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

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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

BSL Highlights

As the year draws to a close, here are 10 highlights from the work of the British Sign Language team at Heriot-Watt University.

We have grown significantly during 2013. New additions to the family include Professor Jemina Napier, plus Clare Canton, Yvonne Waddell and Stacey Webb. This means we now have six PhD students working on sign language topics, too. To put faces to names, see https://lifeinlincs.wordpress.com/2013/10/08/whos-who-in-bsl-at-heriot-watt-university/! And there’ll be more in the new year: we’ve just confirmed the appointment of BBC news interpreter and the ‘Hot Fingers’ fingerspelling challenge competition organiser, Rob Skinner, as a Research Associate from January 2014, and we expect more new faces to follow.

Our fabulous first ever group of full-time BSL students completed year one of their programme! “The course has blown my expectations out of the water!… We have bonded very closely over the first year and it is an amazingly supportive and tight group”, said Jude Caldwell in the print version of this article.

Gary Quinn’s work on Science Signs has been recognised and praised over and over again. It featured in the New York Times last December, and the Times Higher Education magazine this year. Gary is in such demand that he’s even had to turn down the chance to work with Professor Brian Cox!

Dr Svenja Wurm has co-ordinated the recruitment of a new group of 24 students to our unique international MSc programme for advanced sign language interpreters, EUMASLI. Following the successful graduation of 100% of EUMASLI#1 students, the EUMASLI#2 group is 50% larger than previously, includes 6 Deaf students, and features participants from three continents (Europe, North America, Africa).

In August, we made our first appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe festival, as part of the first ever ‘Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas’! The deliberately provocative topic – ‘Send the Deaf to Orkney’ – featured a guest appearance from SignVideo’s Jeff McWhinney, generated the largest audience of the whole Festival for the Cabaret organisers, and is summarised here by Graham Turner.

We continued to offer our Open Lecture series, EdSigns, venturing successfully into live video streaming for the first time with the inaugural EdSign appearance of Jemina Napier. The 2013 highlight was the full house welcome for Colin Allen, President of the World Federation of the Deaf http://wfdeaf.org/, exhorting one and all to promote sign languages through international implementation of the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities http://www.un.org/disabilities/convention/conventionfull.shtml. The EdSign programme for Spring 2014 is the strongest ever – feel free to come and join us: all are welcome!

We submitted successful proposals for new projects, two of which commence early in 2014. The Directorate General for Justice of the European Commission approved a pilot project called INSIGN to a consortium including ourselves, led by the European Union of the Deaf, to investigate improving communication between Deaf people and the EU institutions. And JUSTISIGNS  has also received funding from the Directorate General for Education & Culture to improve Deaf access to justice across Europe.

As always, we continued to disseminate our work through publications (including Jemina Napier’s ‘Research Methods in Interpreting’  and many others) and presentations around the world, such as Gary Quinn’s well-received paper at the first Sign Language Teachers conference in Prague.

We dedicated a significant amount of our time to taking the message about BSL and interpreting into the world of policy and politics. For example, in September, our input helped the Liberal Democrats to pass a motion calling for enhanced recognition of BSL.  We met with members of the Scottish, UK and European parliaments, and worked closely with bodies such as the British Deaf Association, Scottish Council on Deafness and the Scottish Government’s Equality Unit throughout the year.

Finally, we played our part in driving forward perhaps the biggest BSL development in Scotland: the adoption of a BSL Bill at the Scottish Parliament in 2014. In particular, we’re proud to say that many of our first-year students made well-received responses to the formal public consultation on the Bill, with Lisa Li in particular being prominently quoted in the summary report.

What have we done this year to make us feel proud? All of the above.

Author: Graham Turner

Orkney Can Wait

The first time I met a Deaf person was in 2006 as a PhD student. I was asked to help out with BSL exams in Heriot-Watt, to make sure examiners were there
and to look after the candidates. The Deaf examiner made me think how inspiring
it was for someone to overcome a disability and communicate confidently with
hearing people like me, who cannot fingerspell to save my
life.

I was, of course, wrong.

 Not about the examiner, who was indeed wonderful, but about deafness being a disability. It is not. That’s the first thing I learned from attending “Send
the Deaf to Orkney!
”, a debate starring our very own Director of Research, Graham Turner, organised by Beltane during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

 Arriving at the venue, I saw colleagues Gary Quinn, Robyn Dean and many others waiting outside to see the show. They were signing all at the same time, laughing and looking very excited. I wanted to join in, but then again I didn’t want to spoil their fun by being the only person who couldn’t sign. Robyn could have interpreted, but I would still feel like I was intruding. I guess that’s how Deaf people must feel in hearing environments.

