This week, I started creating content for the book that will eventually come out of this project.

Right away, I hit a huge problem.

One of the central ideas of the book is ‘Deaf space’, so one of the first things that the book needs to do is explain what Deaf space is, and then establish a way to talk about it throughout.

… and that’s tricky when I use the term ‘Deaf’ but I’m talking about a time well over 150 years ago, where a ‘community of more or less signing deaf people’ existed just as it does today, but where it was constituted quite differently, and where the signed, spoken and finger-spelled conventions of language and culture were quite different from ours.

St Saviour’s didn’t only cater to sign language users. It catered to all those who were audiologically deaf or wanted a visual service in some way. Sure, most of them signed, but some don’t appear to have done. Some learned sign there. Some probably didn’t.

I could talk about ‘visual spaces’ – but that seems very mechanical. ‘Visual’ doesn’t carry the same weight of culture and long-term knowledge. Nor do they have the idea of ‘identity’ or ‘belonging’.

And I can’t really talk about ‘deaf’ spaces – that would be wrong for too many reasons, particularly since it was a language issue and not audiology that brought about the church anyway.

And I can’t talk about ‘sign language spaces’ – because there is more than just language at play. Many deaf non-signers came to St Saviour’s, and had more in common with the signing deaf people there than they did with the hearing. And many hearing people there signed, and it’s clear that St Saviour’s wasn’t a place aimed at them.

I got around this in my PhD by referring to people who were ‘DEAF’ – in other words, I used Deaf people’s own sign for DEAF, as a way to refer to ‘other people who are the same = DEAF’. It was a word from inside the Deaf community.

That works OK in an academic thesis, but in a book for public consumption… it’s much more difficult.


2 thoughts on “Language

    • If i’m honest Rob, not yet.

      I think it’s clear that wherever there is an historic use, for example, of ‘deaf and dumb’ then it’s OK to use it… In other places, can we call ‘deaf and dumb’ people ‘Deaf’ – well maybe, but that is a term that comes from the 80s, and that has a very specific politics attached. St Saviour’s catered for more than that… it was a church for anyone whose deafness oriented towards a visual form of communication. There are some very clear instances of people who were deaf (but not so much Deaf) and who simply used fingerspelling.

      I know there’s a gentle move in Deaf Studies (particularly from those in anthropological areas) to go back to ‘deaf’ as a way of pointing out the inclusive nature of visual communication for a much broader base than simply those who are native signers.

      Maybe we’ll follow suite!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *