Translating Astronomy: Developing New BSL

Back in November, the Division of Literature and Languages organised a 2-day workshop on Translation that kicked off with a fascinating session on BSL and astronomy led by Audrey Cameron of the Scottish Sensory Centre, Gary Quinn from Heriot-Watt University and Edinburgh Royal Observatory’s senior public engagement officer Tania Johnston.

Royal Observatory
Royal Observatory

Our Translation Master’s programmes have a very fruitful partnership with the Royal Observatory thanks to which our students visit the Observatory each year to meet with Science Communicators and the Observatory’s Librarian and to learn about ways in which strategies of translation, adaptation and communication can be used in a scientific context.

Through our links with them, we found out about a Scottish government-funded project involving the ROE and the Scottish Sensory Centre to develop new British Sign Language signs for a whole range of astronomical terms. Audrey, Gary and Tania’s talk in November gave us an opportunity to find out more about the project, how the signs are created, how terms were chosen and so on, with a practical demonstration of how the new signs are put into use thanks to a comet-making display.BSL Super Nova

Since then, the project has come on in leaps and bounds with over 90 new signs now having been created, video definitions of which can be accessed via the Scottish Sensory Centre’s website. As our partnership with the ROE evolves over coming year, we hope that our students will be able to learn more about this project and about other routes via which the Observatory seeks to make its collection and facilities accessible to a wider audience.

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