OVER a thousand years ago the Vikings invaded Orkney. They occupied the islands for more than 500 years and Norse influence is still strong in the language of Orcadians.
Now, at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, the suggestion will be made that there should be yet another linguistic invasion of Orkney – one that could have even more far-reaching consequences. The proposition, to be debated as part of the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas, is ‘Send the Deaf to Orkney!’
Taking part will be Professor Graham Turner, leader of the British Sign Language (BSL) team at Heriot-Watt University; and Jeff McWhinney, former chief executive of the British Deaf Association and now director of video relay company, SignVideo.
The question they will be debating is whether the Deaf community, who use British Sign Language, would not be better off if they all moved to Orkney, where 25,000 or more of them could establish their own linguistic community.
Here, in a defined geographical area, they could have complete access to all services, including education, employment, health and social services, in their own language, BSL.
Or would they be better off staying where they are – scattered across mainland Britain, where most of the population don’t know how to sign, and hence Deaf people often suffer from poor access to even the most basic services?
On the other hand, does the development of modern technology such as mobile phones and video relay services mean that things are looking up?
And if the deaf community did decide to decamp to Orkney, how would the present inhabitants react? Would they welcome a doubling of the population and the cultural enrichment another language might bring? Or would they find it difficult to cope?!
Orkney Islands Council’s chief executive, Alistair Buchan, is currently spending sleepless nights grappling with this question and will send a message to the event, which takes place on Tuesday August 20th at 3.30pm in The Famous Spiegeltent, 54 George Street. The compere will be comedian Susan Morrison.
VisitScotland’s Kirkwall Office have already pinned their flag firmly to the mast.
They’ve sent 100 Orkney flags to the event organisers, which will be handed out to everyone who attends. So come along and show what you think of the idea that Orkney should become a massive Deaf colony! Tickets – only £5 – are available from:
Beltane Network – Phone: 0131 650 4874/4875 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you would like to discuss ‘Send the Deaf to Orkney!’ further and/or interview any of the participants, contact:
Bob Duncan: 07709 426378 email@example.com
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