 We were given miniature Orkney flags to wave in lieu of clapping or cheering and, shortly after, comedienne Susan Morrison came on stage to introduce the debate. Susan’s introduction was interpreted into BSL by Jemina Napier. Now, you know Jemina is brilliant, not because she is a Professor who has published over 50 papers, written 6 books and holds a Chair in Intercultural Communication at Heriot-Watt, but because she can interpret Glaswegian jokes into BSL with no sweat, having just moved here from Sydney 12 months ago.

 To add to the wow factor, Jeff McWhinney came on stage. Hurricane Jeff – more like! A Deaf entrepreneur and leader in the UK Deaf community, Jeff started signing his way through his argument for sending Deaf people to Orkney in such a vivid and engaging way, I almost didn’t need to listen to the interpreter! Ok, maybe I wouldn’t have been able to figure out the sign for ‘tokenistic’. Deafness with a capital ‘D’ is a culture, a way of life with its own values and language. Deaf people are immensely proud of their language and heritage and it is precisely the protection of this language and heritage that was central to the idea of having a separate, defined space for the Deaf to live in. Their own homeland – a Deafland, away from the tyranny of the hearing world.

But why Orkney? Well, it is an island, and Heriot-Watt already has a campus there, so it would kind of suit us! A Deaf Orkney would at last offer a place where signing came first, and the life of the community could be organised in BSL. The future of the language – in its heritage, visual form, not mixed uncomfortably with English – would be assured.

Jeff was so convincing, I started waving my flag like a maniac.

Graham Turner came on stage and he started signing as well (I’m guessing to remove any communicative bias from the debate). In my naivety, I thought sign-language was all about using your hands, but I soon discovered that you have to use your whole body, the muscles of your face and your mouth. Graham and Jeff were ‘performing’ in the eyes of hearing people, so to speak, but for Deaf people this was just signing. Sign language is a performance in itself, requiring creativity and imagination, which makes it even more fascinating.

So Graham questioned Jeff’s approach by stating that BSL is now valued by hearing people, too. That’s why it’s been recorded as the second most popular adult evening class (after First Aid), and why a BSL GCSE qualification is under serious consideration. So why hide it away on Orkney? Keep Deaf people here, so that our culture is enriched by
theirs!

Ok, well, that was easy enough. I want the Deaf here.
Let’s vote.

Not so fast. The argument is not so simple and linear. Graham and Jeff went back on stage and took turns to make the case for each side again, but reversing their roles. Graham recognised that on Orkney, Deaf families could freely decide not to opt for cochlear implants for their children, without pressure from doctors. Hurricane Jeff protested – attitudes have changed, haven’t you noticed? This is the 21st century! Implants or no implants, you can choose to sign if you want to. And can you imagine such a close-knit Deaf community? Divorce rates in Orkney would skyrocket, as there would be no privacy and everyone would be involved in everyone else’s business!
Nightmare!

Hear hear! I say, let’s vote!

But there was more. The economic dimension of a Deaf homeland in Orkney is crucial. Think about education in BSL without the cost of interpreters, or mental health provision dramatically reduced because Deaf children would be brought up with no identity crisis. And think of the tourism: every Deaf person the world over will want to visit Orkney’s signing haven!

But wait, said Graham, raising his finger. Video interpreting is now possible and a BSL GCSE would ultimately mean more and cheaper BSL interpreters.

Still, the idea of Deaf people having a place to call their own seemed more attractive in the course of the debate. Maybe not Orkney (I’d pick a sunny island in the Mediterranean), but, as it was pointed out, the issues of control over one’s own life and the right to self-determination are equally important. An official Deaf constituency in the UK would mean Deaf parliamentarians contributing to major decisions at the local level.

But do we need a designated Deafland for this to happen? The idea of a public sphere is in our heads anyway. It doesn’t really exist, it emerges with communication. And as long as Deaf people communicate to raise awareness about Deaf issues, their public sphere will be kept alive.

So I wouldn’t book a one-way ticket to Kirkwall just yet.

