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Yvet
Ellenkamp

The Worth of Dutch Sign Language

Project details

Programme
Illustration
Practices
Social
Minor
Cultural Diversity

In ‘the Worth of Dutch Sign Language’ Yvet gathers stories of NGT-users and illustrates them.

Dear visitor, thank you for visiting my page! In 2019 I started to take an interest in Dutch Sign Language, I’ve always had a relation to visual languages – it’s why I became an illustrator – and since then I’ve been non-stop inspired by this physical language.

Stories have always been a main source of my creativity, these stories vary from my nightly dreams, to books, to lyrics of the songs I listen to. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been illustrating, drawing, sketching, doodling, whatever you want to call it, I just had to put it on paper. However, my interest for Dutch Sign Language sparked way later; in 2019. Stepping outside the ‘boundaries’ of the Willem de Kooning Academy, I went for a minor in Dutch Sign Language in Utrecht. I learned a lot; not only the basics of the language but also how the language hadn’t been recognised by the Dutch Government – which was shocking to me, since I saw how real this form of communication is; it checks all the boxes to be an official language – it has it’s own grammar, lexicon and structure (as proven by Stokoe in 1960). In this project I positioned myself as a sort of cultural anthropologist: an illustrator capturing interesting stories about this fascinating language.

top view of the table with a coaster “about the artist”

During the pandemic covid-19, the Dutch government broadcasted press-conferences on national television. Shortly after, our sign-translator Irma Sluis went viral and NGT (Dutch Sign Language) peaked in interest with her own interpretation of the word ‘hamsteren’ (hoarding) and people were dying to know more signs. I used this attention to my advantage, creating this project where I show the worth of NGT. 

I posted an open call on Facebook, asking NGT-users for interviews so I could figure out what NGT has added to their lives. Responses came from all places in the Netherlands and Belgium – even someone living in Bonaire! I ended up using 9 of those stories for this project. There were hearing impaired and deaf people involved, a translator, family and friends and someone like me; who had taken an interest in the language. I illustrated their stories and embroidered them on a table cloth.

side-view of the table

The round table stands for equality; everyone sitting at the table deserves to have their story heard. It shows the worth of NGT according to 9 users of the language. To give a bit of context; there are coasters supporting the illustrations, featuring short stories about the importance of NGT.  

all coasters on the table

the round table symbolises equality – every story is worth hearing.

The table has been used at the Tea Lab and Steijn in Rotterdam (both situated at ‘de Nieuwe Binnenweg’) where viewers could also share their stories about (sign)languages. A lot of responses rolled in; some about struggling with identities in a foreign language, a ‘deeper’ story from an anthropologist, stories about dialects and stories about Sign Language. I also illustrated these coasters; completing the circle. 

Thank you for reading about my project! If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at my e-mail: yvetellenkamp@hotmail.com