Fringe Show - Speech Sucks: The Future Signs

A photo of the Fringe Box Office.

August is a busy time in Edinburgh, there are many festivals with countless interesting and thought provoking shows taking place across the city. One event which caught our eye was entitled “Speech Sucks: The Future Signs”. The event was a lively public debate about the value of learning sign language in the 21st century.

Two academics from Heriot Watt University, Professor Graham Turner and Assistant Professor Gary Quinn, took it in turns to argue both for and against learning sign language. They provided many reasons to learn British Sign Language (BSL) and here are just a few:

  • Research shows that sign language stimulates more areas of the brain than using oral communication alone.
  • Learning sign language can enable you to communicate to non-English speakers, even if they haven’t learnt sign language.
  • Sign language is more relevant for young people to learn in schools than French or Spanish as they can use it immediately in their communities. It also teaches children about disability and inclusion.
  • The deaf community have huge economic value which businesses can maximise by teaching sign language to their employees.
  • Sign language is more descriptive than English as gestures also convey size and texture in addition to their English meaning.

Graham and Gary found it more difficult to provide reasons against learning sign language but they did suggest rather reluctantly that:

  • There are potentially as few as 22,000 sign language users in the UK. [This figure is disputed and there could be as many 156,000 users]
  • Sign language interpreters are expensive to provide and encouraging people to use English could reduce this cost. This point was later rebutted by highlighting the high cost of speech therapy and other alternatives to sign language.

At the end of event the audience voted on the issue. Rubber gloves were used to vote in favour of sign language and plates with lips drawn on to them were used to vote in favour of English. The result was almost unanimous. Learning sign language was declared to be both useful and valuable in the 21th century.

We interviewed Professor Turner after the debate to about the use of BSL in the UK. Read the full interview here.

Locations: Edinburgh

Tags: fringe, festivals

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