Sign language standardised for astronomical terms

Scottish glossary breaks down communication barriers

October 10, 2013

Astrophysics is among the subjects being made more accessible to deaf students through the British Science Language Glossary.

The glossary is designed to help overcome communication barriers in science and mathematics by creating signs for terms that previously had no sign language equivalent and standardising their use.

“Before the glossary, teachers and interpreters spent a lot of time trying to explain some of these very technical terms, and it’s often too time- consuming to fingerspell. Many words just couldn’t be translated,” said Gary Quinn, a deaf linguist and teaching fellow at Heriot-Watt University.

The signs, being developed through the Scottish Sensory Centre at the University of Edinburgh in collaboration with the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh, include “Saturn”, demonstrated by the rings around the planet, and “Mars”, which incorporates the fact that the planet is orbited by two moons.

The glossary team, including Dr Quinn and Audrey Cameron, a deaf chemist and schoolteacher, compiled the latest 75 astronomy terms by working with a group of deaf scientists and linguists. They will be added to the 850 signs across physics, biology, chemistry and maths compiled since 2007.

Unlike previous standardisation efforts, the project aims to find a sign related to the meaning of the concept, while respecting the principles of sign linguistics.

“We discussed science-related vocabulary and how the concepts relating to these words could be presented visually,” Dr Quinn said.

While some were quite straightforward, more abstract or theoretical terms proved more of a challenge, he added, citing as an example the signs for “mass”, “density” and “gravity”, which are all based on the same hand shape in an effort to reflect their relationship in nature.

The team is running interactive shows to raise awareness of the glossary, including a “BSL science soiree” at the Manchester Science Festival on 2 November. The astronomical terms will also be used by the Royal Observatory as part of its work to engage the deaf community in demonstrations later this month.

elizabeth.gibney@tsleducation.com

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

Monster behind man at desk

Despite all that’s been done to improve doctoral study, horror stories keep coming. Here three students relate PhD nightmares while two academics advise on how to ensure a successful supervision

opinion illustration

Eliminating cheating services, even if it were possible, would do nothing to address students’ and universities’ lack of interest in learning, says Stuart Macdonald

Sir Christopher Snowden, former Universities UK president, attacks ratings in wake of Southampton’s bronze award

Female professor

New data show proportion of professors who are women has declined at some institutions

Reflection of man in cracked mirror

To defend the values of reason from political attack we need to be more discriminating about the claims made in its name, says John Hendry