- Current DCAL Newsletter available in BSL
- Special Focus: What is it like to be a postgraduate at DCAL?
- Are you interested in postgraduate study at DCAL?
- Talking about Bilingualism
- BSL Corpus Project goes online
- DCAL's Tales from the Road
- Update on Deaf with Dementia Project
- DCAL working with the Cognitive Disorders Clinic
- Sharing Research - Iconicity and Embodiment on Tour
- Get involved in DCAL's research!
- DCAL research features in Lancet editorial
- BSL Corpus Project featured on The Hub
- BSL Grammaticality Judgement Task Paper accepted for publication in journal Cognition
- Frances Elton gets BDA award in recognition of her contribution to BSL and Sign Linguistics teaching
- New DCAL Briefing Sheet available on Dementia
- Early sign language exposure benefits deaf children
- See Hear Feature Deaf with Dementia Project October 17th
- Outreach activity at Frank Barnes School for Deaf Children
- DCAL's Response to Guardian article "Signs of the times: Deaf community minds its language"
- See Hear item on Deaf with dementia
- New DCAL-associated research project - Describing sociolinguistic variation in verb directionality in British Sign Language: A corpus-based study, funded by ESRC Secondary Data Analysis Initiative
- DCAL responds to Harry Knoors weblog
- New leaflet about research targeted at the older deaf community
- The Association for Physiological Sciences publishes DCAL research in Psychological Science
- Society Now features an article by researcher Dr Joanna Atkinson 'Voices inside my head'
- The Guardian publishes correction about BSL Corpus Project story
- Robert Adam is the first person in the UK to be both a registered Interpreter and a registered Translator on the NRCPD
- New MSc in Language Sciences with specialisation in Sign Language Studies: NOW RECRUITING for 2013/2014
- Researchers in Language and Cognition present their work at a conference in Lisbon
- NDCS offering free two-day training courses to utilise Family Sign Language Toolkit
- Programme for TISLR 2013 available on the webpage NOW!
- Neuroscience: How the brain adapts to deafness
- Professor Adam Kendon to become Honorary Emeritus Professor and DCAL Associate
- New MSc in Language Sciences with specialisation in Sign Language Studies NOW RECRUITING for2013/2014
- BSL Grammaticality Judgement paper ranked in Top 25 Hottest Articles
- DCAL and AoHL call for the National Dementia Strategy for England to be reviewed to ensure that funding is provided to meet the needs of people who are deaf or have hearing loss and also have dementia
- DCAL Nominated for the Signature Organisation of the Year Award
- British Deaf Association honours DCAL researcher
- DCAL director receives prestigious award
- ESRC Future Leader Fellowships for DCAL researchers
- DCAL's advocacy work with UK politicians
- DCAL research on voice hallucinations features in the Lancet
- Deaf Children and Development
- Early sign language exposure benefits deaf children
- Read my lips - Advances in speechreading research with deaf children
- 'What do you think the girl wants from Father Christmas?' Theory of Mind research with deaf infants
- DCAL briefing on the need for specialist national neurology services for deaf people
- DCAL features on See Hear with clip of BSL from 1920s
- New Dates for Sign Linguistics Course for Deaf Professionals
- Frances Elton's Retirement Seminar
- History of BSL Online
- Media Release
- Media Release
- Media Release
- Cochlear Implants and Sign Language:
- Digging into Signs
- Language isn't what it used to be (British Sign Language - that is)
- Discover UCL summer school for D/deaf and hard of hearing students
- New living dictionary for British Sign Language
- Specialist neurological clinic for deaf people cost benefit model
- Media Release: Dementia payments for GPs will do nothing to improve diagnosis rates of deaf patients
Language isn't what it used to be (British Sign Language - that is)
23 April 2014
Awareness about the changing use of language isn't just limited to speakers of English, who may lament the loss of old words and the inclusion of new words like 'selfie' in the Oxford English Dictionary. Users of British Sign Language (BSL) are being faced with unprecedented change in their language, with some loss of regional variations in signs, and a gap between the older and younger generations emerging.
