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by: Maartje De Meulder and Jemina Napier

Maartje: The paper Jemina, Christopher and I wrote is a presentation of best practice based on my PhD defence experience in 2016 at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland. A Finnish PhD defence is a public event open to anyone. I had to talk about my research and one person of the jury asked questions and discussed the dissertation with me. For this specific defence, I decided to work with Jemina and Christopher. This turned out to be a very good experience. We thought it was important to share this experience and discuss how deaf academics, through their collaboration with interpreters, can ensure their PhD defence is successful.

Jemina: Yes the defence was a very smooth process and we believe this demonstrates a presentation of best practice. That it went smooth doesn’t mean it was easy; it was hard work. We want to discuss what factors enabled us to achieve this successful outcome. This might be useful for others to know as a good model, an example of best practice.

Maartje: In the paper we discuss the preparations before the defence, the defence itself (which lasted some three hours) and reflect back on the defence. For example afterwards, my parents said that Jemina “sounded just like me if I would speak” with the same tone of voice, intonation, word choice etc. Also some people approached me and asked if Jemina, Christopher and I had worked together a lot already. They were often surprised when I said that it was actually the first time. So this made us think about the relevance and meaning of the ‘designated interpreter’ model.

Jemina: What we also discuss in the paper are different interpreting strategies Christopher and I used, for example establishing cues with Maartje for unobtrusive clarification, strategies to ensure smooth collaboration, and interpreter support strategies. The paper has several examples of this, illustrated with pictures and videos of Maartje signing and how this was interpreted by me and Christopher.

Christopher prompts Maartje. Jemina prompts Christopher.

Christopher reassures Maartje.

We end with a few points, for example we argue that what is key is preference and familiarity rather than working with a ‘designated’ interpreter. We also discuss sign language interpreting as an institution.

Maartje: Yes, my PhD defence was a good experience but we also know that such a situation does not happen everyday: being able to choose which interpreters to work with, having the university to pay for them, being able to prepare very well, etc. There is a growing number of deaf people getting PhDs, and deaf academics working with interpreters. In the paper we also discuss what this means for the sustainability of sign language interpreting as a system, what it means for education and training of sign language interpreters, and for deaf academics’ working relationships with interpreters.

Jemina: The paper is published in the International Journal of Interpreter Education. We hope it can be food for thought and has impact on interpreter practice and training but also on deaf academics working with interpreters.

Maartje: The paper is open access, free to download. We hope you’ll like it and if there is anything you’d like to let us know or discuss with us, please get in touch!

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FLP blog - YouTube

by: Maartje De Meulder, Annelies Kusters, and Jemina Napier

We are a team of three mothers and academics (two deaf and one hearing) who sign in our everyday lives, including at home. In this project we pool our different academic backgrounds and collective expertise in sign language policy, multilingualism and language brokering (interpreting).

This research project looks at ‘family language policy’ (FLP), more specifically the language practices and language ideologies of bimodal multilingual deaf/hearing families against the backdrop of wider discourses. Previous research on family sign language policy has traditionally focused on hearing parents of deaf children not having prior access to sign language and using different methods such as surveys and interviews. Also, previous research has mainly focused on language acquisition of deaf babies and young children. This project is different, focusing on hearing children above 2 years old, who are already bilingual or multilingual and use different signed and spoken languages, and are growing up with a mix of deaf and/or hearing parents and deaf and/or hearing grandparents.

We received funding from the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland to conduct a pilot study, running from September 2018 till September 2019. The aim is to do this pilot study with a view to leading to a larger study, to explore research methods and themes before final commitment to the research design. We decided to do the pilot study in our own families because in each family, deafness and sign languages are distributed differently (see figure below; deaf people in grey, hearing in white), and we each use multiple languages and modalities within our mixed deaf-hearing families across different generations.

Family 1: Jemina and her partner and daughter are all hearing, but the four grandparents are deaf. In Family 2: Annelies and her partner are both deaf, her partner’s parents are deaf, and her parents and her two children are hearing. Family 3: Maartje is deaf, her partner is hearing and their children are hearing. All grandparents are also hearing. Family 1 and 2 live in Scotland, UK and Family 3 lives in Flanders, Belgium. Deafness is actually more widely distributed in all three extended families (eg. siblings, aunts, cousins) but since the scope of this study is limited, we choose to focus on children-parents-grandparents units, and we aim to include wider social networks including other family members and friends in a future study. All families use one or more sign languages in the space of the home. In total there are four spoken languages and four sign languages in use: English, Dutch, German, Marathi, British Sign Language (BSL), Indian Sign Language (ISL), Flemish Sign Language (VGT) and International Sign (IS). While the deaf and hearing children and parents in the study are all fluent signers, the grandparents involved in the study have various signing abilities.

Family language policy is intimate and we already have a deep understanding of our family dynamics and contexts. This means we don’t need a long period of immersion first, and are not “strange” researchers coming into families. We are making ethnographic video recordings in our family interactions, mostly at mealtimes and at story time, in different contexts such as everyday contexts in the home, or when grandparents visit. In a later stage of the project (April-June 2019) we will include language biographies of the families (and diary extracts on earlier language choice decisions) and interviews to elicit explicit language ideologies (researchers will interview each other, and each other’s relatives). We also will use visual methods such as children’s drawings and language portraits.

