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Hands in teamwork

Did you know that 22nd February was Global Language Advocates Day (GLAD)? 

A language advocate is anyone interested in doing something to support the language rights of the 8,000 different language communities around the world, including deaf communities and their hundreds of different sign languages.

Professor Adam Schembri is a hearing Professor in linguistics at the University. Adam has been working with deaf communities for the past two decades on various projects related to sign language research, including the BSL Corpus projectBSL Signbank and SignMorph. In 2022, he joined the Global Coalition for Language Rights, a new organisation set up to support and defend linguistic human rights for everyone. The theme for this year’s GLAD  is ‘Language Rights Saves Lives’. GCLR believes that often language rights are a matter of life and death. This will come as no surprise to deaf communities anywhere – deaf people know first-hand that sign language access can save lives.

Language rights save lives in the home. Access to sign languages for deaf children prevents language deprivation. The impact of language deprivation on social and cognitive skills is well-documented: cognitive delays, mental health difficulties, and a lower quality of life may result. It is quite clear, however, that the acquisition of a sign language in early life will prevent language deprivation and the associated risks. Language rights save lives in healthcare. All too often, deaf people in the UK do not get health information in BSL, and the heath system fails to provide trained BSL/English interpreters. This can lead to disproportionately higher rates of illness and death due to the lack of access. Language rights also save lives when natural disasters strike, or new diseases appear.

We saw how deaf activists lobbied the UK government to provide greater access to COVID 19 announcements and updates using BSL/English interpreters. Deaf communities know that clear and timely information is critical in times of crisis, such as the recent pandemic. Language rights also save lives at school – we know that education in a child’s first language, such as BSL, helps people succeed in education and this kind of success at school leads to longer life expectancy. You can read more about the many activities related to GLAD that GCLR have organised this year on the GCLR blog.

We, in GCLR, hope that our translations will provide greater awareness of language rights in deaf communities, and how we can work together to defend them.

Professor Adam Schembri

This week the Global Coalition for Language Rights (GCLR) has launched a statement on understanding what language rights are, and how we can work together to defend them. This is the first of its kind in the world, and an important first step in raising awareness about the importance of language rights for everyone.

Many language advocates and activists working with the many different language communities around the world have long been concerned about the lack of awareness of language rights. The aim of this statement is help raise awareness and improve understanding about what language rights are. In order to do this, GCLR members wanted to make a statement that that was written in accessible language and was easy to understand. GCLR also want to make the statement available in as many languages as possible.

Working with deaf translators, we have made a draft version of the GCLR Statement on Understanding and Defending Language Rights in British Sign Language . We also have a translation in International Sign on our research project website