The end of my study at UCL is fast approaching. I’m currently finishing up my dissertation project, an exploration of how fingerspelling in BSL can become “nativised” (more “sign-like”), and an analysis of what kinds of fingerspelling Deaf community members across the UK are actually using, based on narratives and conversations in the BSL Corpus. If it’s accepted, I’ll blog about my findings later in the year.
Fingerspelling is a representation of a writing system. The presence of written foreign language elements in a signed language is interesting on many levels, but problematic for some. Just like the dusty “Immortals” in the Académie française who presumably feel vindicated now that the Walkman brand of personal music players has died off, and German complaints about Überfremdung (“over-foreignness”) in the face of the spread of “Denglisch“, there are occasional pockets of resistance in the British Deaf community to signs which have a perceived “hearing” (English) influence.
These anxieties are fully understandable if looked at in terms of oppression or privilege. I don’t think it’s a total coincidence that English has one of the largest vocabularies in the world but is also the preferred language of some of the most invasive and destructive empire-building nations in history. Likewise, it is difficult to formulate a decent explanation of the British “Deaf identity” without acknowledging the role of hearing English-users as oppressors who insist that specific articulators and receptors are used in the production of language. Nonetheless, language mixing is inevitable for all but the most repressive of societies. It is arguably proof that a language is alive and thriving.