In Conversation: British Sign Language Poetry with SignSoc President Federica Rizzi

SignSoc President Federica Rizzi tells us more about the society and a little about what we can expect from the upcoming podcast...

In the run-up to Impact’s upcoming podcast on BSL Poetry, I had the chance to interview SignSoc’s very own Federica Rizzi! Read onto to learn more about the Sign Language Society and how you can get involved…

Tell me a bit about your society, how can people get involved and who should they contact?

Sign Language Society (also known as SignSoc) is a student-led group whose aim is to teach British Sign Language (BSL) and raise awareness about the Deaf community.

During our weekly sessions, led by a committee of currently seven people, members get to learn about what BSL is, how it works (e.g. different grammar, signing space etc.) and how it is used by Deaf, Hard of Hearing, Deafened, Deaf and Blind, and hearing people to communicate with each other. Every week has a different theme and a different topic, announced on our Instagram page via the “Sign of the week”, so that our members can build a broad vocabulary which they might use if involved in a conversation with a hearing-impaired person. Sessions are £1 for members and £2 for non-members.

“We try to keep a relaxed and fun environment for our members to enjoy learning a different language as much as about a different culture”

It’s easy to get involved! SignSoc meets every Tuesday 7-8pm in A41, Clive Granger Building (UP) and everybody is welcome to our sessions. Whether you have been a member since September and have gone weekly or know nothing about BSL and decide it’s time to learn – just come along and let a member of the committee know that you might need extra support.

Every week we go over the signs learned the week before, for people who missed the session, but also for “revision” purposes, and our committee members are more than happy to help if someone either falls behind or really has no clue what is going on! We try to keep a relaxed and fun environment for our members to enjoy learning a different language as much as about a different culture, and so far we have received amazing feedback.

To get in touch with SignSoc, people can either email us at or drop us a message on Facebook (UoN Sign Language Society) or Instagram (@UoNSignSoc) and we’ll get back to you before you can say “BSL”!

What are you most excited about for the podcast?

This podcast gives SignSoc the opportunity to raise more Deaf awareness throughout the university, which, at the minute, is not as Deaf friendly as it could be. As a society, one of our aims is to spread sign as much as we can, but obviously, it is easier to do it among students than to include staff and perhaps members of the public. The only issue with that, though, is that students – at some point – leave, and the university will have no one who’s trained in BSL and can welcome hearing impaired people. Therefore, we hope the podcast will help us fulfill our aims to a broader level.

“Poets create and perform poems in BSL only, so it is a completely different experience than spoken poetry as we know and are used to.”

However, we will also be discussing poetry in BSL, which is something that is not widely publicised outside of the Deaf community, despite being an extremely interesting topic. Poets create and perform poems in BSL only, so it is a completely different experience than spoken poetry as we know and are used to. Thanks to Daisy’s expertise we will have the amazing opportunity to talk more about this field of BSL and perhaps catch the interest of the University and make it more inclusive.

Lastly, we are extremely excited to work with Impact on this, as it is a student-written paper very popular among students, so featuring on the podcast with a topic so unique could help us raise awareness and get more and more people interested in what we do.

What’s the process been like regarding the collaboration between societies? Would you like to collaborate more across societies?

Collaborating with Impact has been nice and easy and I sure hope this collaboration could be repeated in the future. It is so amazing to know that a student-led magazine is interested in our society and what we do, as well as being willing to raise awareness about the Deaf community by starting a conversation surrounding this subject.

“being able to say that you’re learning Sign Language is a wonderful ice breaker when making new friends”

Overall, SignSoc has been collaborating with other societies for different events and projects, and we definitely hope to collaborate some more in the years to come! It’s always interesting to get together with people with other societies and see what they do and what their members are interested in.

Besides, being able to say that you’re learning Sign Language is a wonderful ice breaker when making new friends: it’s something not everyone is able to say, it’s different and opens the ground to so many different questions that conversation flows easily! When this is combined with learning about another person’s society, it creates a link between those two members as well as the societies, and I personally believe this is what the whole Student Union should be all about.

Explain a little about why you’re interested in the concept of BSL poetry in particular, why is it such an important topic and one that you yourselves and your society wanted to get involved in?

Before joining SignSoc in my second year, I knew very little about Sign Language but since then I have collected so much information that I only regret not doing it earlier. For example, I didn’t think BSL would have accents, meaning that a sign from Nottingham might be different from a sign used in London. So, with time, my knowledge deepened, and I learned about the existence of BSL poetry, which was completely new to me. Thanks to this project I had the chance to learn about it, and for this, I’m very grateful.

As a society, we want to get involved because this is yet another chance to fulfill our aims, as we would be raising deaf awareness not only by teaching Sign Language but also by introducing people to a strand of BSL not everybody knows about. We are lucky enough to say that Daisy Edwards is a “SignSoc Alumni”, and seeing her having done her dissertation and led talks on BSL poetry makes us nothing but proud to have worked with her in the past and to see her be our expert on this day. We are also thankful to her for teaching us about BSL poetry, so that next year we can expand our horizons and perhaps teach members about it as well.

Overall, this podcast is so important because it will help breach the barrier between the hearing and non-hearing world, opening eyes on a different reality, and making the university more inclusive and accessible.

Esther Kearney

Want to get in on the conversation? Look out for Impact and SignSoc’s upcoming podcast!

Featured image courtesy of Victoria Ramos.

Image use licence here.

Follow @ImpactMagazine on Twitter or like the Impact Entertainment Facebook page for more articles and information on how to get involved.


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