BSL in its Social Context

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Unit works
Lecture Notes

How the Unit works

Stages of development of the unit

The introductory lecture introduces the key ideas that all living languages vary because the social setting of their users vary.  A particular theme running through the linguistics element of this unit is that English and BSL will show different social differences because the two languages operate in very different social contexts. Before it is possible to describe specific differences arising from social contexts, the students need to understand the variables within a language. Ideas of pronunciation, lexicon, grammar and discourse elements are described in session 2, in order to develop the working vocabulary for the rest of the unit.  The rest of the unit is essentially divided into three parts.   We first describe language according to the situation in which it is used (i.e. register differences).  Then, recognising that where a language is used is related to who uses it, we move on to consider language variation according to the user (i.e. dialects).  Regional and social dialects are described.  The dialects of older people are partly the result of social identity and partly the effect of language change over time.  This social dialect leads into the final section of the unit, which deals with language change.

Teaching and learning strategy

The students are expected to be pragmatic learners.  Most of the students are engaged in the process of learning new language, so the linguistics element of the unit is deliberately designed to aid the learning of the language.  Those students who are already fluent signers will not be expected to have an explicit knowledge or awareness of the wide range of social variation within the language, nor of the relationship between society and language forms. The theoretical element is complemented by a strongly practical approach to the language.  The language classes for this unit provide detailed examples of features of the specific register or dialects under discussion. At all times students are encouraged to apply their linguistic knowledge to the language they are learning.  The teaching format in the linguistics lectures reflects this strategy, with the constant provision of examples from BSL that illustrate the points made.  The students are required to find their own examples from sign language texts, in order to further develop their language and linguistic skills and improve their analytical skills of the language.

Formats to be used

Each linguistics topic is covered by one 50 minutes lecture.  This lecture is backed by a further one hour language class, providing tuition in the specific dialect or register forms.  There will also be 2 hours practical work, usually of video analysis.  The practical session is followed by 30 minutes discussion in smaller groups of issues raised by the lecture and the practical work.  A report is written on the basis of these three sessions.   This report is submitted within one week of the discussion session and returned with comments within a two-week period.


Block 1 (of Year Two for Deaf Studies students).  Each week there is one lecture (50 minutes), one class of 50 minutes, one practical (2 hours) and one discussion session (30 minutes).


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This page was last modified November 07, 2000