British Sign Language is a rich, naturally evolving language, where the signs you use can vary according to where you live and where you went to school. Just like in English, where you may call a bread roll a 'bap', 'barm' or 'cob', partly depending on where you grew up, the vocabulary of BSL can differ depending on your region. However in the first major study of how BSL is evolving, now published in the journal PLoS ONE (http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0094053), researchers have found that although local dialects still exist, these variations are in decline.
The researchers, based at the ESRC funded Deafness Cognition and Language Research Centre (DCAL) at University College London, including Adam Schembri now at La Trobe University in Australia, filmed almost 250 deaf people using BSL from eight cities across the UK to document how the language is used and how it is changing today.
They found that a shift is taking place in the signs used by different generations, as younger people abandon the traditional regional signs that are still in use by older signers.
They examined regional variants for three different groups of concepts: those for numbers, colours and countries. These groups of signs showed a high level of variation: for example, the colour purple has 22 different signs. However, the study showed that the use of traditional variants is changing, with signs for countries changing at the fastest rate.
Example signs for PURPLE
“Our research has confirmed that BSL variation is changing,” explains lead researcher Dr Kearsy Cormier.
“Some regional signs appear to be in decline, as younger people are using them less. Some sign variants are more widely used than others, while some are rarely used at all.”
One reason that this variation may be in decline is because of the different way deaf children have learned BSL over the generations.
“In the past, different varieties of BSL developed separately in the schools for deaf children that used to exist across the country. Schools were the basis of communities of deaf people, just like villages used to be the basis of communities of hearing people,” says Dr Cormier.
“The recent closure of deaf schools may have contributed to the reduction in BSL variation, as deaf children are now more dispersed and are more typically mainstreamed alongside children who are not deaf. So they have a very different experience of signing in school compared to deaf children 50 years ago.”
Television, telecommunications and the internet may also be playing their part, just as they have done with the English language. As the use of sign language in television programmes and on the internet has increased, deaf people have been exposed to signs in wider use, possibly leading to a loss of local dialects.
It may also have to do with the fact that technological advances are allowing deaf people to move around the country and the world more, meaning that they are exposed to signs from different regions in the UK, and from different sign languages around the world. The study found for example that although there are a number of BSL signs for the USA, most young signers were adopting the American Sign Language sign for the USA.
Example signs for USA
Whatever the reason, it is clear that British Sign Language is undergoing rapid changes, and some amongst the deaf community may be concerned about the loss of their traditional signs.
“Quite a lot of deaf people are proud of their regional variations, and would see it as a shame if they were lost. However, the data we have collected will be recorded for long term preservation so these signs are not forgotten.” concludes Dr Cormier.
For further information contact:
- Gwilym Morris Email: mailto:email@example.com Telephone 07939225085
ESRC Press Office:
- Susie Watts Email: Susie.firstname.lastname@example.org Telephone 01793 413119
- Claire Penketh Email: email@example.com Telephone 01793 413122
NOTES FOR EDITORS
1. This release is based on the findings from ‘The British Sign Language Corpus Project (2008-2011) funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and carried out by the Deafness Cognition and Language (DCAL) Research Centre at University College London.
2. Deafness Cognition and Language (DCAL) Research Centre is based at University College London. DCAL is a world-renowned centre of excellence for research on BSL. The centre brings together leading Deaf and hearing researchers in the fields of sign linguistics, psychology, and neuroscience. DCAL is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
3. The British Sign Language Corpus Project (2008-2011), funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), aimed to record examples of BSL used by Deaf people and to store this information in a collection (“corpus”) that is made publicly accessible on-line, and also to carry out research using this collection into BSL grammar and vocabulary, variation in BSL across the country and how BSL is changing. This data was collected to have a permanent and secure record of BSL, as the language is used today by fluent signers across the UK. We know that the language is changing rapidly due to changes in the Deaf community, so it is important that we have a record for the future. Having a BSL Corpus is also useful for several other reasons: it will directly lead to an improved understanding of BSL structure and use. This information is important for the education of Deaf children, for training sign language interpreters, and for BSL teachers. (http://www.bslcorpusproject.org)
4. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC’s total budget for 2013/14 is £212 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes.
The ESRC confirms the
quality of its funded research by evaluating research projects through a
process of peers review. This research has been graded as good.