While we have the support of three research assistants, each of us is initially annotating their own family interactional data in ELAN because of the intimacy of FLP and the high context involved (it is often very hard for outsiders to understand signed family communication). One of the researchers’ partners (Annelies’ partner Sujit Sahasrabudhe) is also involved in annotating data recorded in their own family. The data are checked by two hearing research assistants who annotate when voice is used (normal, loud, or as a whisper) or annotate speech. In the analysis we focus on which languages/modalities are used in which contexts, and on switches between (and combining) languages and language modalities.

We can share a few findings so far based on our preliminary analysis of data:

  • FLP is much more complex than using X different signed/spoken languages at home. Real data are “messy”. There are few clean “switches” with person X always using language/modality Y, and the relationship between person X and language/modality Y is not binary.
  • One of the other interesting things we have noticed is the relationship between eye gaze and sensory differences and the impact on choice of modality (whether someone chooses to use their voice or not). For example, who they are looking at, whether they are deaf or hearing, and how that influences the way they decide to communicate. It is also striking how much signing is accessed from peripheral vision (eg when telling stories) rather than through direct eye contact.
  • We noted how important and frequent touch is in family language communication, more so than is the case in general in sign language communication between deaf and hearing sighted signers. For example, people sign on each other’s body (such as making a sign on a small child’s body or face), touch a small child’s throat (in combination with lipreading) to try to decipher what the child is saying, touch the throat of a hearing child who is singing or humming a song to feel the rhythm. Another example is a mother who’s in conversation with someone when their child asks for attention, holding and rubbing their child’s hand in order to let them know that they are aware the child wants attention and asking them to wait for a bit.

It is clear that we have an extremely rich data set, so we are looking forward to exploring it further. So watch this space, and we will provide a further update further on in the project. But if you would like any further information, please feel free to contact any of us!

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This Friday November 30th, Liesbeth Matthijs publicly defends her PhD at the VUB (Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences), titled “What about sign language? A longitudinal study of the early interaction between hearing mothers and deaf infants with a cochlear implant”. The study is situated in Flanders, Belgium, a world pioneer in implementing universal neonatal hearing screening. It started as an investigation of intersubjective development between hearing mothers and deaf children in an era where early cochlear implantation is almost standardized. But Liesbeth quickly noticed irregularities surrounding the advice and guidance parents received from early intervention services, and decided to extrapolate the notion of intersubjectivity to include these interactions, embedded in social contexts. For this, she interviewed hearing mothers of deaf children about how they received advice and guidance from early intervention services.

The study deserves attention because it brings a wider and more nunanced context for understanding the issue of ‘parental choice’ in the context of (hearing) parents of deaf children. The study effectively dispels the notion that hearing parents of deaf children can and do ‘choose’ or have a ‘choice’. It demonstrates that hearing parents are being positioned a priori by service providers as “just parents”, “not-knowers”, “not being able to become a fluent signer”, preferring normalization, etc., and are consequently being treated as such, offering parents intervention that suits with these positionings. It even goes so far that the positioning of contemporary hearing parents in Western countries, as a group, as opting less and less for sign inclusive approaches, could be called an “explicit malignant positioning” through inaccurate generalizations, and that it would be unethical to conclude a decreasing trend in parental choice for sign bilingual education and upbringing. Examples of this malignant positioning are the wide spread practice of speaking in terms of a need for sign language and the common taken for granted philosophy that sign language would never be a deliberate choice if a CI was an option. Interestingly, Liesbeth states that sometimes deaf people are involved in this malignant positioning too, for examply by being openly amazed that a hearing parent keeps on signing to their child even after it has a CI.

Often, the choices and preferences of hearing parents are presented as deliberate, for example Knoors and Marschark (2012, 9) stating that hearing parents of deaf children with early CIs are “not likely to choose a bilingual upbringing and education” and are not seeking for their children to learn sign language anymore. This thesis shows these choices are not deliberate, but that parents’ choices and preferences are effectively constructed. It also shows that hearing parents are patronized with regard to learning sign language and critcizes the “wait-and-see policy” when it comes to learning sign language. This policy is implemented for example by telling parents to “take things slowly”, wait for the next course as it would be difficult to step in mid-term, be realistic about the goals that can be achieved, not think that learning sign language is something that can be easily managed etc.

In the end, parents might not become “fluent signers” (whatever that is), and it is often easier for them to opt for spoken communication because this is widely accepted, stimulated and guided. But the thesis states it can be discussed whether this result should be perceived as a trend in parents’ choices and preferences. By investigating the ideologies supporting intervention services and demonstrating that service providers mainly think and speak in terms of normalization but also listen from within these terms, Liesbeth demonstrates how the system does not accomodate parental positions that are resistant to normalization. In other words: parents who comply with the normalization discourse do not (or to a much lesser extent) have troubling experiences with intervention services after their deaf child is born, while parents who are resistant to this normalization discourse do not get the help they ask for.

