Mann og kvinne som snakker tegnspråk med hverandre. / Man and woman speaking in sign language.

How Sign Language Matters

The conference brings together politicians, researchers, teachers, school leadership, and administrators for a discussion of how to strengthen sign language competence in society.

On 13 and 14 June 2019, OsloMet – Oslo Metropolitan University will host a conference that brings together politicians, researchers, teachers, school leadership, and administrators for a discussion of how to strengthen sign language competence in society.

Deaf and hard-of-hearing children in Norway have a unique right to learn, and to be taught in, sign language. However, in practice this right is rarely fulfilled. One important reason for this situation is the shortage of qualified teachers. Another reason is a lack of knowledge about how to ensure that this right is fulfilled.

While Norwegian Sign Language has a high status in political documents, we know little about how sign language can become a more integral part of public services.

During the conference, international and Norwegian researchers will share their knowledge about:
•    how deaf and hard-of-hearing children learn sign language
•    how to train those who will provide deaf and hard-of-hearing children with education on and in sign language
•    how to provide good public services for everybody, including signing adults
•    how research on sign language will benefit society

Keynote speaker: President Roberta Cordano, Gallaudet University, Washington, D.C. Roberta Cordano is the president of Gallaudet University, where American Sign Language is used in all programmes and services. Gallaudet University also houses a number of world-leading researchers in the field of sign language.

Registration and fee

The registration for the conference is now open. Please register by following the link in the yellow button at the top of this page.

Languages

The languages of the conference will be Norwegian Sign Language, American Sign Language, International Sign, and spoken English. 

Contact information

For questions about the conference, please contact:

  • Accommodation

  • Programme

    Changes in the programme may occur.

    • Thursday 13 June

      09.00: Registration.

      09.30-12.00: Opening, welcome and keynotes.

      • Minister of Research and Higher Education, Iselin Nybø
      • Rector Curt Rice, OsloMet
      • Dr Roberta Cordano, Gallaudet University: Invitation to a Paradigm Shift: Considering Needs of Deaf Children from New Perspectives
      • The Norwegian Sign Language Policy, Norwegian Language Council; Åse Wetås and Sonja Myhre Holten

      12.00-13.00: Lunch.

      L1 - (Sign) Language Acquisition in Deaf Children

      13.00-13.45: Richard Meier, Utexas: Three Lessons from Research on Children's Acquisition of Signed Languages

      14.00-14.45: Melissa Herzig, Gallaudet University: Why Sign Language Matters: Research and Resources to Maximize Student Learning

      15.00-15.45: Johan Hjulstad, OsloMet: When sign language matters for deaf students: What do teachers and teacher educators need?

      Discussion with audience - interactive Q&A session.

      Reception.

    • Friday 14 June

      09.00-09.45: Deborah Pichler, Gallaudet University: M2L2 Signers: Parents learning sign language as a second language

      10.00-10.45: Arnfinn Muruvik Vonen, OsloMet: See my language/Se mitt språk; parental training program in Norway - benefits and outcomes after 23 years

      Research on NTS - benefits

      11.00-11.45: Lindsay Ferrara, NTNU and Benjamin Anible, HVL: Promoting a Norwegian minority language community through documentation and research

      11.45-13.00: Lunch

      Sign Language Ideologies and Recognition 

      13.00-13.45: Maartje De Meulder, UNAMUR: Multilingualism and language rights: how to make sign language matter

      14.00-14.30: Hilde Haualand, OsloMet: Accessible services in sign language - what does it take?

      14.30-15.00: Concluding remarks

  • About the presenters – bios and abstracts

    • Richard P. Meier

      Richard P. Meier was educated at the University of Chicago (B.A., Anthropology, 1973), Washington University in St. Louis (M.A., Anthropology, 1975), and the University of California San Diego (Ph.D., Linguistics, 1982). After postdoctoral work in psychology at Illinois (1982-1984) and Stanford (1984-1986), he joined the faculty of the University of Texas at Austin. His research is inspired by the fact that there are two modalities, or transmission channels, available to human languages: the visual-gestural modality of sign and the oral-aural modality of speech.

      His publications examine the linguistics of signed languages and their acquisition by deaf children. He seeks insights into the ways in which linguistic organization and child language development are (or are not) shaped by the modality in which a particular language is produced and perceived. He has served as chair of the Department of Linguistics at UT Austin since 2006 and holds the Robert D. King Centennial Professorship of Liberal Arts.

      Three Lessons from Research on Children's Acquisition of Signed Languages

      In this talk I will discuss three lessons from research on children’s acquisition of signed language. 1) The human language-learning capacity is plastic. Spoken and signed languages are acquired by children on much the same developmental schedule, with similar milestones on the path to mastery. 2) Nonetheless, language modality matters. By “modality”, I mean the transmission channel in which language is produced and perceived. For example, the resources of the visual-gestural modality – in particular, its resources for iconic representation – allow the rapid innovation of language-like systems by deaf children of hearing parents. 3) Lastly, research on language development in deaf children has yielded unique evidence that early exposure to a perceptually-accessible language is crucial to children’s later language attainment. In particular, children need exposure to an accessible language early in childhood. 

