS

Universities across the UK are being strongly encouraged to do more work which takes their research and scholarship out of the classroom and into the wider world. We may not all get to be Professor Brian Cox, but there are actually a huge number of ways in which LINCS already undertakes a great of this ‘public engagement’ work. We’ve been energetically supported in developing along these lines by the Edinburgh Beltane project, not least in the award of a Public Engagement Fellowship to Bernie O’Rourke and a ‘Challenge’ prize to the British Sign Language team . During September, Our Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh hosted an event to share ideas about effective public engagement. We’d welcome your ideas, too, gentle blog-reader – if you have suggestions about how LINCS could expand or enhance its engagement work, please let’s hear or see them: the more creative and unusual, the better!

European Forum of Sign Language Interpreters

Several members of LINCS staff recently attended the annual European Forum of Sign Language Interpreters conference, held this year in Salerno, Italy. Last year’s EFSLI conference was held in Glasgow and featured LINCS’ Chair of Translation & Interpreting, Graham Turner, as a keynote presenter (GHT 2010 EFSLI keynote). The character of EFSLI reflects that of the sign language interpreting profession as a whole – working steadily to build a solid theoretical base that can underpin the pioneering work of practitioners. Heriot-Watt University has championed sign language interpreting and translation within Scotland for well over a decade. A poster presentation was accepted for the conference which reports innovative current work being undertaken by LINCS’ sign language specialists in an international partnership with colleagues from Germany and Finland.

Research into multimedia translation: is it socially useful?

Dr Raquel de Pedro will be presenting a paper at the Points of View in Language and Culture Conference which will take place in the lovely city of Krackow on the 14 and 15 October. Her paper is based on the findings of a project called “Multimodality in translation: Steps towards socially useful research” which Raquel is currently working on. The aim of the project is to look at the extent to which research in Translation Studies contributes to professional practice. Raquel is particularly interested in finding out how aware the industry is of academic research in the field of multimodal translation and what kind of research in this area is considered as (potentially) “useful” by the multimedia industry. The focus of the conference is on the very exciting and growing field of Audiovisual Translation. We look forward to hearing all about it from Raquel when she gets back.
Enjoy the conference Raquel!

Conference website –

New Speakers of Minority Languages: A Dialogue

In many parts of Europe, traditional communities of minority language speakers are being eroded as a consequence of increased urbanization and economic modernization. While native speaker communities are dying out, at the same time, “new speakers” of these languages are emerging. To a considerable extent this trend is as a result of more supportive language policies at both national and EU levels. Such policies are in many cases leading to increased provision for these languages through their inclusion in school curricula, the media and other public domains. This is giving rise to new types of speakers on whom the future survival of these minority languages is likely to depend. To date, however, relatively little attention has been given to these speakers and their potential role in the future of these languages.

On Wednesday 28th September, over ten scholars from different parts of Europe came together at Heriot-Watt University to discuss the concept of the “new speaker” and to look at the role of these speakers in the future survival of Gaelic, Breton, BSL, Irish, Manx, Basque, Catalan, Galician, Monegasque and Yiddish.

The workshop was funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh and organised by LINCS lecturer, Dr Bernie O’Rourke (expert in Irish and Galician) in collaboration with Dr Wilson McLeod (Gaelic-language expert) of Edinburgh University.

The participants on the day included experts from Scotland, Ireland, Galicia, Catalonia, the Basque Country and Poland. These included Dr Ane Ortega Etcheverry (Universidad de Deusto, Bilbao), Professor Graham Turner, (Heriot-Watt University), Dr Joan Pujolar, (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya), Professor Alan Davies (University of Edinburgh), Dr Tadhg Ó hIfearnáin (University of Limerick), Dr Fernando Ramallo (Universidade de Vigo), Dr John Walsh (National University of Ireland, Galway), Dr Michael Hornsby (University of Toruń, Poland),  Professor Rob Dunbar (University of the Highlands and Islands), Professor Alan Davies (University of Edinburgh) and Dr Alasdair MacCaluim (Gaelic Officer, Scottish Parliament).

A symposium on the topic is planned for the end of March 2012. Watch this space!

Bernie O’Rourke

Email – B.M.A.O’

Academia – Bernadette O’Rourke

Twitter – @BernORourke

Changing the Public Face of Languages

What do a Glaswegian interpreter, a grandmother called Bo and a UK government department all have in common? For one reason or another, all have helped language to make the headlines in the past few years.

Whether it is debates over government spend on court interpreting or funding for endangered languages or even a conference interpreter in a Bingo Hall, the press seem to love a good language story. Yet, sadly, there is not always much reflection on the impression that such stories might make on the public who, in one way or another keep language research and the language industry on their feet.

It seems to me that when languages get into the press, it is for one of two reasons. The first is money. When language services seem to cost a lot of money or linguists are asking for money for some project or department, journalists start writing. Within a few sentences the story comes to the crux: in this time of belt-tightening, why should languages not experience the same funding cuts as everyone else? What makes languages so useful, so interesting and so important that they need the same funding they already get, if not more?

The other stories centre on even simpler concerns: language differences are funny. It seems funny to think that English-speakers might struggle with Glaswegian, which is, of course, a dialect of English. It’s funny to gawk at translation errors. It’s funny to talk about a recent cultural faux pas.

Is this really the impression people will have of languages: expensive but funny?

None of the stories I mentioned actually have to send out this message. There is an interesting alternative. What if, instead of reinforcing the “expensive but funny” image, we worked on building the idea of languages and linguists as bridge builders?

If a company wants to crack a new market, they need linguists to build bridges to their new customers. If a government wants to increase the integration of new arrivals, it will need linguists to build bridges to its new residents. In short, if any two groups of people who do not share a common language wish to communicate, they will need linguists.

Put in those terms, it is far easier to justify the money spent on language research, training and, yes, even translation and interpreting. Rather than money down a very expensive drain, the same cash becomes investment in community cohesion and economic growth. In these troubled times, isn’t that what everyone is after anyway?

– Jonathan


This blog is written by the members of the Department of Languages and Intercultural Studies (LINCS) at Heriot-Watt University.

Here, you will find news about life in LINCS, key events that are taking place, new research developments, and our reflections about the fascinating world of language and how it shapes our lives.