Page last updated at 09:14 GMT, Friday, 19 June 2009 10:14 UK

Minority status call for signing

Sign language
A record of sign language use has been found dating back to 1575

Signing should be treated as an indigenous and minority language, a professor will argue at a conference on Scotland's "lesser used" languages.

Prof Graham Turner, of Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, will be a speaker at Voices of the West in Inverness on Saturday.

He said records of sign language in Britain could be traced back to 1575.

About 50,000 people use sign as their first or preferred language in the UK, fewer than speak Gaelic or Welsh.

Prof Turner said in terms of numbers of users and political support it received, it was in a minority.

He said there had not been the same scientific studies of signing as spoken languages.

Sign language is not an artificially created language
Prof Graham Turner

The first studies were carried out in America in 1960 and in the UK in 1975.

He also argued that it was indigenous and developed naturally.

Prof Turner added: "Sign language is not an artificially created language.

"There is a record of it being used in 1575 as part of a marriage ceremony where a deaf man used signs while giving his vows.

"Some of the signs he used then are the same, or very similar, to those used today."

In UK an estimated 50,000 people use British Sign Language as their first or preferred language, according to RNID Scotland.

The Scottish Government quotes census figures showing 69,510 people aged three or over as being able to speak, read, or write Gaelic - representing 1.4% of the Scottish population.

The Welsh Assembly reports 575,730 individuals speak Welsh - 20.5% of the total population of Wales.

Meanwhile, up to 400 people use Cornish, according to Cornish Language Online.

'Excellent opportunity'

Gaelic and Cornish will also be tackled at the conference being hosted for a second year by higher education institution, UHI.

Other speakers include Culture Minister Michael Russell, broadcaster Lesley Riddoch and Dr Christine Robinson, director of Scottish Language Dictionaries.

Mr Russell said the Scottish Government was committed to securing a successful, sustainable future for minority languages in Scotland.

He added: "They strengthen the distinctive cultural life of Scotland and are often the best way in which to understand our heritage.

"But they are also living languages, and Voices of the West presents an excellent opportunity to consider what more can be done to promote the languages and encourage even more opportunities for their use in daily life."

The conference has been organised by the Orkney and Shetland-based Centre for Nordic Studies, part of UHI.

Last year's conference called for a unified strategy to protect British minority languages such as Gaelic and Welsh.

Orkney-based expert Dr Donna Heddle said without one they would become "devalued and lost".

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