Liesbeth states that “it would by no means be ethical to conclude a decreasing trend in parental choice for bilingual-bicultural education” and that “equally unethical would it be to conclude failure of bilingual-bicultural programs in bearing the theoretically expected results, as the broader context made any attempt to implement a genuine, theory-based bilingual-bicultural education, prone to fail”. This research thus also offers a much-needed alternative explanation for the frequent lack of success experienced by parents in the learning of sign language.

As such, the study refines the notion of ‘parental choice’ and how trends and evaluations ascribed to parents are used to influence policy-making.

The doctoral thesis consists of three empirical studies (published as separate articles) and a summary connecting the dots, discussing the studies and outcomes and also methodology etc. which is really worth reading. The study is not online yet (I believe it will come online soon) but two of the three articles have been published already (Open Access).

Articles

Matthijs et al. (2012). First Information Parents Receive After UNHS Detection of Their Baby’s Hearing Loss. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 17(4), 387-401. (Open Access)

Matthijs et al. (2017). Mothers of Deaf Children in the 21st Century. Dynamic Positioning Between the Medical and Cultural-Linguistic Discourses. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 22(4), 365-377. (Open Access)

Matthijs et al. (submitted) The Development of Intersubjectivity between Hearing Mothers and Deaf Implanted Children from 6 to 24 months: Exploring the Role of Visual Communication Strategies, Context and Discourses.

Here is Liesbeth talking about her PhD and the defence, in Flemish Sign Language:

Doctoraatsverdediging Liesbeth Matthijs - Vimeo
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On 2 November 2018, I gave a keynote presentation at the Deaf Studies Transformations Conference in Gallaudet University.

You can download the slides of my presentation here: DSCT2018 Gallaudet (Maartje De Meulder) (.pptx, including movies, 252MB).

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International Journal of the Sociology of Language Guest editors: Maartje De Meulder and Kristin Snoddon

This thematic issue is inspired by a growing concern about effective language planning and policy strategies that foster the promotion and vitality of sign languages, and by shifting ideologies surrounding the use and maintenance of sign languages.

Up until now, most sign languages have been absent from endangerment and vitality discourses. This absence is partly due to the supposedly resilient nature of sign languages. For example, language shift to dominant spoken languages may be seen as irrelevant for sign languages because of the belief that due to deaf people’s biological difference, deaf communities will maintain sign languages. The lack of consideration of sign language vitality is further due to ideologies and beliefs within sign language communities and among researchers. Until quite recently, concerns over the endangerment of sign languages were mainly limited to the context of village sign languages and small territorial sign languages for which the maintenance-supporting and maintenance-threatening factors are different than for urban, national sign languages. The framing of deaf people as disabled in public policy has also been a main factor in sign language endangerment.

Demographic and sociolinguistic changes in sign language communities, the widespread normalisation of cochlear implants and the associated monolingual focus on speech, the erosion of inter- and intragenerational transmission settings, the increase of formal learning opportunities, technological innovations, and the wider availability of sign languages all have a profound influence on the future vitality of sign languages, and changing ideologies surrounding this vitality. The concern about this vitality has now come to include long established sign languages in mainly Western nations, some of which are legally recognised and used by larger communities.

However, framing sign languages within vitality and endangerment discourses necessitates critical engagement with the limits and problems of these discourses. For example, there is on-going discussion among scholars about whether sign languages can be described as endangered languages at all, and about the application to sign languages of such concepts as language shift, language decline and revival, linguicide, language maintenance, language (re)vitalisation, intergenerational transmission, etc., which so far have primarily been developed for and applied to the situation of spoken languages. For spoken languages, there is a growing body of literature that problematizes these concepts and interrogates the ideologies underlying them, a movement that is also linked to current theoretical shifts in the field of sociolinguistics and applied linguistics. For sign languages, however, ideologies surrounding vitality and revitalisation have not yet received much academic scrutiny.

By contributing to theory-building and research practice, this special issue aims to more firmly place the vitality and revitalisation of sign languages on the academic research agenda. We welcome empirical case studies and theoretical contributions covering named sign languages (for example village sign languages, regional sign languages, urban and/or national sign languages, International Sign), as well as contributions that go beyond named sign languages. All contributions should discuss ideologies surrounding sign language vitality and revitalisation.

Deadline for abstracts: 30 September 2018

Abstracts in English, max. 500 words

Please email to maartje.demeulder@unamur.be and kristin.snoddon@carleton.ca

Feel free to contact us if you have any questions!

 

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DOOF KIND - Trailer - YouTube

De documentaire Doof Kind (2017) is een ode van horende vader Alex de Ronde aan zijn dove zoon Tobias. Tussen de regels door is het ook een ode aan Helene, de moeder van Tobias, die overleed toen hij zes was en aan wie de film is opgedragen.

Doof Kind verweeft heden en verleden, en blikt terug op de beslissingen die het gezin nam toen bleek dat Tobias, geboren in 1989, doof was – Nederlandse Gebarentaal (NGT) de thuistaal maken, Tobias naar een tweetalige dovenschool laten gaan in het verre Groningen. Beslissingen die nu, meer dan 20 jaar later, door heel wat mensen als “moedig” zouden omschreven worden en dat ook effectief zijn, maar die in de film voorgesteld worden als vanzelfsprekende keuzes.

