‘Home language’, ‘Main Language’ or no language: questions and answers about British Sign Language in the 2011 British censuses (Mark Sebba and Graham Turner)

This fascinating paper is in press in the journal Lingua here (the link is valid until August 7th).


The 2011 census in the UK was the first to ask questions about the use of languages other than the indigenous Celtic languages, Welsh, Irish and Scottish Gaelic. The resulting broadened inquiry included asking about the use of British Sign Language (BSL), the acknowledged language of the Deaf signing community in Britain. Official and public attitudes surrounding signing – its relationship with spoken/written language; its linguistic ‘validity’; its territoriality or universality; its association with ideologies of disability – are rarely placed on display as they are via the census process. The formulation of questions, their linguistic expression, and the responses elicited may all be seen as indexical of societal positioning.

In the UK, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland each conduct their own census, so the question about sign language was differently phrased in each jurisdiction, and placed alongside a different set of questions about other languages. Thus in each questionnaire the sign language question was contextualized differently, and was open to comparison by respondents with the questions about other, more prominent languages including English. Unsurprisingly, this led to different responses to questions which were ostensibly asking about the same thing.

In this paper we describe how the census questionnaire in each jurisdiction asked about respondents’ principal language, and how British Sign Language was positioned in each. A significant difference in the wording of the question – about ‘home language’ in Scotland and ‘main language’ elsewhere – led to a far larger proportion of respondents mentioning BSL in Scotland. We conclude that while the ‘home language’ question produces a more realistic picture of the extent of BSL use, neither question is sufficient to reveal the complexity of the repertoire of many bi- and multilinguals. More generally, the wording of questions about principal language may crucially affect the responses of users of minority languages.

Digital personalization in young children’s reading

Today I’m starting a new series of blog posts.  I intend to announce notable new publications by friends of the Literacy Research Centre.  Number one is:

The future-gazing potential of digital personalization in young children’s reading: views
from education professionals and app designers, by Natalia Kucirkova & Rosie Flewitt in Early Child Development and Care, 190:2, 135-149

Here’s the abstract:

This paper reports on UK primary school teachers’ and children’s app developers’ views about the potential of using personalized digital resources to promote young children’s reading and play with ‘smart toys’. Many existing digital resources are ‘personalised’, that is, the content of a story or game is tailored to an individual child, and the content is adjusted to the needs and preferences of a specific user (either by an adult, such as a parent, or through algorithmic calculation by digital software). In this study, we focused on the role of digital personalization in children’s play with smart toys and in early reading with personalized books. Focus group interviews were conducted with 10 primary school teachers and 14 book and digital industry professionals, and the resultant audio-recordings were analysed using inductive thematic analysis. A dominant theme was participants’ association of digital personalization with the potential both to enhance and to jeopardize children’s and adults’ agency. Overall, the convergence of the digital and personalized aspects in some books and toys constituted a source of concern, with different views offered by the teachers and designers.


I had the pleasure of working with Natalia in a project, New Purposes, New Practices, New Pedagogies (NP3) after which we wrote Gillen, J. & Kucirkova, N. (2018) Percolating spaces: creative ways of using digital technologies to connect young children’s school and home lives. British Journal of Educational Technology 49(5) 834-846. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjet.12666. I worked with Rosie Flewitt in DigiLitEY. Together with Helena Sandberg, we’re currently working on editing a special issue of the Journal of Early Childhood Literacy on : Children under 3 at home: the place of digital media in their literacy practices.
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SRHE conference papers

I enjoyed delivering two papers at this year’s SRHE conference at Celtic Manor in Newport (Wales), the first of which was on my research of student assignment writing and the second on the Academics’ Writing project.

The Prezi for the first one is here (unable to embed in wordpress), and the paper is linked to in a previous post.

The argument that some of the practices drawn into students’ academic tasks could be described as ‘curation’ stimulated some good discussion around plagiarism, assessment frameworks, the literacies that assignments are supposed to assess, and information literacy skills. Some of the tweets below encapsulate these ideas and, overall, I found the discussion useful for my forthcoming book on assignments.


The second paper, on the Acads writing project, is here:


There are definitely strange things happening to disciplines in Higher Education. Since identities permeate academics’ writing practices for research, teaching, and even admin work, the paper generated a lot of interest and discussion afterwards. Some of these were also tweeted about:

The original version of this text is from my personal blog.


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