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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.


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:

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    • Programme

      Changes in the programme may occur.

      • Thursday 13 June

        08.00: Registration.

        09.00-12.00: Opening, welcome and keynotes.

        • Minister of Research and Higher Education, Iselin Nybø
        • Dr. Roberta Cordano, Gallaudet University: Invitation to a Paradigm Shift: Considering Needs of Deaf Children from New Perspectives
        • Rector Curt Rice, OsloMet
        • Coffee break (approximately 10.30-10.50)
        • Norwegian Association of the Deaf
        • The Norwegian Sign Language Policy, Norwegian Language Council; Åse Wetås and Sonja Myhre Holten

        L1 - (Sign) Language Acquisition in Deaf Children

        11.10-12.00: Professor Richard P. Meier, The University of Texas at Austin: Three Lessons from Research on Children's Acquisition of Signed Languages

        12.00-13.00: Lunch

        13.00-13.45: Dr. Melissa Herzig, Gallaudet University: Why Sign Language Matters: Research and Resources to Maximize Student Learning

        13.45-14.15: Associate Professor Johan Hjulstad, OsloMet: When sign language matters for deaf students: What do teachers and teacher educators need?

        14.15-14.30: Coffee

        14.30-15.30: Snapshots from Norway - what does sign language education look like today? 

        • Children’s right to sign language education in Norway. A look at the legal framework. Kjetil Aasen, Norwegian Language Council
        • Reflections from a class room where hearing teachers and deaf pupils show different communicative preferences. Charlotte Agerup, NTNU - Norwegian University of Science and Technology
        • Included? From an interpreter’s point of view. Gro Hege Saltnes Urdal, Western Norway University of Applied Sciences

        15.30-16.00: Discussion


      • Friday 14 June


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

        09.45-10.15: Professor Arnfinn Muruvik Vonen, OsloMet: See my language / Se mitt språk; parental training program in Norway - benefits and outcomes after 23 years

        10.15-10.30: Discussion

        10.30-10.45: Coffee

        Research on NTS - benefits

        10.45-11.30: Dr. Lindsay Ferrara, NTNU - Norwegian University of Science and Technlogy and Dr. Benjamin Anible, Western Norway University of Applied Sciences: Promoting a Norwegian minority language community through documentation and research

        11.30-12.00: Discussion

        12.00-13.00: Lunch

        Sign Language Ideologies and Recognition 

        13.00-13.45: Postdoctoral research fellow Maartje De Meulder, University of Namur: Multilingualism and language rights: how to make sign language matter

        13.45-14.15: Associate Professor Hilde Haualand, OsloMet: Public services in sign language - what does it take?

        14.15-14.30: Discussion

        14.30-15.00: Concluding remarks by moderator Joe Murray

        15.00: Conference closes

    • About the presenters – bios and abstracts

      • Roberta Cordano

        Roberta J. “Bobbi” Cordano is the 11th president of Gallaudet University (gallaudet.edu) in Washington, D.C. She is the fourth deaf president, and the first female president, in the university’s history. In office since January 1, 2016, Cordano has brought new energy and transformational leadership to the role, leading strategic planning, academic innovation, and new approaches to higher education service and delivery. She has also prioritized language vibrancy and the university’s contribution to the deaf and signing ecosystem by creating economic and leadership opportunities for deaf, hard of hearing and deafblind individuals. 

        A seasoned, proven administrator and leader, Cordano brings to her presidency skills and experience built in both traditional and non-traditional settings. She was previously vice president of programs for the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation in St. Paul, Minnesota. She also held leadership roles in the health care industry, with Allina Health, the Park Nicollet Institute, and Park Nicollet Health Services. Earlier in her career, she was an educational administrator at the University of Minnesota and an assistant attorney general for the State of Minnesota.  She was a founder of two charter schools for deaf and hard of hearing children in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. A 1987 graduate of Beloit College, Cordano received her Juris Doctor degree in 1990 at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She is fluent in American Sign Language and English. 

        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.

      • 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. 

      • 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.

      • Johan Hjulstad

        Dr. Johan Hjulstad is an associate professor at the Department of International Studies and Interpreting at Oslo Metropolitan University and is currently project manager for the Sign Language Promotion initiated at OsloMet. In his PhD research project in applied linguistics, he researched sign language teaching practices within a distance education setting. The project also involved being a visiting researcher at University of Texas at Austin (2012-2013). He has worked in Statped (the national service for special needs education) holding several positions relevant for sign language teaching, such as coordinator for the sign language teaching program for parents, head of section for the part-time schooling programme, and as senior adviser in the hearing impairment department as well as in the research and development department. In addition to the publications in connection to the PhD thesis, he has co-authored a review on research findings concerning learning among deaf and hard of hearing children together with researchers from NTNU Social Research.

        When sign language matters for deaf students: What do teachers and teacher educators need?

        In Norway, it is commonly said that the authorities have recognized Norwegian sign language as a full-fledged language and as one of the Norwegian minority languages. However, because the national educational authorities have failed to make sure enough actually qualified teachers are educated with sufficient sign language and sign language teaching skills, there is a significant gap between words and actions. Hjulstad will take as his starting point research results on the current situation regarding students with a right to sign language education in Norway. Along with the results from his own study, he will share some of his experience from working with skilled teachers in a former government run deaf school as well as less skilled teachers in mainstream settings. Despite the discouraging conditions for supporting teachers in providing a satisfactory sign language education for students, the main message is that we can do lot to change this. Hjulstad will discuss how we might close the gap between words and actions, and actually fulfill the rights of sign language learning students. But in order to do so, there is a need for a significant and substantial sign language promotion in order to make up for neglecting the need for high quality sign language teacher education programs as well as a supportive professional learning community.

        The Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research has during the last few years put a lot of effort into figuring out how the quality of teacher education programs should be improved through setting up a series of strategies specifying goals, expectations and various government measures. Thus, the Ministry has essentially provided a recipe for how it can also be possible to make sign language teacher education on a par with other kinds of teacher education. The task now would be to include sign language teaching as a specialization alongside other specializations, for it to be granted equal treatment. The three academic institutions that provide sign language interpreter education and teacher education, HVL, NTNU, and OsloMet, can make sure it will be done right. 

      • 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.

      • 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. 

      • 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.

      • 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.

        Public 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 and Benjamin Anible

        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.

        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.

        Promoting a Norwegian minority language community through documentation and research

        In this presentation, we will discuss the importance of (linguistic) research on and documentation of Norwegian Sign Language for the deaf community and the wider public. First, we argue that research and documentation will contribute to the preservation of this Norwegian language for the future. Second, we will show how language resources developed from research activities as well as findings from research studies can be used by the Deaf community to promote their culture and history. Third, we will show how these same resources and outputs create scientifically-based knowledge that can be used to increase critical language competencies in teachers, interpreters, and other professionals who work in the deaf community. 

    • 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.

    • Accommodation

    • Facebook event

      Facebook event for the conference: How Sign Language Matters (facebook.com)