Navigation for Sunday Morning

8:12 Insight: Tonga – The Future

After the death of Tonga’s King, Pacific Affairs Correspondent Karen Mangnall considers the way ahead under the new King, and the challenges that he will face.
Produced by Philippa Tolley.

8:40 Stella Rimington – Spooking the Spooks

Dame Stella Rimington worked her way up the ranks of Britain’s internal security agency, MI5, to become its first woman Director-General. Nowadays she writes spy stories and says her fictional hero, Liz Carlyle, is allowed to say and do things that Stella couldn’t during her early days in the male-dominated world of spying. Stella talks to Chris about security issues, terrorism, and what she thinks of the TV show Spooks.
Dame Stella Rimington’s latest Liz Carlyle novel, Rip Tide, is published by Allen & Unwin. She’s speaking at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival which starts next week.

9:06 Mediawatch

Mediawatch talks to TV3’s political editor Duncan Garner, who's preparing to step down from the job. Critics say he’s too aggressive, provocative and opinionated – but that’s fine by him. Mediawatch also looks at a bid by broadcasters to head off more rules and regulations; memorable media moments from John Banks' clashes with reporters this week; and how armed Kiwis roaming the high seas might make great TV – but not great TV journalism. 
Produced and presented by Colin Peacock and Jeremy Rose.

9:40 Rachel McKee – Sign Language

It’s New Zealand Sign Language Week and, in our monthly language slot, Dr Rachel McKee talks to Chris about the online dictionary of NZSL; some common misperceptions about sign language; and what difference – if anything – having the status of an official language has made.
Dr McKee is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, Victoria University.

10:06 Anne Sebba – “That Ghastly Woman”

Author Anne Sebba’s biography of Wallis Simpson sets out to set the record straight on the woman blamed for the abdication of King Edward VIII. Anne doesn’t pull any punches on the nature of the insecure and social-climbing Simpson, but also reveals what drove her. She says Wallis became trapped in the relationship with irresponsible Edward, but ultimately did the UK and Commonwealth a favour when he stepped away from the throne because of her.
Anne Sebba’s book, That Woman, The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, is published by Hachette.

10.40 Dougal Stevenson – The Rickety Bridge

Cruising through Central Otago, Dougal reflects on the fate of the Clutha River, and wonder whether any government is going to be brave enough to say “hands off”.

10:45 Hidden Treasures

This week on Hidden Treasures Trevor Reekie features a wonderful local compilation, He Rangi Paihuarere: Interpretations of songs composed by the late Dr Hirini Melbourne.
Produced by Trevor Reekie

11.05 Ideas: Haiti

In the first of an occasional new series – countries in focus – we take a look at Haiti. Arguably the first truly free country in the Americas and without doubt the first country on earth to outlaw slavery, Haiti’s history is as inspiring as it is tragic. Laurent Dubois – the author of ‘Haiti: The Aftershocks of History’ – tells us about some of that history; and we talk to Haitian orthopaedic surgeon Ogedad Pierre – currently studying at Otago – and nurse Robyn Couper who spent more than 30 years living in Haiti and is heavily involved in the Hearts and Hands for Haiti project which aims to set up a school of physiotherapy in Cap Haitien.
Presented by Chris Laidlaw
Produced by Jeremy Rose

11.55 Feedback

What the listeners have to say on today’s programme.

Transcipt of Interview with Dr. Rachel McKee

Chris Laidlaw: Time now to take another of our looks at language. This last week has been Sign Language Week, so we thought it might be a good idea to learn a bit more about New Zealand Sign Language, and who better to ask than Dr. Rachel McKee, senior lecturer at the School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies at Victoria University, and a specialist in sign language. Nice to have you along.

Dr. Rachel McKee: Thank you, Chris.

Chris: Sign Language Week is a big thing for people in the Deaf community. What happens? Tell us about it.

Rachel: Well, the purpose of New Zealand's Sign Language Week is really to promote awareness that this is a language and awareness that the language is really crucial to the involvement of deaf people in New Zealand society.

Chris: Yeah. What is actually happening? Have there been gatherings, events?

Rachel: One of the main things that happens during New Zealand Sign Language Week is offering free, what they call taster classes, encouraging people in communities all over the country to go along and experience learning a little bit of sign language for about 45 minutes. I think it makes a big difference for people to just have a hands-on experience of what it means to communicate with a deaf person in sign language and actually to interact with a deaf person as a sign language user, because it's still quite rare for people to bump into people on a personal level.

Of course, New Zealand Sign Language is an official language of this country, now, so it's quite important to the Deaf community that they do things that advance their profile and help people to understand why it's important and why it is an official language.