Voor mij persoonlijk heeft de film een speciale betekenis omdat ik zelf doof ben en opgegroeid in een horende familie. Een warme familie die mij alle kansen gaf, net zoals die van Tobias, maar wel één waar niet gebaard werd (en wordt). Dat heeft niet te maken met onwil van mijn familie maar wel met een aantal omstandigheden waardoor thuis gebaren er nooit van gekomen is (waaronder het feit dat medische professionals het niet nodig vonden mij of mijn ouders te informeren over het belang van gebarentaal of het bestaan van bvb. dovenclubs). Ik vond het dan ook mooi om te zien hoe natuurlijk vader en zoon (en de horende broer Joachim) met elkaar communiceren in NGT, hoe belangrijk gebarentaal en respect voor de dove identiteit van Tobias is voor de relaties binnen het gezin, zonder dat de film een polariserend pamflet wordt.

Het belang maar ook de vanzelfsprekendheid van gebarentaal in het gezin uit zich in kleine en grote dingen. Op een bepaald moment zien we een home video van de kleine Tobias en zijn vader die in een treintje zitten in een pretpark. Tobias hangt met zijn armen naar buiten, waarop zijn vader zegt dat dat niet mag. “Wie zegt dat?”, vraag Tobias. “Een stem die ik hoor hier in het treintje”, antwoordt vader de Ronde, “je mag je armen en benen niet naar buiten steken.” Waarna hij er heel spontaan, en humoristisch, aan toevoegt, “en je mag ook niet roken trouwens, vind ik jammer”. Er is objectief gezien geen enkele reden om dat laatste mee te geven aan een klein kind, maar het feit dat vader de Ronde dat doet, toont aan hoe hij die communicatie met zijn zoon, in NGT, ervaart. En hoe natuurlijk die communicatie voor hem is.

Maar het zit ‘m ook in de grote dingen. Op een bepaald moment zien we de kleine Tobias in NGT vertellen dat zijn mama overleden is, dat ze “beestjes in haar borst had, en daarna in haar hoofd” en dat dat zo’n pijn deed. Vader de Ronde beschrijft hoe belangrijk gebarentaal geweest is om Tobias het hele ziekteproces, de begrafenis en de verwerking erna te doen begrijpen, en door te komen.

Het is belangrijk om de film te plaatsen in een bepaald tijdskader: Tobias groeide op in de jaren ’90, door dove mensen in Nederland soms beschreven als de “Gouden Tijd”. In die periode spraken de Nederlandse dovenscholen met de overheid af om tweetalig onderwijs uit te bouwen. Er was een groep mondige horende ouders die mee op de barricades stond voor onderwijs in NGT. Tobias beschrijft in de film hoe hij er op zijn 12de voor koos om naar een dovenschool te gaan in Groningen, niet naar een lokale reguliere school in Amsterdam. En hoe gelukkig hij nog steeds is met die keuze. In de film zien we hem zijn oude school bezoeken en in gesprek gaan met de leerlingen. Die hebben vrijwel allemaal een cochleair implantaat, en één jongen vertelt hoe hij eigenlijk naar een dovenschool zou willen gaan, maar van zijn ouders naar een ‘horende school’ moet. Dat toont hoe het tijdskader is veranderd, en de beslissingen die ouders van dove kinderen (moeten) maken, ook in Nederland.

In filmrecensies in mainstream media wordt Tobias vaak omschreven als “extravert”, een “meesterverteller”, een “geboren performer” met “elastische mimiek”, en een “olijk gezicht”. Die recensies werden duidelijk geschreven door journalisten die niet veel dove mensen kennen. Het is zeker waar dat Tobias, goed “pakt” op de camera zoals we dat in Vlaanderen zouden zeggen – hij heeft een bijzondere uitstraling en kan op een aanstekelijke manier vertellen, maar ik ken persoonlijk heel wat dove mensen zoals hij. En dat is precies waar het om draait: “doof is ook leuk”, zoals de mama van Tobias antwoordde toen hij als kind zei dat hij graag wou horen zoals de rest van zijn familie. Dat antwoord zegt alles. Nee, doof-zijn is niet elke dag rozengeur en maneschijn, maar het is wel een manier van zijn, met alles wat daarbij hoort, leuk en minder leuk. Bovenal is Doof Kind daaraan een ode.

Doof Kind is onder andere te zien in cinema Cartoon’s in Antwerpen, Sphinx in Gent en Flagey in Brussel. Van filmdistributeur Cinemien mag ik een gratis duo-ticket weggeven. Laat je naam achter hier in de comments, of in de comments op Facebook, en een onschuldige kinderhand zal op vrijdag 11 mei om 12u een naam trekken!

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Part 1 - intro - YouTube

It’s been a while since I posted the last update about my current research project here. For those who did not see it (or don’t read Dutch): I’m doing research  on the vitality of Flemish Sign Language (VGT), and how this links to deaf and hearing VGT signers’ multilingual repertoires.

My informants are 15 deaf and hearing people between 18 and 65, all of whom have VGT as one of the languages in their linguistic repertoires. Some of the deaf informants grew up signing, others adopted VGT in their teenage years, while others are in the process of learning VGT. Hearing informants are either parents of deaf children or partners of deaf people. Among the informants are also four couples, either deaf-deaf, deaf-hearing or hearing-hearing (in the case of hearing parents of deaf children).

