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Celebrating British Sign Language

Community marks 16 years of legal status for British Sign Language with a celebration of what it means to be deaf in the 21st century.

After a five-year campaign, British Sign Language (BSL) was recognised by the British government as an official language on 18 March 2003. As the leading Higher Educational Institution in the UK for the training of BSL-English interpreters we asked the community to put on performance to celebrate this 16-year landmark.

Community marks 16 years of legal status for BSL.
Community marks 16 years of legal status for BSL.

Up to 100 people from the deaf and local community joined University staff, students and academics for an evening performance to celebrate 16 years of legal status for British Sign Language.

British Sign Language (BSL) is the first or preferred language of thousands of British deaf people. It’s also increasingly being learnt by hearing people who have an interest in the language.

Although BSL was recognised as an official language just 16 years ago – its origins can be traced back to the 18th century.

Compare Nicola Nunn welcomed everyone and introduced the University’s BSL and Deaf Studies and the performances began.

Judith Funnel, a local deaf person, signed a lovely anecdote about being a young deaf girl, and Rose Priestly, an alumni student and a sign language interpreter, performed a signed joke.

Alumni students used their talents for the next three signed acts. Wayne Sharples and John Stewart, from the Lancashire Deaf Services, thrilled the audience with visual renditions in BSL. Ricci Collins, a lecturer in BSL and Deaf Studies at the University, produced an incredible, culturally adapted folk story, Jack and the Handstalk. And second year student, Stella Mingay, bravely signed a narrative story in BSL about a caterpillar earning her the BSL nick-name, ‘caterpillar’.

The highlight of the evening was high profile deaf comedian John Smith. His 45-minute comedy show involved much audience interaction and non-stop laughter. Entertaining in deaf clubs and theatres countrywide, his stand-up talent, and ability to adapt, has taken him from his BSL-based comedy to presenting performances in International Sign across Europe. John, who’d already enlightened students on the visual aspect of BSL humour at an afternoon workshop, performed hilarious sketches on deaf culture and the differences between deaf and hearing people’s lived experiences.

The evening ended with a trip to the Guild Pub for continued discussions on deaf culture and laughter all around. The evening was thoroughly enjoyed by all, and one that put sign language and deaf culture at the heart of the whole event. It was also a boost for the local deaf community and our students, who returned to their studies with much more confidence and much more understanding of what it means to be deaf in 21st century UK.