MSP Highlights Sign Language’s Regional Variation and Calls For its Recognition as Indigenous Scottish Language

Press release from Dr Bill Wilson. To read more please click here.

Dr Bill Wilson, an SNP MSP for the West of Scotland, a member of the Scottish Parliament’s Equal Opportunities Committee and a champion of the Scots language, has spoken out in support of the needs of Scottish ‘speakers’ of British Sign Language (BSL).

Dr Wilson said, “I cannot claim to be an expert on BSL, but I am knowledgeable about the Scots language, so I was intrigued to learn recently about the parallels between Scots and BSL. Sign language has all the characteristics of Scots and other spoken languages. It has its own vocabulary and grammatical rules. In Scotland the language has developed in the same way as Scots and other spoken languages. BSL in Scotland has been heavily influenced by the places where deaf people are found and the language has developed regional, cultural and social variants to the extent that there are now some significant differences between signing in England and signing in Scotland, and Scottish regions have their own variations. For example there is an Aberdeen dialect of BSL, just as there is a Doric dialect of Scots.”

“BSL in Scotland can, therefore, be described as one of Scotland’s indigenous minority languages, alongside Gaelic and Scots. Unlike these spoken languages however, there could be as many as 7,000 BSL signers in Scotland who cannot ‘speak’ any other language.”

“For this reason, I support Signature’s call for adequate access to public services through BSL interpreters and greater awareness of the language. Without this, many BSL-signers are effectively excluded from society, and this exclusion can significantly impact on their health and wellbeing.”

“It would not be necessary for BSL to be funded to the same extent as Gaelic (£27 million/year). However, both Scots (£565,000/year) and BSL (£545,000/year) lag significantly behind Gaelic in terms of their funding. I have often spoken of the case for adequate funding of Scots. As many BSL-signers cannot speak another language there is a powerful argument for it too to be better supported. It should certainly be recognised as an indigenous language and I would like to see it, like Scots, as a widely available option in schools and on the further education language curriculum.”

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