Signs of Language & Signs of Change

At the end of November, Associate Professor Natasha Abner traveled to Utrecht University in the Netherlands to give a talk on Signs of Language & Signs of Change. The goals of this talk were twofold.

One, to develop a basic understanding of sign languages and the linguistic structure of sign languages, comparable to what one might accomplish in a presentation about Germanic languages. She reviewedthe structures of sign languages that appear to be general or common across languages, signed and spoken, as well as those that appear to be speech- or sign-specific. By examining the role of modality in language structure, we have opportunities to affirm, challenge, and advance linguistic theories.

Two, to reconsider the role of linguists in society. Linguistics is undergoing a sea change in regard to the position of linguists with respect to Indigenous communities or other marginalized communities they may or may not be a part of. Often absent from this conversation, however, is the position of linguists and linguistics with respect to deaf and/or disabled communities. By reflecting on the intersections of linguistics and disability studies, we again have opportunities to affirm, challenge, and advance linguistic theory — especially with respect to questions of ‘what language is’ and ‘how languaging is done’.