    • Deborah Chen Pichler

      Deborah Chen Pichler became interested in linguistics and bilingualism as a young child, growing up in a bilingual English-Taiwanese household. Since 2002, she has been a member of the Gallaudet Linguistics faculty, teaching courses on first and second language acquisition and generative syntax. Her research interests focus on the acquisition of ASL by deaf children of deaf families (both with and without cochlear implants) and hearing bilinguals (coda children), as well as the acquisition of ASL as a second language by adults, particularly hearing parents of deaf children.

      Her recent publications include the video textbook, Sign Language Acquisition by Deaf and Hearing Children: A Bilingual Introductory Digital Course. It is presented in ASL by co-author Marlon Kuntze with English voice-over and is available from Gallaudet University Press at signlanguageacquisition.com.

      M2L2 Signers: Parents learning sign language as a second language 

      Deborah Chen Pichler, Professor of Linguistics at Gallaudet University, will discuss recent findings about L2 sign language development in the context of hearing parents of deaf children. Hearing adults who learn a sign language as a second language are known as "second modality second language signers", or M2L2 signers.

      Researchers have recently become very interested in M2L2 signers as a window into the potential impacts of modality on second language learning. However, most of that research focuses on college students learning a sign language as a leisure activity in a controlled classroom environment.

      In this talk we will focus instead on signing parents of deaf children, who learn sign language as an urgent necessity in a home environment, without the systematic assessment that is typical for classroom learners. Drawing on a series of interviews with parents of deaf children about their experiences as new signers, we will discuss the factors that motivate hearing parents to learn a sign language, the challenges they encounter as M2L2 signers, and the ways in which they integrate sign language into their family life. We will also explore current efforts to develop new family-centered sign language curricula that exploit the gestural resources that hearing parents already possess, optimizing their sign language development.

    • Maartje De Meulder

      Maartje De Meulder is a deaf postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Namur, Belgium, since 2017. She has degrees in Disability Studies (University of Ghent, Belgium) and Deaf Studies (University of Bristol). She obtained her PhD in 2016 at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland.

      Her research interests include sign language policy, sign language rights, sign language interpreting, multilingualism and sign language maintenance and revitalisation. Her work has been published in different journals and she has co-edited two volumes: Innovations in Deaf Studies (Oxford University Press, 2017) and The Legal Recognition of Sign Languages (Multilingual Matters, forthcoming 2019).

      Multilingualism and language rights: how to make sign language matter

      Sign language rights are paramount on deaf political agendas around the world and the subject of increased research attention. A major factor impacting on sign language rights is deaf people’s dual category status in public policy, seeing them not just as language groups but also as people with disabilities.

      This means that claims and justifications for sign language rights are often based on mixed motivations, while the dual status also impacts on implementation of those rights. At the same time, sign language rights have to be understood within complex multilingual contexts which impact on language choices. The implications of these changing contexts for sign language rights are not clear. This presentation will critically evaluate some of the claims and ideologies that have been put forward to promote sign language rights so far, and discuss how they might need to be adapted to respond to new challenges.

    • Melissa Herzig

      Dr. Melissa Herzig is the Education and Research Translation Manager and Director for Translation in the Science of Learning Lab on Visual Language and Visual Learning (VL2) at Gallaudet University. She is also the co-founder and assistant director for the Ph.D. in Educational Neuroscience program. She leads assessments and evaluates resources for working with schools. She provides bilingual training and workshops and facilitates two-way communication between researchers and educators.

      Melissa earned her B.A. in Biology at Gallaudet University and her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in ASL-English Bilingual Education and Teaching and Learning respectively at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). She worked as a scholar researcher at Salk Institute and San Diego State University and a postdoctorate at UCSD. She was a high school teacher for eight years and worked as a supervisor for student teachers and interns at UCSD and National University. Melissa recently founded a quality assurance review board for American Sign Language products: Signwise for Kids. Her areas of interest are in ASL/English bilingualism, literacy, and reading motivation.

      Why Sign Language Matters: Research and Resources to Maximize Student Learning 

      Dr. Melissa Herzig, Director of the Translation Lab at the Visual Language and Visual Learning, Science of Learning Center at Gallaudet, will describe the role of visual processes and visual phonology of sign languages in the development of higher cognition, learning, and literacy.

      She will share some language learning and instructional strategies that may be used at home and at school, and discuss intentional language planning for the classroom, and policy for the program and/or school. She will provide an overview of the resources that her center has developed, including research briefs and bilingual storybook apps.