I use a mixed method approach consisting of language use diaries, language portraits and interviews.

1. Language use diaries

Part 2 - language use diaries - YouTube

So far, 13 of the 15 informants have returned their language use diary. Actually a better word would be a log(book)  because informants were provided with a format to record their interactions. They were free to choose seven consecutive days in which they would record their daily language use. For each entry, I asked them to write down the time, the language of each encounter or activity, place (at home, at school, online), subject (what they were doing or talking about), the participants in the conversation (if any) and the participants’ hearing status and age. The last column was provided for general comments they might have, for example something they were not sure about or something unusual that happened. I asked them to write down conversations (where other participants were involved), encounters that did not involve an actual conversation (for example ordering a coffee, paying at a counter, recording a WhatsApp video), and “passive” language use (for example reading a book, marking a paper, checking Facebook). I did not give informants any categories to describe their codes. They were also free to provide as little or as much information and could present this in their own words or signs. This gave me insight in their specific language attitudes and ideologies.

So far, I have coded 10 daries, which contain information from 965 different entries. I have to see how many of them I will include in the analysis, but so far the diaries give me a good opportunity to evaluate how, where, how often, and with whom VGT is used, and what other languages informants use (for example International Sign, English, LSFB), where, why, and with whom.

2. Language portraits

Part 3 - language portraits - YouTube

I combine the interviews and language use diaries with language portraits. This is a creative research method in which informants visualize their linguistic repertoire using the outline of a body silhoutte (Busch 2018). I ask them to not only think about specific languages, but also modalities and ways of expressing themselves, both now, in the past, and in the future. Above you can see an example of such a language portrait produced by one of the (deaf) informants. I find it a very useful method because it allows to elicit specific data linked to the emotionally lived experiences of languages and modalities, and to language ideologies and attitudes. Informants also find the method exiting and fun to use and see it as a creative outlet which enables them to talk about their linguistic repertoires in a way the interviews and diaries do not allow. After informants produce their portrait, I ask them to explain it to me and we have a conversation about it (in VGT or in Dutch).

3. Interviews

Part 4 - Interviews - YouTube

I have done a first round of interviews with 15 informants, and a second round with most of them. Most interviews were done in VGT, some informants (both deaf and hearing) preferred to express themselves in Dutch. For those interviews, we worked with an interpreter. The interviews (which lasted from 1 hours to 3 hours) covered many different topics: language choice, motivation to use different languages, language learning processes, opportunities to use different languages, self-reported proficiency in different languages, how informants use their linguistic repertoire according to spaces, whether they sign with their children or not and how they feel about that, whether they think their grandchildren will sign, how they would feel if VGT or deaf people would no longer exist, how they see VGT evolve, what they think about the future of VGT and whether they see themselves having a role to play in it, et cetera.

To be continued!

Bush, B. 2018. The language portrait in multilingualism research: Theoretical and methodological considerations. Working Papers in Urban Language & Literacies. Paper 236.

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Nieuwe onderzoeksfocus: van framework naar mensen

Deel 1 - Framework naar mensen - YouTube

Meer en meer mensen vragen me de laatste tijd waarover mijn onderzoek nu precies gaat en waarmee ik nu precies bezig ben. Ik realiseerde me daardoor ook dat, hoewel ik hier in Vlaanderen onderzoek doe, er online eigenlijk nergens info over te vinden is, ook niet in Vlaamse Gebarentaal. Deze blog lijkt me dan ook een goede plek om die info te geven.

Misschien herinner je je nog dat ik in februari 2017 een lezing gaf aan de KU Leuven campus Antwerpen over mijn onderzoek, waarmee ik toen net gestart was. De idee toen was om een nieuw framework te ontwikkelen om ‘vitaliteit’ te testen, waarbij vitaliteit verwijst naar de ‘gezondheid’, ‘sterkte’, ‘levensvatbaarheid’, duurzaamheid, toekomst en status van een taal en de mensen die die taal gebruiken. De laatste maanden is dat idee om allerlei redenen veranderd. Mijn focus is nog steeds vitaliteit, maar niet meer het framework. Ik wil kijken hoe vitaliteit gelinkt is aan hoe mensen verschillende talen gebruiken. Het is immers zo dat tegenwoordig, de profielen en achtergronden van mensen die gebarentaal gebruiken heel erg divers zijn, en hoe ze in hun dagelijks leven verschillende talen gebruiken, niet alleen gebarentaal/gebarentalen. Mensen gebaren, schrijven, spreken; gebruiken talen op verschillende manieren. Ik ben benieuwd naar hoe dat vitaliteit beïnvloedt. Dat is dus de focus van mijn huidige onderzoek.

Vitaliteit: kennis, kansen en motivatie

Deel 2 - Kennis, kansen, motivatie - YouTube

In het onderzoek naar vitaliteit zijn 3 concepten erg belangrijk: kennis (capaciteit), kansen en motivatie.

