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To explain his research, Dr. Octavian Robinson, ’02 & G-’04, signs ‘Crip’ as in the world being thrown upside down. The associate professor of Deaf Studies and his collaborator, the late Dr. Jon Henner, E-’05, both began writing about ableist systems and attitudes toward language over the past decade. This led them to develop what they dubbed “Crip Linguistics,” a framework that recognizes that people have different ways of using language, and all of those ways are valid.

They co-edited a forthcoming book with Associate Professor Dr. Erin Moriarty on their ideas, and now Robinson is on a mission to promote their findings. “Presenting on these topics leads to more exposure to them,” he says. “It makes the information more accessible.

In the past few weeks, Robinson delivered a Crip Linguistics lecture at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts as well as a keynote address, “Quit Disordering Deaf and Disabled Kids’ Languaging,” at the 17th Annual Eleanor M. Saffran Conference on Cognitive Neuroscience and Rehabilitation of Communication Disorders at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Two other Gallaudet faculty members, Sarah Honigfeld and Dr. James McCann, G-’01, also presented at the conference.) Over the summer, he conducted a discussion at the University of California, Santa Barbara with Henner. 

After seeing a presentation on Crip Linguistics, Claribel Gonzales created this visual recap of the information.

These presentations give Robinson the chance to introduce Crip Linguistics as a theoretical and abolitionist framework, and explain how it can be used. “We’ve been surprised by how far and wide this has resonated — not just within linguistics as a field, but we’re seeing this applied in philosophy, history, literature, anthropology, speech language pathology, critical education studies, and so many other fields,” he says. “The folks who have most positively responded to our work are those who have commitments to dismantling racism, sexism, colonialism, and the such in their respective fields.”

But Robinson says that the reception to these ideas has been “interestingly mixed.” “Most of the resistance comes from folks who are invested in assessments, in supporting cochlear implants and oral approaches to deaf education, and the sort,” adds Robinson, who notes that the premise of Crip Linguistics threatens these groups’ beliefs and livelihoods. His hope is that everyone — particularly those involved in sign language work — will unpack their modality biases and develop different approaches to data collection and talking about language.

After publishing his book with Henner and Moriarty, Robinson plans to pivot to new research questions challenging norms: he is interested in how the deaf experience and the queer experience intersect through histories, narratives, and more.

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