Mary Brennan

Internationally renowned sign linguist.

Dr Mary Brennan trained in English, philosophy and linguistics. At Moray House College of Education in Edinburgh, Mary established the 'Edinburgh BSL Project' to carry out research into the grammar of British Sign Language. In a seminal paper published in 1975 entitled "Can Deaf Children Acquire Language", Mary challenged the assumptions that underpinned the exclusive use of spoken languages in deaf education. It was also in this paper that Mary proposed for the first time that the terms 'British Sign Language' and 'BSL' be used to describe British Deaf people's use of sign.

In 1987, she moved to Durham University and became Co-Director of the University's Deaf Studies Research Unit (DSRU). Working with Deaf and hearing colleagues, she established the first taught MA courses in Britain in the Teaching of Sign Languages, Sign Linguistics, BSL/English Interpreting and Deaf Studies. The courses were taught in English and BSL, and were open to Deaf and hearing students. During the 1980s and 1990s, Mary carried out both theoretical and applied research in the field of sign linguistics, making an important contribution to advancing our understanding in this area.

Mary Brennan
Dr Mary Brennan

In 1998, Mary returned to Edinburgh to direct the University of Edinburgh's postgraduate training programme for teachers of deaf children and was appointed Reader in Deaf Studies in the Faculty of Education in 2002. At Edinburgh she established and contributed to a number of applied research projects in the fields of education and sign linguistics. The issue of access for deaf children and adults was a theme that ran through all of Mary's work. This concern was reflected in one of her last projects, a study of deaf students' access to higher education carried out for the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council.

Mary Brennan's research and teaching were characterised by the pursuit of excellence. This was, in Mary's view, essential if the new subjects of Sign Linguistics and Deaf Studies were to be accepted within academic institutions. She believed Deaf people had contributions to make that only they could make, but she also believed that hearing people could contribute to advancing our knowledge of sign languages, and enabling Deaf children and adults to realise their potential in our society. Mary was the recipient of a number of awards during her career. In 2004 MAry was awarded the British Deaf Association's Medal of Honour in recognition of the importance of her work to the Deaf community.

Dr. Mary Brennan: born 14th June 1944, died 23rd June 2005, from cancer after a long illness, aged 61.


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