  1. Kennis is logisch. Mensen moeten een taal kennen om ze te kunnen gebruiken. Wie een bepaalde taal niet kent of twijfels heeft over zijn/haar kennis, zal die taal niet of minder gebruiken. Dat is niet positief voor vitaliteit.
  2. Mensen moeten kansen hebben om een taal te gebruiken. Kansen kunnen gelinkt zijn aan het bestaan van andere mensen die die taal ook gebruiken. Kansen kunnen ook verbonden zijn aan een plaats waar mensen naartoe kunnen gaan en die taal gebruiken. Kansen kunnen ook te maken hebben met mogelijkheden om een taal te leren of verwerven. Kansen kunnen ook betekenen het bestaan van materiaal om bvb. een taal te lezen, luisteren, zien, … Kansen zijn erg breed te interpreteren.
  3. Van de drie concepten is motivatie wellicht de belangrijkste. Mensen moeten gemotiveerd zijn om een taal te gebruiken, moeten dat zelf willen, moeten ‘goesting’ hebben. Als mensen zich ‘s morgens afvragen wat het nut is van het gebruik van een bepaalde taal, zich afvragen waarom ze die überhaupt gebruiken, geen interesse hebben om ze te gebruiken … De drie concepten zijn natuurlijk gelinkt. Geen kansen en geen kennis betekent ook geen motivatie. Maar het kan gebeuren dat mensen een bepaalde taal kennen en kansen hebben om ze te gebruiken maar toch het nut er niet van inzien. De motivatie, de wil om een taal te gebruiken is dus cruciaal. Tegelijkertijd is motivatie van de drie het moeilijkst om te ‘meten’.

Ik wil dus meer weten over hoe die drie concepten gelinkt zijn aan vitaliteit, specifiek voor de situatie van gebarentaal.

Wie?

Deel 3 - Wie? - YouTube

Gebarentaalonderzoek focust voornamelijk (maar zeker niet altijd) op de groep van dove mensen die op een ‘normale’, ‘traditionele’ manier gebarentaal heeft verworven, bijvoorbeeld wie naar een dovenschool ging en van dove peers gebarentaal leerde, of wie dove ouders heeft en thuis gebarentaal gebruikte. Maar de tijden zijn erg veranderd. In Vlaanderen gaat nog maar een minderheid van de dove kinderen naar een dovenschool en de meerderheid naar een ‘horende’ school; minder doven gaan naar een dovenclub in vergelijking met vroeger; steeds meer dove kinderen hebben twee CI’s die beïnvloeden hoe zij talen gebruiken en verwerven. Het gebruik van nieuwe media en sociale media is sterk toegenomen: Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, .. Er is ook een steeds groter wordende groep van horende mensen die op één of andere manier gebarentaal kent/gebruikt.

Ik wil voor mijn onderzoek de doelgroep dus wat opentrekken. Ik wil dus zowel kijken naar dove mensen die op een eerder ‘traditionele’ manier gebarentaal leerden, als naar dove mensen die dat op een andere manier deden. Er zijn bijvoorbeeld dove mensen die steeds naar een horende school gingen en pas daarna gebarentaal leerden, bijvoorbeeld op het moment dat ze naar de universiteit gaan, of wanneer ze naar een dovenclub beginnen gaan. Er zijn ook dove mensen die als kind enkele jaren naar een dovenschool gingen en daar gebaarden, maar daarna naar het horend onderwijs gingen en die jaren niet meer gebaarden tot ze op een zeker moment terug gaan gebaren. Of dove mensen die om één of andere reden pas later gebarentaal leren, als ze al 25 of 30 zijn. Er zijn ook dove mensen die thuis gebaarden met hun horende ouders, maar op een andere manier dan dove mensen dat deden met dove ouders, of op een dovenschool.

De horende mensen in mijn onderzoek zijn bijvoorbeeld horende ouders van dove kinderen, partners van dove mensen (er zijn enkele koppels in mijn onderzoek, doof-doof en doof-horend), ook horende mensen die om één of andere reden geïnteresseerd zijn om gebarentaal te leren (belang van motivatie), zonder dat ze daarom contact hebben met doven of tolk willen worden. Eén groep horende mensen die ik niet opneem in mijn onderzoek, zijn tolken gebarentaal. Omdat dit echt een specifieke groep is met een unieke relatie tot de taal. Daarvoor is denk ik een apart onderzoek nodig. Ik ben meer geïnteresseerd in dove mensen zelf en horende mensen die om tal van redenen gebaren.

Methode

Deel 4 - Methode - YouTube

Mijn methode is een combinatie van verschillende methodes: interviews, taaldagboeken, taalportret en observatie.

