Crip Linguistics and Linguistic Care Work
Sharing a video I made about crip linguistics and care work for signed language interpreters. The video is a summary, targeted to signed language interpreters, of the Crip Linguistics paper co-authored with Jon Henner. Both ASL and IS versions available below.
Plain English version
Today, I want to talk a little bit about crip linguistics as a framework for thinking about signed language interpreting. Please do read the full version (link available in the introduction above). This was authored by myself and Jon Henner.
Our goal was to encourage people who work with languages in any way: as linguists, interpreters, assessors, educators, speech languate pathologists, language development specialists, etc in various contexts and settings to consider attitudes and perceptions about language through a Critical Disability Lens.
A critical disability lens allows us to understand how disability is used as a site of power, as rationale for inequality, as a measure to justify Othering people as lesser in various ways- lesser intelligent, lesser competent, lesser capable, and thus not worthy of full participation in society. Those attitudes question people’s capacity to have families, employment, or language and communication. This has been used as a concept throughout history to justify and perpetuate oppression toward various politically marginalized groups that might not have what we understand as traditional bodily impairments, e.g. women, black Americans, immigrants from outside Northwestern Europe, and so on. Even without what we would consider as impairments, marginalized groups are labeled as deficient and lesser competent based on bodily differences. Some examples include claiming that women would get hysteria or become sterile if they sought higher education or the right to vote.
Deficit perspectives were also used to justify enslavement by suggesting that black Americans had cognitive disabilities that barred self-governance or political participation or that they struggled with sleepiness and laziness and thus could not care for themselves. Those ideas were used to justify white slaveowners’ claims that they were benevolent caretakers of a population that could not care for themselves.
Immigrants would arrive on American shores and confront questioning as well as physical fitness tests as immigration authorities decided who could enter and who would be turned away. Those authorities had the discretion in how those tests were applied and measured. Those from undesirable ethnicities would be described through deficit lenses, bodily differences rendered more readily apparent as opposed to migrants from Northern and Western Europe. Overall, disability as a concept is used to judge and measure a body’s fitness for participation in society. For more on disability, gender, race, and immigration as sites of inequality, please read Douglas Baynton’s work. The references are available in the Crip Linguistics essay.
When we look at this critically, we understand how this is used as a tool of power and control. Part of resisting this is to reframe disabilities as a natural way of being. With that understanding, we understand that the language produced by those bodies is also natural. Those bodies and the languages they produce are not broken. There’s no such thing as broken languages.
Yes, we have broken systems. Broken educational systems, early intervention systems, language policies, and so on. Those systems and institutions are broken, but the bodies that exist within them are not inherently broken or deficient. The usage of the full set of tools at our disposal to communicate, including AAC, technologies, paper/pen, gesture, tactile touch, gesture, drawing,… all are valid tools to be used within communication. There is no way of using language that is better than another. Different modalities are equally capable of communicating complex information.
The major highlight here is that you cannot separate language from the bodies that produce language; you cannot separate those bodies from the societies and contexts they exist within. All the judgments we make about intelligence, capability, competence, are informed by our biases about disability, ability, language modality, appearances, gender, race, class, backgrounds, and so on.
Crip linguistics encourages us to consider the three following major themes.
Crip Time: languaging takes time. Sometimes some ways of languaging takes more time than others, e.g. having to incorporate additional semiotic tools, sometimes achieving fuller understanding takes more time, and that’s okay. We don’t always have to be on White Capitalist Time to be effective in communicating and meaning making. Language is relational and in that relationship, we need time to engage with each other.
Crip Technoscience: We should recognize technology is part of our toolkit for communication. AAC, speech to text, text to speech, whiteboards, paper & pen, internet search engines, dictionaries, etc are all important tools and do not take away from the languaging or exchange taking place. Disabled people, including deaf people, are masters at maximizing the tools available to us and in our environment to make communication work and even enrich our understanding of each other.
Linguistic Care Work: This recognizes everyone involved in the communicative exchange has agency and a role in ensuring understanding happens within an interdependent framework. This takes time, the willingness to incorporate various tools including technologies and bringing in language brokers to calibrate to each other, using multiple avenues and whatever necessary to achieve understanding. This also includes dismantling attitudes about whether or not a person can communicate. This is linguistic care work.
Those three major ideas constitute crip linguistics. Why crip? Crip is a verb and we want you to actively crip as in dismantle ableist systems and attitudes about languaging.