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Watch: The Essay – Sign Language is My Language

Updated: Sep 15, 2022

Deaf people share their personal stories exploring the history, layers and nuances of British Sign Language with five different themes.

A ground-breaking series for Radio 3’s ‘The Essay’ that explores the history, layers and nuances of British Sign Language, framed through personal lenses to tie in with the passing of the BSL Act in Parliament- making it an official language of the UK with legal status.

With radio being practically an alien concept for most deaf people, five deaf people have taken the opportunity to write for ‘The Essay’:

In the first episode, Dr Robert Adam, a linguist in British Sign Language, explores the rich and layered history of British Sign Language and shares with us how Deaf people and sign languages have existed since antiquity. He also looks at how sign language survived the years when it was banned from society and has become the flourishing language it is today.

In the second episode of the series, Tina Kelberman shares her experience of growing up in a large deaf Jewish family. Her family has inherited deafness for six generations now and are probably also the biggest Deaf Jewish family in the UK. Tina talks candidly about how sign language is like any other language and so it evolves. Tina gives us examples of the evolution such as the telephone- how signs evolved from the candlestick phone to the mobile phone as we know it today.

For the third essay, Deepa Shastri, an actress and BSL consultant, shares how we are now entering a new era where deaf people are being represented on screen and on stage with the likes of Rose Ayling-Ellis picking up the Glitterball, Sophie Stone appearing in Dr. Who and Nadeem Islam making waves on series such as ITV's 'The Bay'- a far cry from the days where hearing people would take on deaf acting roles.

In the fourth essay, Dr Robert Adam returns to question who are the arbiters of British Sign Language? How can its evolution be managed? Robert talks frankly of how on various platforms we are now witnessing astonishing bastardisations of sign language, to the point that a BSL Watchdog has recently been established by a group of concerned deaf people. Will so-called, ‘proper sign language’ become a thing of the past?

In the final essay Chris Laing, an architectural designer, gives a personal account of how he started Signstrokes, which introduces standardised sign language for architecture. Chris shares with us the long, laborious process of creating new signs. Christopher asserts that not only are these signs useful for the deaf community - but actually seeing what words mean, helps everyone understand each other.

Out at 10:45pm on BBC Radio 3 from Monday 12th September to Friday 16th September.

The series is available to view also in sign language completed with audio waves and subtitles- giving deaf and hard of hearing people access to radio.

We hope you enjoy the programmes!

A Flashing Lights Media production for BBC Radio

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