Sun | Sep 23, 2018

UWI offers degree in sign language

Published:Tuesday | August 12, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Sheldon Williams, Staff Reporter

PERSONS who are interested in learning sign language will be able to sign their way to a first degree next academic year at the University of the West Indies, Mona.

Applications are now open in the Department of Language, Linguistics and Philosophy for a Bachelor of Arts in Caribbean sign language, with classes set to start in September.

The programme will be offered on both a full- and part-time basis over three and five years, respectively, and will see students from countries like Jamaica, where the government subsidises the costs of degree programmes, paying $259,901 this academic year for fees. Students from non-sponsoring countries of the UWI will pay $433,126 for fees this year.

Dr Keren Cumberbatch, lecturer in the department and the only person in the world with a linguistics PhD with focus on Caribbean sign language, said diploma and BA programmes were introduced in 2006, but it was only extended to a select group of people who were referred by the Jamaica Association for the Deaf.

The first two members of the BA group will graduate in November.

She said the priority now is to prepare professionals who can communicate in sign language.

"We know that there is a gap in interpreters, so we decided to focus on preparing persons who would be working with the deaf rather than trying to prepare just a few interpreters," Cumberbatch said.

She added: "So we said, let's continue to focus on preparing doctors, dentists, nurses and social workers and so on, so that when the deaf go to the dentist, the dentist can sign."

Meanwhile, Cumberbatch has sought to justify the need for a Caribbean sign language degree programme.


"Signed English and signed language are two very different things ... . Signed English is an artificial language that follows English structure, and it was created for educational purposes to help teach the deaf English," she pointed out.

"Sign languages around the world all have their own grammars. When I use the term 'Caribbean sign language', I mean all the languages that are linked in the Anglophone Caribbean that have all the same mother sign language, which is American sign language, that is, a deaf person from Trinidad can sign with a person from Jamaica and they will understand each other most of the time," she explained.

Cumberbatch said that 15 to 20 students would be an ideal number to kick off the academic year.