Scottish Finger-Signing Gets Its Own Documentary

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We often read about the struggle to document and preserve endangered spoken and written languages.  But what about disappearing sign languages? Deaf people all over the world have their own regional languages and methods of communicating, some of which are also vanishing.

For example, a new documentary by the Highland Council’s Deaf Communication Project aims to capture Scottish Highland finger-spelling before it is completely replaced by standard sign language. As project manager Jenny Liddell explained to the BBC:

“Older deaf people don’t use as many signs, but instead use their fingers to spell out individual letters. It sounds like a slow way to communicate, but in fact it’s amazingly fast and beautiful to watch, and its part of our heritage.”

To make the documentary, researchers recorded and edited approximately 9 hours of footage and spoke with 15 different deaf people who use finger-spelling to communicate.

In an article posted on the Highland Council’s website, researcher Jean Pentland said that finger-spelling is just as much a part of the local culture as Gaelic, and that it deserves to be recorded and preserved:

“I’m glad this project has been completed. It’s good for Gaelic that they get so much financial support, but our Highland Deaf language and culture sometimes gets forgotten about. I’m glad people will have the chance to find out more about our community through this film.”

The movie took three years to complete and was funded in part by a £50,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. It debuted on Friday, March 25th at Eden Court in Inverness, and copies will be distributed to libraries, museums and schools in Scotland as well as to the Highland Archive Center.

Scottish Heritage Lottery Fund head Colin McLean told the BBC he was “delighted that HLF has been able to help capture the legacy of Highland finger-spelling before it dies out completely.”