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On Matt Damon & BSL

I admire actor Matt Damon for his humility, rigour, adaptability and for the research he puts into each role. Watch any Damon DVD 'making of' feature and you'll find him loosing weight, putting it back on, working with real soldiers, learning new and difficult stuff and generally researching his parts. He studies, he thinks, he's serious about the chances life's given him. I respect him because he respects the paying audience. He puts in the hours and gets his roles right. And we get a more genuine show. I'm not saying others don't do this, but he's caught my eye.

Lacking the scale of Damon's resources I still decided to honour the spirit of his approach by booking a BSL taster session. I have an upcoming gig at a school for deaf children and wanted to at least acknowledge the styles of communication in use there. 

It takes around 7 years to become proficient in British Sign Language. My friend Carol's much further down the road than this and kindly offered me 70 minutes intro. I'll have an interpreter on the days I'm in school but at least I now know, thanks to her, some of BSL's cultural idiosyncrasies.

I can say hello, introduce myself, ask a question and ask what someone thinks. I can tell you to shut up but I won't be doing that. I know the alphabet and can sign it nearly as fast as a kettle takes to boil.

BSL is a whole body, whole person language. It distils out keywords and phrases to prompt signs, actions, expressions and movements. It cuts to the chase of meaning then gracefully and dynamically brings this to life in glorious 3D. It is language stripped back to its core only to burst out like Spring.

Imagine a blank workspace in front of you; bounded only by the reach of both arms. This is the space in which you magically bring language to life. In this cauldron there are no wasted words and many creative expressions. Signers and interpreters are guided by the BSL basics yet are free to create their own local speech, vernaculars, argots, dialects. In this blank creative space they are the artists, the dancers and craftspeople. Unbound by the spoken word they enhance and enrich meaning. This is holistic language.

After 70 minutes I was left thinking that BSL and its cousins around the world are the natural ways to communicate; the genuine methods of sharing meaning. What if this was so? What if spoken language disappeared for a day?

Now there's a film I'd like to see. Maybe staring Matt Damon....

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