Author: Katerina Strani

Events: BAAL Conference 2013

This year, the 46th Annual conference of the British Association of Applied Linguistics (BAAL) will take place at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh from 5 – 7 September. The event is organised by the Department of Languages and Intercultural Studies (LINCS) with Dr Bernadette O’Rourke as principal organiser. The local organising committee includes Ms. Rita McDade, Professor Máiréad Nic Craith, Professor Graham Turner, Professor Isabelle Perez, Ms. Elizabeth Thoday, Mr John Cleary, Ms Emma Guion Akdag, Dr Michelle Liao, Mr Ashvin Devasundaram, and Mr Anik Nandi.

BAAL dates back to 1965, and since then it has received encouragement from the leading linguistics scholars in Great Britain including: James Britton, Michael Halliday, Glyn Lewis, Donald Riddy, Frank Palmer, George Perren, David Stern, Peter Strevens, John Trim, and Jean Ure among others.

Over the last few decades, research in the area of applied linguistics has been transformed by an increasing focus on socio-cultural and linguistic change. This adjustment has accompanied increasing globalisation, mobility and human migration alongside new technologies and a shifting political and economic landscape. This year, the conference theme: ‘Opening New Lines of Communication in Applied Linguistics’ addresses the challenges and opportunities these developments present.

To understand the complexity of this new (socio)linguistic reality, the conference explores new lines of communication between sub disciplines within and beyond  applied linguistics. Apart from the central theme, the conference includes a diverse variety of papers spanning the spectrum of applied linguistics, ranging from Language teaching/learning to sociolinguistics. We are expecting more that 300 delegates during the three days of the conference. The plenary or keynote speakers include pioneers of modern day applied linguistics research:

Kathryn Woolard, University of California, San Diego
Jannis Androutsopoulos, Universität Hamburg
Svenja Adolphs, University of Nottingham

Bernie O’Rourke

Email – B.M.A.O’Rourke@hw.ac.uk

Academia – Bernadette O’Rourke

Twitter – @BernORourke

Putting a Smile on The Public Face of Languages

If you are a translator, interpreter, sociolinguist, anthropological linguist or any other kind of linguist, there is a lot to get annoyed about. Courses are closing, rates are (in places) dropping, respect is on the wane and hardly a day goes by without some newspaper publishing a story about some new gadget that will entirely automate some way we use language. If we didn’t know better, we would say we were all going to be out of our jobs by Christmas.

True, there is a lot to complain about. True, due to something fundamental about the nature of social media (or should that be “human nature”?) negative posts and comments will get more views than positive ones. But does that make it right?

I write this post as either a complete hypocrite or a reformed addict, depending on how you see it. I have written some negative and sarcastic posts in my time. Yet nowadays, I often wonder whether we might actually be shooting ourselves in the foot if we are too quick to react with negativity.

Back near the beginning of the blog, I wrote a post calling for us to start changing the public face of languages. Late last year, I reprised the same theme and appealed for linguists to start demonstrating the value in what we do by showing exactly what we add to society. Today, I want to bring back the same theme again but with what might be a more personal challenge. Are we portraying a positive or negative view of life as a professional linguist?

If you are a 16 or 18 year old choosing what career you will train for, I think you would be looking, at least partially, for a career where people seem positive about what they do. Surely, aside from purely economic calculations, people want to have a job they will enjoy, among people who are helpful and friendly.

Now, to be absolutely fair, I must say at this point that the vast majority of linguists I have worked with, at all stages of my career have been friendly, happy and passionate about their work. Part of what makes this industry so great to work in is that you will come across some truly amazing and inspiring people.

Sadly, that image of careers in the language sectors is not always the one portrayed in the press and even, I hate to say it, by linguists themselves. Often, in our justifiable and even justified need to fight for a cause, educate clients, improve practice, etc, we forget to sell the positives too. Yes, some clients don’t behave the way they should but surely the good ones deserve as much (if not more) publicity as the bad ones. Yes, there are unfair contracts and court interpreters are often mistreated but surely the examples of professional court interpreters giving a superb service are as worthy of collection as instances where interpreters have failed to show up and do a good job.

Perhaps even our most justified campaigns for better treatment, more funding, less course closures and the like would be even more powerful if gave as much space to positive examples as we did to negative ones.  To those who say that closing language courses is “what everyone is doing”, we can say, that, actually no, universities like Heriot-Watt are creating courses and hiring more staff. To those who say that interpreting is a wasteful expense, we can say, no, interpreters have always played a vital role in delivering fair, just trials, and economic growth.

Some of the most powerful cases we can put for the value of languages come from the places where languages have made a positive difference. Some of the greatest arguments for the value of our work come from stories of happy clients, treated patients, and bestselling books. Maybe we need to work even harder at putting a smile on our public face.

Author: Jonathan Downie