Afterthoughts on BSL

I am lucky enough to live almost next door to the Midlands Cultural Centre for the Deaf (which is open to the public for excellent lunches and snacks). The deaf and hearing people who run the centre are very welcoming and try to teach us bits of Sign. Contrary to what I was arguing in my last blog, most of the signs we try to learn are iconic (i.e. mimic the thing depicted) e.g. sausage roll, fish and chips. (Most of our vocabulary is food items.)

It is nice to see how relaxed and happy are the fluent Sign users – unlike our odd words, BSL is clearly a complex and arbitrary system, like any other language.

However, I sometimes watch the television programmes accompanied by an interpreter in BSL. It seems to me that they use a variety of semiotic systems, including lip-reading and finger spelling as well as BSL. I’d like to follow this up sometime.





I am disturbed to find that blogs that I thought I had put up in the last few months seem to have disappeared. I shall have to consult my webmaster!

My friends and I have been pursuing our linguistic interests by working through two books:

An Introduction to Forensic Linguistics: Malcolm Coulthard and Alison Johnson

Exploring Health Communication: Kevin Harvey and Nelya Koteyko

I thought I had reported some of the more interesting things we had learned on my blog, but apparently not.

It has been fascinating to see how linguistic insights can sharpen the work of two of the oldest professions – law and medicine. We have now moved on to the purely theoretical area of Pragmatics. We have taken the precaution of starting on a workbook, which has led us immediately to the most basic part of language study – and the oldest – which is Semantics.

I’ll delay sharing our insights until I make sure they are being received!

Our new book is: Pragmatics: Jean Stilwell Peccei.



Nominalisation is a key feature in my analysis of abstract language. The school texts which I analysed for Breakthrough to Learning contained many instances of nouns made from verbs (processes, such as condensation from condense) and nouns made from adjectives (conditions, such as warmth from warm). This linguistic mechanism (together with metaphor) makes it possible to consider abstract entitities and the relationship between them. Continue reading

To India and back: the inspirational journey of English Literature

 I’m reading Urszula Clark’s War Words: Language, History and the Discipline of English. Using Basil Bernstein’s model of the pedagogic device, she traces the formation of “English” as a subject in schools.

Last week I read Chapter 2 Language and Education in the Nineteenth Century. I thought I “knew” about this process in general terms at least, but there were many processes at work which I now see in a new light, and one that I had never heard of: the influence of the Indian Civil Service on the teaching of English Literature. Continue reading

BTL: based on Linguistics not Psychology

During the last few months I have been discussing Breakthrough to Learning with Diane Houghton, my good friend and in the eighties my colleague in the Department for English for Overseas Students at the University of Birmingham. I have been struggling to explain to her the academic basis of my work.

Last week I think we made a breakthrough. She had been expecting me to relate my work to cognitive psychology. The text which I commented on in my last blog – on the changes to consciousness made by literacy – are examples of work in this field. This was going on in the eighties at the same time as Breakthrough to Learning was being devised and tested. Continue reading

Creative Teaching and Learning

The Director of Imaginative MInds, Howard Sharron, republished in the last issue of Creative Teaching and Learning an article which I wrote for him in 2000.

He asked me to write an update to that article giving my views on why the Wigan Language Project, in spite of its proven success, failed to be more widely used. I enjoyed writing the article, especially putting the boot into a few of the chumps who blocked its dissemination. I have sent the article off to Howard and I hope it will appear in the next issue.