    • Roberta Cordano

      Invitation to a Paradigm Shift: Considering Needs of Deaf Children from New Perspectives

      President Roberta "Bobbi" Cordano of Gallaudet University will share personal and professional anecdotes and experiences, together with research and best practices, to illustrate the point that the "best" option is not always obvious. President Cordano's presentation will highlight the importance of promoting bilingualism from birth to adulthood and the remarkable benefits in academic, cognitive, social development that accrue to deaf individuals who have access to a bilingual learning community from an early age. She will invite an opportunity to shift the paradigm of our thinking through different perspectives for consideration in Norway's policies and practices related to assuring that its deaf and hard of hearing children thrive and become active citizens.

    • Benjamin Anible

      Dr. Benjamin Anible received a PhD in Linguistics from the University of New Mexico in 2016. He works at the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences as an Associate Professor in the program for Signed Language and Interpreting. His research focuses on multilingual language processing, iconicity, and documentation of signed languages.

    • Hilde Haualand

      Dr. Hilde Haualand is an associate professor at the Department of International studies and Interpreting at Oslo Metropolitan University, Norway, where she is the head of the section for sign language and interpreting. She worked at Fafo (an independent social science research foundation) from 2001-2014 and has also been a visiting researcher at Gallaudet University (2005-2006). She completed her PhD in social anthropology from the University of Oslo in 2012.

      Some of her publications are on sign language interpreters and professionalism, sign language interpreting services and the impact on service provisions, the politics of video interpreting, disability, identity and marginalization, deaf people and transnational connections, sign language ideologies and. She edited the book Tolking – språkarbeid og profesjonsutøvelse (Interpreting – language work and professional practice) with Anna-Lena Nilsson and Eli Raanes in 2018.

      Accessible services in sign language - what does it take?

      Deaf people in Norway has an individual right to interpreting services that is quite unique, also compared to other countries where sign language interpreting services has been institutionalized for decades. The National insurance act defines interpreting as a means to enhance functioning in every day and work life. Deaf, hard of hearing and deaf blind people may request interpreter services at no cost, and the right is only limited by resource constraints, not legal limits. This has granted deaf people with a relative freedom to request interpreters, without relying on other institution’s willingness or ability to pay for the interpreting services.

      Sign language interpreting is however considered an individual service, and provision of sign language interpreters is not mentioned or considered part of accessibility and equality legislation. As a consequence, it is generally considered the deaf peoples’ responsibility to call for or bring an interpreter for encounters with public services, at the work place or in higher education, or in other words; it is deaf people’s work to make sure they can access public services. Public service providers have few, if any legal obligations to make their services accessible to clients who communicate in Norwegian Sign Language. In this presentation, Haualand will discuss Norwegian legislation related to provision of (sign language) interpreters, and discuss how accessible services in sign language can become a reality. 

    • Lindsay Ferrara

      Dr. Lindsay Ferrara is a signed language linguist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), working as an Associate Professor. She completed a PhD in Linguistics in 2012 from Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. She has worked in Norway for six years, and current research interests include the semiotics of multimodal interaction, language documentation, and adult signed language acquisition.

    • Arnfinn Muruvik Vonen

      Arnfinn Muruvik Vonen is a professor at the Department of International Studies and Interpreting at OsloMet – Oslo Metropolitan University, and teaches mainly in the programme in Sign Language and Interpreting. He worked at the University of Oslo from 1995 to 2011. From 2011 to 2015, he was the Director General of the Language Council of Norway, the Norwegian state’s consultative body on language issues. For many years, he was affiliated with Statped (the national service for special needs education). He became dr.art. in linguistics at the University of Oslo in 1994. 

      He has a broad interest in language diversity and has done research in grammatical typology, language policy & planning, and language in education. He has recently co-authored several articles about the recognition of Norwegian Sign Language. He is currently involved in several projects developing OsloMet’s international relations

      Se mitt språk [See my language]: Parental training in Norway – benefits and outcomes after 23 years 

      Since 1996, the Norwegian government has been offering a sign language training programme for parents of deaf children called Se mitt språk [See my language]. The programme consists of 40 week-long modules of full-time training offered systematically through the child’s childhood years, a scope that is internationally unique. Evaluations indicate high user satisfaction, although more systematic research would be welcome. In this presentation, apart from describing the essentials of the programme, I will discuss its effectiveness for the parents’ language learning as well as its impact on the language environment of signing children and on the role of Norwegian Sign Language in Norwegian society. 

  • Moderator: Joseph J. Murray

    Joseph J. Murray is Professor of American Sign Language and Deaf Studies at Gallaudet University. He is co-editor of Deaf Gain: Raising the Stakes for Human Diversity (2014, University of Minnesota Press); In Our Own Hands: Essays in Deaf History 1780-1970 (2016, Gallaudet University Press); and The Legal Recognition of Sign Languages: Advocacy and Outcomes Around the World (2019, Multilingual Matters). Dr. Murray has presented in over 40 countries around the world in his two decades of human rights work and is currently Vice President of the World Federation of the Deaf.