  • Interviews: ik doe met iedereen interviews waarin ik een aantal vragen stel en we een gesprek hebben. Sommige van die interviews zijn in Vlaamse Gebarentaal, voor andere interviews kiezen mensen (doof of horend) er soms voor om Nederlands te spreken en dan gebeurt het gesprek met een tolk. Soms doe ik ter aanvulling ook nog een interview via e-mail.
  • Taaldagboeken: mensen houden één week een taaldagboek bij, waarin ze elke dag bijhouden, van het moment dat ze opstaan tot ze gaan slapen, welke taal of talen, combinatievormen van talen of communicatiemanieren ze gebruikten, met wie (leeftijd, doof of horend), waar, om wat te doen of te praten over wat, en hoe lang dat duurde. Ik vraag mensen ook om passief taalgebruik op te schrijven, bijvoorbeeld de krant lezen, op Facebook kijken, .. Na een week bezorgen mensen dat dagboek aan mij, ik bekijk dat en dan spreken we af voor een tweede interview waarin we het dagboek overlopen en dieper bespreken.
  • Taalportret: tijdens het tweede interview vraag ik mensen ook om een ‘taalportret’ te maken. Mensen krijgen een tekening van een blanco figuur en krijgen tijd om die in te kleuren volgens de talen in hun leven. Mensen kunnen bijvoorbeeld het hart rood kleuren voor Vlaamse Gebarentaal en het hoofd blauw voor Nederlands, om maar iets te zeggen; ze kunnen zich creatief uitleven. Daarna vraag ik hen om te vertellen waarom ze welke kleuren gebruikten voor welke plaatsen op lichaam, en stel ik nog een aantal bijkomende vragen.
  • Observatie: op verschillende plaatsen, bijvoorbeeld Gebarenkringen, gebarencursussen, …

Op dit moment doen 15 mensen mee aan mijn onderzoek (doof en horend met verschillende profielen en achtergronden), misschien worden het er nog 20. Ik heb maar een jaar dus 100 of 200 mensen opnemen, hoe interessant ook, is helaas onmogelijk.

Meer weten?

Deel 5 - Meer weten? - YouTube

Als je dus binnenkort iemand tegen komt die druk bezig is met het invullen van een taaldagboek, dan weet je vanaf nu waarover het gaat. Wie meer wil weten over mijn onderzoek kan mij altijd contacteren, en ik zal ook proberen op deze blog geregeld updates te geven over de vooruitgang mijn onderzoek. Wanneer het afgerond is, binnen een jaar ongeveer, zal ik zeker ook nog een lezing of workshop organiseren waar iedereen meer te weten kan komen over mijn bevindingen. Alvast bedankt voor je interesse!

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Part 1 Intro - YouTube

Two weeks ago, I found myself in Barcelona for a Sociolinguistics Summer School. Being the only deaf participant, and bringing two British Sign Language interpreters, I wrote some things down about my experiences working with sign language interpreters in academic settings. These notes became this blog post. I thought it’s interesting to share, and I’m sure other deaf academics and interpreters will have additional tips and suggestions (welcome!). Also, if you attend the Deaf Academics conference in Copenhagen in August, I will host a workshop together with Hilde Haualand, where we’ll discuss many of the points below. This is another reason why I share this post, to invite feedback we can use during the workshop.

Happy reading and please feel free to comment!

Here are some of my tips. Please do not think that every single time I work with sign language interpreters in academic settings, I do and achieve all these things. I try to, but sometimes I fail, or the situation does not allow it.

Part 2 Which interpreters? - YouTube

Which interpreters?

  1. Choose interpreters who have an academic background themselves and/or often work with deaf academics. If this background is in the field you are working in, you are very lucky, but mostly this will not be the case. Use your deaf academic network to find out names of good interpreters for your specific needs.
  2. If the target language is English (as most often is the case), preferably work with interpreters who have English as one of their first languages.
  3. It is always a good idea to ‘groom’ one or two interpreters over time, so they can become your designated interpreters. This means investing time and energy and is easier said than done. But you won’t always be able to work with your ‘dream’ interpreters, you need to invest in new ones too.
  4. In any case, choose interpreters who are familiar with you as a scholar, know your scholarly publications, know the academic jargon, and do often work in academic settings but also, and importantly, choose interpreters who match you as a person.
Part 3 Networking - YouTube

Networking situations

One of the reasons you go to a conference is to access and share (new) knowledge but let’s be fair: the most important part of conferences is networking. It is how collaboration starts, how people decide to apply for grants together, to publish together, where they exchange ideas and gossip. If you do not or cannot network, you will miss out on many opportunities that enable you to build an academic career. It is easy and fun (and necessary!) to network with fellow deaf academics, this is how great things happen, but you will most likely have to network with non-signing colleagues too. With this in mind, choose your interpreters wisely:

