A sign of the times: Sign Language Society

Alice Forbes talks to TCD Sign Language Society members, discussing the society’s place in campus life and the many opportunities they offer


“Involvement in a society like Sign Soc reminds you that while interacting with someone, it’s incredibly important to focus on them and give them your full attention

Last week I paid a visit to the hidden alcove of room six above the Atrium to get the scoop on one of Trinity’s smaller and less well-known societies, the Sign Language Society. Upon my arrival, I was assured by the Chair of the Committee, Kat Clinch, that I wasn’t alone in having little to no prior knowledge of the society. She admitted that many at Trinity are unaware of its existence in the first place, some even mistaking it for a “sign-making society”.  Speaking there with several committee members, I discovered what makes this particular society one of the most interesting and most beneficial to get involved in.

First of all, Clinch explained that many people tend to overlook or disregard the fact that sign language is itself a modern language, just like French or Spanish, with a unique culture behind it. Sign language is unique in that it’s all about expression. It’s extremely animated and there is an element of acting associated with it, making it very enjoyable to learn. As members of the society described, the language is incredibly interpersonal, and while holding a conversation through signing, a sharp focus on the individual you’re conversing with is essential. It has become all too common nowadays that while young people chat with friends, they’re partly absorbed in checking their Snapchat or scrolling through Facebook. Involvement in a society like Sign Soc reminds you that while interacting with someone, it’s incredibly important to focus on them and give them your full attention.

Sign Soc is not a society specifically for deaf people, but is fully inclusive, and involvement in the society gives you the opportunity to educate yourself about a new culture and learn a new language. Vocabulary seminars are held once a week on a range of different topics, with beginners being first taught the alphabet; on top of this, there are opportunities for members to sign up for weekly beginners’ and advanced classes taught by a qualified professional. “Signs of the Week” are also uploaded to Facebook and Instagram, constantly building the knowledge and vocabulary of members. I am told that a great number of Sign Soc’s members joined without any prior connection to the deaf community, and that they joined solely to gain an insight into a way of life that is different from their own.

There is also a large social aspect attached to the Sign Language Society. Weekly Sip’n’Sign meetings are held on a Thursday, with members having the opportunity to practice their sign language together while indulging in free tea and biscuits. The society also held a finger painting workshop together with Trinity Arts Society, as well as a charades night through sign language. Clinch admits that one of the perks of being quite a small society is that it’s easier for new members to interact and make friends, with a tight knit community developing as a result. I was also assured that the skills learnt through involvement in Sign Soc can often come in handy while trying to hold a conversation with friends in a noisy bar or club or on opposite sides of a window, not to mention when one is left without a voice due to a bout of Fresher’s Flu.

Involvement in the Sign Language Society also has many practical benefits. As Clinch explained, learning about another language or culture is always a useful skill in the workplace, even if it’s just a few words. As well as this, a certificate is presented to members if they choose to partake in the optional weekly classes, which can act as a beneficial addition to any CV. Playing an active role in a society with a minority element can be incredibly helpful too, as it teaches how best to include a deaf person in a social situation, and furthermore makes you more aware of other kinds of disabilities or impairments that other people may have. In recent years, Sign Soc has been involved in the ISL recognition campaign, putting useful information out there for college students, as well as attending protest marches and information evenings outside of Trinity. Involvement in the society, at its most basic level, encourages members—and college in general—to be more inclusive and to promote the rights of minorities.

Overall, whether you have a prior connection to the deaf community or whether you just want to learn about a new culture, the Sign Language Society is an incredibly enjoyable, educational and social addition to student life at Trinity.