Viðtal við samfélagsmiðla höfundinn Táknarar
This is an interview with Icelander Magnús Freyr, a Coda (a hearing child of a deaf adult) and creator of the Social Media Channel Táknarar (facebook – taknarar.is) that teaches folks simple phrases in Íslenkst Táknmal (ÍTM) – Icelandic Sign Language. His channel celebrates two strong years since its founding in October 2021. We recently sat down with him to discuss the creation of his channel, get a sample of deaf life in Iceland, and the steps one should take to learn this language which differs greatly from spoken Icelandic.
When Coda plays the interpreter with a rock lodged in his knee
IAC: You were telling me about a story that when you fell off your bike and your dad had to take you to the doctor to get you checked out.
M: I was pretty young, so, it’s kind of hazy but it was like it’s a core memory. I still remember it to this day that I fell off my bike. I went to… We went to the emergency room. We had to wait for some time, and I was finally escorted into the ER room and they check my leg and they start telling me stuff and I’m like… So my dad is like “what’s going on” and I’m really in pain because there’s a rock lodged in my knee and I’m six.
So the doctor just tries to tell him and I try to tell him through my pain what’s going on and what they’re gonna do. And my dad asked for an interpreter. And this is back in 98. So the doctor said “interpreter? But you have him.” [He] just points to me, in pain, holding my knee trying to explain. And, yeah, and my dad stood firm and said, “No, he’s your patient. I’m the parent. I deserve to get the information too. And he’s six years old.”
And I tell the doctor that. And yeah, and we had to wait. I think two or three hours more to get an interpreter over. And then there was also a dispute about who’s paying and because the laws were pretty new with getting like the interpreter should be paid by the state. And yeah, and it was a long back and forth there as well.
But we got the interpreter, we stood up for our rights. It took a while, I was in a lot of pain, but we got there in the end. Yeah, and that’s daily for Codas [“Child of Deaf Adult”] like me, just having to be the head of the household, like manage information that they shouldn’t have to know about. They should just be allowed to be kids.
IAC: Wow and during times when, like you said, you’re in pain.
M: Yeah. And that’s just daily.
The “Walkout of 1978” or “You can’t teach if there is no one there.”
IAC: The walkout of 1978. Your father was involved. Your father was in that as well.
M: He was pretty young at the time. So he was not like the older kids were spearheading that. I haven’t called anyone or anything. But that was like the big thing in Icelandic Sign Language history where they stood up. They said, “if you’re not going to teach me in my native language, in my native home, in the school meant to teach me. Then I’m out of here and you have no one to teach.
And they start to scramble.
It took from ’78 until 1980 to get it through parliament to make [it] that deaf children should be taught in sign language.
IAC: Wow. So really it took an act of political… social disobedience, if you will, to make…
M: Definitely because those kids were just shoved in the corner and handed off to specialists.
And they gladly just took them in like my father lived in a dorm from three and a half until 18.
And his family, my family, my grandmother, and grandfather, they lived in Akureyri, which is four hours now to drive, four or five hours to drive now. It was six to eight hours back then and sometimes they wouldn’t make it for Christmas. They wouldn’t make it for Easter. They wouldn’t make it for winter breaks; so he would often be left in the dorm usually alone over Christmas. And over holidays and luckily my grandmother has a sister that lived in Hafnarfjörður which is pretty close by — maybe a 40-minute drive. I don’t know how much it was back then but and he got to spend some quality time with his uncle, his nephew who was one year his junior, and they developed a sign language between them, and they have a strong bond today.
So yeah, it was tough living in those quarters and being in basically a dorm where you can’t access your parents. He can’t call them. He would write them letters. They wouldn’t get sent.
It’s just, if he could write because the school wasn’t like… My dad still has problems writing and doesn’t believe in himself when it comes to writing Icelandic.
M: Yeah. And he’s in 60s.
IAC: Yeah, that’s gotta be tough.