Chris: It's a bit of a poor cousin the official language community, in that sense. I'm interested in what is actually being done, essentially, to try to give it the kind of backbone that it needs. Quite clearly, there is a case for a lot of people, a lot of us, who hear perfectly well to pick up a few of the basic greetings and so on. There's a real beauty in it, as well. Every time you watch somebody speaking in sign language it is glorious to watch. That status as an official language, what does that confer on sign language, in practical terms?

Rachel: Just going back to your comment that sign language is a lovely thing to watch, that's a very interesting and, in a way, a modern perception, because the reason that New Zealand Sign Language was given official status is really to address the fact that it has a very long history of being suppressed as a language in this country. Up until the 1980s in New Zealand, it was certainly regarded as something quite less-than-language like. It wasn't a language that was approved for use in schools with deaf children, and deaf people who used sign language in public were very much aware of that carrying some kind of stigma.

It's really quite a modern thing in New Zealand that sign language has first of all been acknowledged as a language. Now that, certainly that people are realizing it's actually--not just that it's a language, but it's really crucial for deaf people's connection to society and ability to learn and ability to access information.

The granting of official language status in the New Zealand Sign Language Act, I think, was mainly an acknowledgement that it is really crucial to deaf people's social equity. It came from a social justice kind of...

Chris: A rights perspective.

Rachel: A rights perspective, yes.

Chris: When did it start? It began, as I understand, in this country in the 1880s.

Rachel: In 1880, that was the first time that a deaf school existed in New Zealand. Having a school, or especially a residential school, for deaf children is the way that deaf people can form a collective. You can't have a sign language unless you have deaf people coming together and interacting regularly with each other. The place that normally happens is a school for the deaf. From 1880, we had a school for the deaf in Sumner, Christchurch. That's what brought deaf people together and allowed them to begin communicating with each other informally through this language.

We know that New Zealand Sign Language is closely related to British Sign Language and to Australian Sign Language. It belongs to that family of languages, but it's not entirely clear how the first seeds of British Sign Language came into the Deaf community in New Zealand. But obviously our immigration base was from the UK.

We assume that there perhaps were some deaf families that came out or deaf young people who'd been schooled in England using that language, perhaps some teachers of the deaf who brought it with them. That formed the basis for the language, but now it's evolved into a local form of New Zealand Sign Language.

Chris: Yeah. Do you have any idea where sign language actually originated? Was it the UK, or was it somewhere else in Europe? Do we know?

Rachel: The difficulty with that question is that we can't really say sign language. We have to say sign languages, because sign languages evolve in different countries and in different places all over the world, wherever there are clusters of deaf people. In actual fact, every country or every major territorial space...

Chris: Spontaneous combustion.

Rachel: ...absolutely. Has its own language. The language in America is called American Sign Language, and that's quite unrelated to New Zealand Sign Language. The language is Hong Kong is completely unrelated to any of our sign languages. Sign language is local, just as spoken languages are. If you think about it logically, there's no way to really maintain and transmit a universal language. We know what happened to Esperanto. [laughs]

Chris: Yes, that's true. These people will do their own thing. But it is a common perception that sign language is this kind of universal thing. That deaf people all around the world can communicate with each other in this particular way. There must be similarities, though. If you take--you're trained up as an American Sign Language speaker. If you only had that, would you be able to communicate with a New Zealand Sign Language...?

Rachel: I'd be able to communicate, but I wouldn't be--I'd be recognized as speaking a foreign language. I would be able to communicate in a sort of contact language, is what linguists would call it, in a kind of hybrid way. It is true that deaf people from different countries are actually really adept at communicating with each other. The way they can do that is that there's enough commonality in the use of gesture and space and facial expression. They can cobble together, very efficiently, a kind of inter-language between them.

But that looks quite different to how it would look if they're actually using their own language fluently. They're good at communicating, but they are distinct languages.

Chris: Is there international dialog between practitioners? Do they come together in various parts of the world?

Rachel: Yes, yes. Deaf people are actually highly organized, both nationally and internationally. For example, there's an international sporting body, which is called the Deaf Olympics body. They run a large deaf athletic competition internationally every four years. There's the World Federation of the Deaf, which is like a political advocacy body. That's kind of like the Deaf UN, in a way. The deaf national works come together, and they formulate policy recommendations and advocate for common things.

At those fora, where deaf people come together internationally, they are very adept at communicating across international boundaries, partly through a set of signs which are known as international signs, so there is kind of an Esperanto-like code called Gestuno.

Chris: There is an international...

Rachel: There is, but it only exists in those contexts. It's not something that anybody would use naturally.

