Mary Brennan (died 23 June 2005)

MaryBrennanWe were very sad to learn of Mary Brennan’s death in Edinburgh at the relatively young age of 61 years.

Mary had been in sign linguistics for thirty years. Her first article “Can deaf children acquire language” in 1976 raised questions that were very new in Europe at the time. This she wrote while working at Moray House College of Education in Scotland. She always championed the rights of deaf people and worked hard towards creating respect in the linguistics world for the investigation of sign languages. She started the work on British Sign Language in Edinburgh in the early eighties. In 1987 she moved to Durham to start the Deaf Studies program within the Deaf Studies Research Unit, as part of the Department of Education at Durham University. Here she established with her colleagues diverse courses in interpreting, Deaf studies and sign linguistics thereby making clear that these fields have an academic status. In the same period she was also president of the International Sign Language Association that, just as the SLLS now, worked for the scientific acceptance of sign language linguistics and for a high level of exchange at international meetings. Her Ph.D. was awarded by Stockholm University in 1990 for a thesis on productive morphology, a work that is well cited in the field. She had a strong view on iconicity in terms of linguistic analysis but also in terms of its usefulness for deaf children. She wrote: “I wish to claim that BSL does not just exploit visuality, it also enables us to ‘see’ the meaning that is being expressed through visual imagery, particularly metaphor”. It was typical of Mary to have been so busy with her work for the deaf community that she didn’t get round to completing her Ph.D. thesis until 1990. At Durham in 1991 an international meeting on word order took place that resulted also in a significant publication. In 1998 she returned to Moray House and had been involved with courses for teachers of the deaf and the development of multi-media approaches to teaching sign languages. Her curriculum vitae is on the ADPS website where you can see her also signing the content.

The field and her colleagues will miss her greatly, not only for her great contribution but also her warmth, humanity and good sense of humour.

— The SLLS board