Finally, the first IPSL workshop was held today (1st October 2009) at the DU-NTPC Centre of the Equal Opportunity Cell (EOC) of the University of Delhi. I was apprehensive whether we will have enough to occupy the students and faculty members who had come all the way from IGNOU (as a part of the B.A. in Sign Language 4 year integrated course) for two hours. As it turned out, not only did we have enough material, we went beyond 2 hours and we wanted some more. The interest and the enthusiasm that the students (almost all of them deaf) showed made it worth our while to initiate this event. Like most gatherings among the deaf, this too was no exception in terms of the high level of interest and the obvious hunger for knowledge shown by the students. We at the EOC, especially Prof. Agnihotri, Hidam and myself were extremely happy that it has been a successful beginning and it already promises to be an important event every month in the Capital’s calendar of activities centring around the deaf and Sign Language. I was very glad that Sibaji had also brought Dharmesh, Geetanjali and Robindro along with the many students.
We started the proceedings with a short discussion with Sibaji about the feasibility and the need to integrate a component of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) for the deaf in the already successful ICT short-term certificate course that is being run at the Centre since the last year. Sibaji promised to publicise the course and also help us recruit an appropriate instructor for the same. The course will be run from July 2010 at the Centre. We also requested Sibaji and his team to help us run an advanced course on Sign language (Level 2) from the next semester (January-May 2010) at the Centre, as a sequel to the Level 1 course being run at the moment. It was pointed out that there may be other potential students who have completed A-level from other Institutes in Delhi interested in such a course. Sibaji also lent us several copies of Sign Language Studies journal and also a book edited by Ulrike Zeeshan on Negation and Wh in Sign language.
I welcomed the audience and hoped that they will all benefit from the presentations and following discussion. The newcomers to the mailing list we requested to join the list and initiate discussion and even ask for information with regards to deaf issues and IPSL. Joining the list is easy, follow the instruction given at this site. An introduction about the nature of the event to be held every last Friday of the month was outlined and it was emphasised that it remains mainly academic with the social aspect of increased interaction between the deaf and the hearing.
Sibaji Panda made a power point presentation on the topic “ISL Standardization: The Current Scenario” and outlined the need for standardization, the past attempts and a model of unforced propagation of one dominant variety out of the several dialects in terms of dissemination through production of materials through that variety in consultation with linguists and sign language teachers. He entertained several questions from the audience about nature of similarity and difference with between the situations in sign and spoken languages, distance between the varieties from a potential standard variety as well as within the varieties, the nature of variation (in terms of vocabulary but not so much in terms of grammar), etc. Very importantly he drew up a chart of ‘gains’ versus ‘losses’ of standardization and posited questions for the audience to pontificate and discuss about whether or not standardisation is a good ting and whether or not we should go for it. One conclusion that I drew from the presentation is the justification for standardisation in sign language arising out of the need of bringing the deaf community together – it’s like demand for recognition of a minority language (and not several varieties within one community); obviously, we need to keep this aspect in mind when we compare the standardisation procedure as practiced for spoken language and sign language.
The next presentation was by Hidam Gaurshyam of the University of Delhi on the linguistic notion of “Incorporation in Sign Language”. The presentation brought out clearly the unavoidable consequence of incorporation in SL given one of the main differences between spoken and SL, that is of the distinguishing aspect of the latter to be able to use language through different modality, e.g., non-manual marking or space. As a consequence it is likely that in SL it is possible to incorporate, for example, the adverb to the verb; so, instead of using separate signs for ‘walk’ and ‘slowly’, the latter incorporates into the former producing a “composite” big word like “walk-slowly”, except that the graphics of the writing system does not allow one to view the simultaneity of the two words ‘walk’ and ‘slowly’. In fact, to bring the point home forcefully, one might want to depict it as follows:
Hidam then went on to show that all verbs don’t allow incorporation, it is only when action, undergoer and path are together that a verb is able to incorporate. In this context the model of Ramchand (2008) was recalled. As this was a technical topic, students had some difficulty in understanding the point being made at the beginning but during the question-answer session, the importance of Linguistics in studying SL was brought home and the essence was understood by all.
At the closing session, the audience was invited to make short presentations at the next meeting in addition to presentations by Sibaji, Hidam and others. It was also announced that the next workshop will be held on 30th October at 3:30 pm and the first presentation will be Prof Rama Kant Agnihotri on “The Linguistics of Standardisation”.