Chris: This is purely for convenience.

Rachel: Yes, absolutely, for particular purposes. The other thing that's happening today, too, is that American Sign Language is almost becoming a bit of a lingua franca, like English is the second common language of the world. Many deaf people who move in international circles will have some command of American Sign Language, and they use that.

Chris: The American language - spoken language - has taken over most of the world, so now sign language is going to do the same.

Rachel: I guess it's power in numbers. Also, not just that, but actually America has been the center for higher education for deaf people around the world, so many deaf people from other countries have gone to a very prominent university in America, which is Gallaudet University...

Chris: Oh, yes.

Rachel: ...and acquired higher degrees there. That, of course, then sends out a diaspora of educated people who have used American Sign Language as a second language.

Chris: Yeah. Is there any consistency around the world, in terms of either law or guidance as to on what occasions sign language would formally be used? Do you know what I mean?

Rachel: I would say there's not consistency. There has been, over the last 15 years, a move for more and more countries to recognize their national sign language in some form. New Zealand is one of about 10 countries which has legally recognized its sign language. Then, there are scores more which have policies and perhaps lower-level measures that recognize their sign language.

You will see things, increasingly, like perhaps at political occasions, where there'll be a sign language interpreter. A number of countries will have sign language interpretation on their television news broadcasts. Things like, perhaps at big sporting events, you'll see interpreters.

Also, because of the Internet now, you'll see more and more websites where you can click on a link and see information translated into sign language, particularly websites to do with service provision, things like health and education and welfare. Things that deaf people need access to information.

Chris: My question is, is there a standard set of requirements that a government will say, "Yes, sign language will be required in these contexts, as of the law?"

Rachel: Well, that's an interesting question. Each country that legislates or makes policy about sign language will choose the domains in which they want to prioritize. However, in 2008 New Zealand ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. That is a very high-level international instrument, which actually spells out that the states that ratify that must promote and protect sign languages in the domain of education, particularly, through their education systems, and in other areas such as justice and healthcare provision and, generally, in providing access to civil society.

That instrument has not yet been, I think, properly implemented.

Chris: We honor it in the breach.

Rachel: Exactly. It's not been implemented yet in New Zealand, properly.

Chris: Why is that, do you think?

Rachel: A lot of it is to do with, perhaps, resourcing. If you decide that you will grant practical language rights, it costs a lot of money. Governments are always aware of that, so the NZ [indecipherable 11:56] that we have didn't actually create any new practical resources for the language. It just says that we recognize it as official. We formalize the right for deaf people to have sign language interpreting in courts, which in fact already existed, and there are some principles to encourage government departments to make their services accessible.

It didn't, for example, create anything like the Maori Language Commission, which is resourced to actively promote maintenance of the language.

Chris: Is there agitation to have something akin, perhaps more modestly, than the Maori Language Commission?

Rachel: Yes, there is definitely a feeling in the deaf community that there needs to be some kind of entity that is a little bit more proactive in monitoring and addressing some of the gaps where deaf people really do need practical measures.

Chris: Yes. You've been involved with the online dictionary. Tell us about that. How does it work?

Rachel: The online dictionary is something that's come about as a result of this amazing medium we have now, the Internet, and digital information. It's based on a previous dictionary, which was completed in 1997, of New Zealand Sign Language, so all the basic research went on earlier. What we've been able to do is now move it onto an online platform so that people can see the language much more directly. They can search for a sign, and they will see a video clip of the sign. We've also been able to provide examples of how the sign is used in a sentence, what it actually looks like in the natural grammar and syntax of the language for the deaf person signing it.

If you're a learner of sign language, and you've seen a sign and you don't recognize it, you can search for that sign by choosing features. For example, what was the hand shape? What part of the body was the sign made on?

You can search by the sign itself, which is quite an advance, in that it means it's really a bilingual dictionary. You can search through English, or you can search through signs.

Chris: Fascinating. I read the other day that submissions on the MMP Review can now be made in sign language by use of video. That is a sign of things to come, isn't it?

Rachel: Definitely. That's a great innovation. That's come about because, recently, an enterprising couple have set up an online sign language translation service. For example, if you're a deaf person and your sign language is much stronger than your English literacy, you can send in a video clip to this translation service of yourself signing your message - say, your submission on the MMP form - and they will translate it into English prose for you.

Or vice-versa. If you're a government department and you want to consult with the deaf community, you send in your English script, and they'll translate it to a video clip for you.

Chris: Let's hope we see a lot more of that. Thank you, Rachel. That was Dr. Rachel McKee, Senior Lecturer in the School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies at Victoria University.