  1. Do not choose interpreters based on their signing/voicing skills only; choose interpreters who match you as a person, who can be your voice during conference dinners, coffee breaks, and other networking situations. Of course it is important that you are voiced well during your presentation, but an interpreter is also someone who represents you, in different kinds of situations. An interpreter needs to understand how you network, needs to have an idea of your kind of humour, your way of engaging with people. He/she needs to know the names of your colleagues, needs to know your professional interests, some of your personal situation, etc. A note of caution: it is not self-evident to find interpreters who do match you as a person and do voice you well, so you will need some time and experiments to find your match(es).
  2. Give networking with an interpreter time. Often, people will not come to you during the first day because they are insecure about how to approach you (even with interpreters). When they’ve seen others doing this, they will feel more confident and by the second or third day you will be able to have more informal conversations. Needless to say, but do not wait till people come to you; be pro-active, catch your interpreter and go out and talk to people if you feel like it. If you are doing this, people will feel more confident to approach you.
  3. Do not feel indignant that most people at first will ask questions to the interpreters and not to you (“how did you learn sign language?”, “who is paying you?”, “are you friends with the deaf person?”, “is it hard to learn sign language?”). This is human, it happens. Do not feel bad about it – you are raising awareness!
  4. Something I’ve seen quite a few times with non-signing conference participants, is what I call “hearing guilt”. People come to the interpreters apologising they can’t sign and saying they find it such a pity they can’t talk directly to you. Sometimes, this means they will not talk to you at all. Not because they do not want to, just because they don’t feel at ease. This is not good. Approach these people, make them feel comfortable, maybe also try to communicate with them direclty in some instances (e.g. by sitting together and typing on your phones or laptops).
  5. Furthermore, within certain limits, allow interpreters to become part of the conversation when you network, or at least do not actively try to prevent this from happening – trying to do so often ‘breaks’ conversations, and leads to awkward situations. Allow this, not only when the conversation is about interpreting or sign language (see previous point: hearing people often have questions about this) but also when it isn’t. If you’re lucky your interpreter is a scholar too or has knowledge of the field you are working in. This does not mean that an interpreter has to become the main conversation partner or the star of any conversation, but interpreters are people, they are present and you can’t act like they are not there. Of course interpreters engaging in conversations does only work when you have two interpreters. Also, a professional interpreter should have a gut feeling of when this is permitted and when it is not.
  6. Think about strategies to network without an interpreter. Sometimes interpreters need a break or you will find yourself in a situation when there is no interpreter. Take charge of this; do not make it uncomfortable for yourself or your non-signing conversation partner (they are often more nervous than you!). People approach you because they are really interested in you, have questions, and want to talk to you. Write on your phone, on paper, gesture, speak, lip-read, whatever: use your full multimodal repertoire (and expect from your non-signing conversation partner to do this too).
Funding - YouTube

Conferences, and securing funding for interpreters

I love life as a researcher (and going to conferences is an important and really nice part of it), but securing funding for interpreters is one of the things I’m not so fond of, to say the least. I have literally wasted hours and hours looking for and applying for funding, and e-mailing back and forth with organisers. Sometimes, in the end, I don’t achieve in securing funding. Fortunately, this is exceptional, but it happens. So, here are some tips which might reduce frustration (and increase success rates).

  1. First of all: do not give up easily. “We didn’t know there would be deaf participants!”, “I’m sorry we don’t have any budget”, “Can you pay for interpreters yourself?” are the standard replies here. Do not take these for granted. Be nice, but also firm. Securing funding takes some perseverance.
  2. Start organising access early on; do not wait until the last few weeks to start thinking about this. Interpreters need to be booked well in advance, and the conference organisers need to have time to organise access (most likely, they will not have thought about it).
  3. When you e-mail organisers, make clear that access is not only your ‘problem’ but also that of every conference participant. The interpreters are not just there for you; they are also there so non-signing people can have access to your knowledge. You could say something like “I am deaf and in order for communication to be accessible for all participants during presentations and networking, we will need sign language interpreters. I understand that the cost for this service will have likely not been forecasted, but I would kindly ask XX to cover this cost. I regularly work with interpreters X and Y/with company X, and I would be happy to put you in touch with them directly to organise the service.”
  4. What kind of budget? This is complex, and depends among other things on (1) how many interpreters you are bringing and where they are coming from; (2) if there are other deaf academics present, and their language preferences; (3) the financing and organisation of interpreter services in your country, whether these instances can fund interpreters while you are abroad, and for which sign languages and (4) the conference organisers and whether they are able to (partly) pay for interpreters (you should expect that they do this, if only nominal). In general, for one conference day you will ideally need three interpreters who will work alternately. I have had  two as well and this works, but then you might need to consider which lectures to skip, especially if you want to attend the evening social programme (networking). Otherwise it might be hard on the interpreters (and you).
  5. Think about other possibilities to network and follow lectures that suit you best and are cost-effective, e.g. you could use CART (Communication Access Real-time Translation or “real-time captioning”) services to watch lectures directly in the target language, and only bring an interpreter for networking. This is an alternative that I only recently became aware of because one interpreter asked me why I was not doing this. I haven’t tried it yet myself but it is worth exploring. (Do any of you have experiences to share?)
Giving presentations - YouTube

 Giving presentations and having access to other presentations

  1. For your own presentation: prepare with interpreters. This is not only their responsibility; it is also yours. Take charge of this. For example, you can send interpreters a video of your lecture or other sample videos of presentations you’ve given, so they can become familiar with your signing style. There is a lot more to say about preparation but I don’t want to make this blog post too long.
  2. For accessing spoken presentations:
    • Make sure interpreters (can) get in touch with the organisers to receive presentations or texts from other speakers so they can better prepare;
    • Discuss how you want the interpreters to sign, e.g. closer to the target language (so you can pick up specific terminology for example) or not;
  3. Establish clues and discuss strategies to ensure smooth collaboration between yourself and the interpreters, e.g. how the interpreters will let you know that they are behind and need time to catch up (without letting everyone in the audience know!), how you can let them know if you have not understood something.

I hope these guidelines can be helpful for other deaf academics, and we can amend and improve this list as we go along. Want to read more? See also this blog post by another deaf academic, Teresa Blankmeyer Burke. Happy conference season!

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