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March 21, 2003

You've got to hand it to them

From: ICNewcastle, UK - Mar 21, 2003

By Rosalind Miles, The Journal

The room was full of animated discussion yet barely a sound could be heard.

But to those in the know, the tell-tale North-East accent came shining through.

Deaf people from all over the region yesterday came together in an effort to make a permanent record of the regional differences which make signing as rich a language as the spoken word.

While the North-East accent is a source of much pride to the people of the region, few realise that sign language is just as distinctive.

"When you first meet a deaf person you can immediately tell where they are from", said Maureen Reed, a former TV presenter and translator, from Glasgow, now living in Newcastle.

"You can tell their accent from the signs they make. For example, the way Geordies say `car', is different from how everyone else in the country says it."

Experts say 70pc of sign language is the same across the country while 30pc differs according to region.

It is constantly evolving but so far no records have been kept. By tracing the history of regional signs it is possible to see how life in the North-East has changed over the years. For example at one time there were signs for shillings, pennies and half crowns.

Deaf people fear that these distinctive historical signs are at risk of being lost for ever and are seeking to preserve them.

Judith Collins, who is also deaf, is a teacher of sign language at Durham University. She signs with a Yorkshire accent, from where she grew up.

She said: "Historical signs are at risk of being lost forever as time goes on and society becomes more cosmopolitan."

To prevent this from happening, the North Tyneside group known as `On the Way' has been given £25,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund to make a detailed record of the region's signs.

The group will spend the next two years interviewing local people and creating a record which will be stored on video or CD ROM.

The group is concerned that the old dialect is preserved for the next generation of signers.

"New signs are always being invented," said Judith.

"Children have different ways of saying telephone to us because of the mobile phone text messaging. It is important to keep history of the language intact."

The group believe that since schools for the deaf across Britain were shut, sign language has suffered.

Maureen's husband Keith, a part-time teacher from Newcastle, said: "Children do not have role models to learn from without deaf schools or deaf clubs.

"We need to record the signs that were used years ago so young people can learn them and be able to talk to old people who use different signs."

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