Two years old and more to grow on
IAC: Your channel is celebrating two years this month of October. So congratulations for one.
M: Thank you.
IAC: And secondly, how or what advice would you have to a young Icelander who might be interested in taking this up as a career, someone who might want to become an interpreter, or say someone that’s just interested in learning more about sign language in Iceland. What advice would you have for that person?
M: Yeah, definitely follow my channel, it’s free.
IAC: Of course, it goes without saying.
M: I mean, it’s a good way to get introduced to it, but if you’re serious about it and you have time and you are dedicated to learning about sign language, you should definitely go to the [SHH.is], the communication center.
They handle all teachings of sign language.
They’re the only ones who have official licenses to teach Icelandic Sign Language. They are the key to getting involved in sign language.
And maybe if you’re really interested, you should go to deaf events, and talk to deaf people and not just look at them through the glass and just try and communicate. Because deaf people are desperately trying to be understood. They will do anything to make you understand. It’s really fun to communicate with.
IAC: Excellent. And also to that, would you recommend any social events around Iceland, be it Akureyri or Reykjavik?
M: Yeah, Reykjavik is the Mecca of Icelandic Sign Language.
There are very few that are scattered about, I mean, just with the rights and everything, I would recommend Reykjavik.
It’s really the only place.
They have started teaching sign language in Akureyri. I don’t know how that is, but if they’re connected, since they’re connected with the communication center, they should be approved and they have the license to do it.
So, by any means… Yeah.
There are still challenges and there is still a chasm
IAC: Okay, and to the last point, I know there have been strides that Iceland has made as far as laws regarding sign language and access and accessibility for disabled folks. But in this day, what are some of the challenges that the deaf population still might still face?
M: While we still only get these news segments translated every day. Icelandic material is not subtitled for anything except maybe deaf news and the movies aren’t subtitled. Well, there was when there were DVDs but I was streaming and everything that It’s not there.
I mean, there’s still kind of on the outskirts of Icelandic society.I think that goes for a lot of minorities in Iceland and disabled people.
IAC: Okay. But do you think that with a new generation that might be interested in learning about sign language and deaf culture, would that push change?
M: The way I’m seeing it, people that are hearing impaired and that are with cochlear implants, they are motivated to go. They just go to their school for most part and they are treated as hearing. There’s a lot of focus on that and like Icelandic sign language which it’s going extinct.
That was one of the reasons why I started with my channel for free. It’s just to spread it out there, get people interested. So it’s a pretty bleak place right now. And like you have experienced, there hasn’t been a lot of communication. And they remain kind of closed to the hearing. I don’t know how to phrase it. They don’t want to get over the threshold of introducing hearing people and demanding that people that are hearing impaired get the free access and how to access it.
Language in danger
IAC: In ASL [American Sign Language], sometimes there is a fear because, you have a unique situation where there are more people interested in the language than there are people natively using the language. And that just has a natural byproduct of interfering with and maybe even changing how the language is developing. I’ve heard and seen a couple of articles1 talking about spoken Icelandic and the fear of English, kind of, you know, [where] a lot of the younger kids are just taking on more and more English words in daily language use. Is that a fear with Icelandic sign language as well?
Even I have experienced it because I speak Icelandic while I speak Icelandic Sign Language in my videos.
And there’s a fear from the deaf people that I am transforming what sign language will be in the next few years. I’m just hoping there will be a sign language in the next few years.
And if people were really interested in getting to know it, I recommend they go to deaf people and try and experience it for themselves. That’s how I learned. And like it’s not Icelandic and Icelandic language is not one to one because it’s really separate.
Lestu meira… / Read more…
History of [Icelandic] Sign language
Félag heyrnarlausra / Deaf Society of Iceland
Félag heyrnarlausra / Deaf Society of Iceland
Samskiptamiðstöð heyrnarlausra og heyrnarskertra / The Communication Center