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The Secret Sign Language of 1970’s Sawmill Workers were expressed through Gestures?

About three-quarters of their language overlapped with those of the British Columbia and the American Sign Language.

A sawmill in the interior of Australia, circa 1900. Image source: Wikipedia
  • The history of sign languages inside American mills dates back to centuries
  • The language was also used to exchange bulks of technical information and instructions
  • The automation in industries drastically reduced the usage of sign languages among workers

“You crazy old farmer!”
“Full of crap”
It’ll be easy for anyone to guess that the above words must be that of a conversation between two high school hipster kids. However, pondering over the usage of ‘farmer’ would surprise many of us like it surprised the researchers Martin Meissner and Stuart Philpott when they visited sawmills in British Columbia in the 1970s.

Another fact of surprise is that the above words were not spoken by the mouth, but expressed through gestures and sign languages. As unbelievable as it might seem, the workers inside sawmill factories communicated with each other through signs and symbols as late as the 1970s. They were so well versed in the system that one could even tell when a foreman was “f**king around over there.” Not only this, the language was also used to exchange bulks of technical information and instructions on how to cut wood, and so on.

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Linguists and researchers Meissner and Philpott studied a particular factory where they found about 157 signs ranging from communication of their trade work to passing crude comments or teasing colleagues. “Ingenuity and elegance” of the hand signs struck both the researchers who were equally fascinated by the owner’s oblivion of the entire language system.

The history of sign languages inside American mills dates back to centuries. In the present day scenario, people often develop “alternate sign languages” to communicate what words cannot. In religious places, especially monasteries were talking is disliked between sermons, monks use sign language to pass important messages. In textile, steel or engine industries where noise predominates the surrounding, workers have always found ways of communicating through gestures or signs.

A lumber Industry. Image source: Wikipedia
A lumber Industry. Image source: Wikipedia

It was Popular Mechanics in 1955 to cover industrial symbolic languages with a record depletion in the practice. It was only in the 1970s with the findings of Meissner and Philpott that a particular factory was found to be practising the same. Mainly standard numerical systems were jotted down in a technical notebook, as the researchers noted in their study, “in the view of the management, that was about all there was to the language.”

Through the system, quitting time, lunch time, bets placed on games, or cigarette breaks could be communicated. The workers also talked about cars, wives, colleagues or joke about things going on without the knowledge of their bosses.

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“Big shot there,” as a worker pointed to the boss was interestingly noted during the study. Later, it was discovered that the boss was sitting with three women, one of who had a great figure, said the worker. The worker “then drew a rectangle with his index finger and pointed to the head sawyer’s operating cubicle, wanting to liken the woman he described to the calendar nude behind the sawyer,” the researchers wrote. “She’s my girlfriend,” he told the others.

Tapping the wrist was a gesture to ask the time, clutching the bicep to indicate “weak” or “week”, up-and-down movement suggested a woman’s breast, recorded the researchers.
The technical signs were generally learnt by workers within six months but to learn more linguistic terms for everyday conversations, was more the kind of thing among older workers. It was popular among men who were open to everyone knowing what they shared with their friends.

Machines replaced workers. Early 20th-century sawmill, maintained at Jerome, Arizona. Image source: Wikipedia
Machines replaced workers. Early 20th-century sawmill, maintained at Jerome, Arizona. Image source: Wikipedia

About three-quarters of their language overlapped with those of the British Columbia and the American Sign Language. Another linguist, Robert Johnson met a retired sawmill worker at Oregon a few years after Meissner and Philpott published their research. “When it comes to feelings, you have real problems…You can say you’re angry…But other feelings are so subtle and complex….”, says the wife of the retired worker who had gone deaf and used to communicate with his family through the sign language. The family had signs for mirror, shave, quiet, fish, church, etc. In case of difficulty in expressing emotions, his wife asked him to simply write down what he wanted to say.

During their study, Meissner and Philpott had observed that automation in industries drastically reduced the usage of sign languages among workers. Despite the practice of using sign languages in less noisy industries like those in radio stations, the system is rare to be found today.

-by Maariyah, an intern at NewsGram. Twitter: @MaariyahSid


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Censorship in India: Protection or Supression?

The power of films was recognized long ago and they have been controlled ever since

Censorship in India, the power to stay in power
Censorship in India, a suppression of the free speech or a motive to protect the vulnerable? Pixabay

New Delhi, November 6, 2017: Film, as one understands, is the basis of all motion pictures and both the most persuasive and pervasive form of communication in the contemporary world. Following the development of technology, films have become much more ubiquitous and accessible. It is quite apparent that films have a lot more to them than just the purpose of entertainment. Not just a communicator of ideas, a film is also a crucial pedagogical tool that facilitates learning, spreads awareness, and motivates participation from the audiences. It is an efficient medium to help audience rethink their place in the world and to encourage them to do something for good.

Noting how influential films are as a medium of communication, the topic that
always remains hot is Censorship.

Censorship is not something that can easily be placed in the category of good or bad, in fact, both its supporters and those against it, have broken their necks to justify their arguments.

Films can change attitudes, inspire people and influence them in the deepest of ways. This was recognized long ago when the 1925 Russian film, Battleship Potemkin, was banned across the world as its story and visualization were deemed so powerful that it had the potential to arouse social outrage.

The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) takes charge of Censorship in India. The board commands directors to remove everything it deems as offensive, on a regular basis. The CBFC has failed to convince a large audience with the reasons that it provided for the ban of certain films in India. One of these films is “Lipstick under my Burkha” which is the most recent film to become extremely popular for its ban in India. The reason that CBFC gave for the denial of certification to the film was that it is “Lady oriented”, which apparently, none can consider to be valid. If stifling the voices of women can be justified under the name of censorship, the very idea of it is threatening and must not be entertained.

Also readFacebook quietly develops Censorship Tool to re-enter World’s Second Largest Economy China after 7-Year Ban. 

Udta Punjab was also in limelight for the 94 cuts that CBFC demanded in the film, some of which included removal of the names of Punjab cities, the name of the state itself and the name of a dog which was called Jacky chain. There are many other films where the grounds on which the Censor board asked the filmmakers to cut scenes are unacceptable and sometimes plain hilarious. “Phillauri” makers were asked to mute Hanuman Chalisa as it failed to shoo the ghosts off.

The argument that the supporters of censorship usually give is that it is only in a perfect world, where children wouldn’t be exposed to films inappropriate for their age, where every person recognizes the boundary between film and reality, would censorship not be necessary; but the fact is that we don’t live in a perfect world. Censorship, as they call it, is just the step to protect the vulnerable in the society.

The people against censorship, however, shrug this idea off, and do not hesitate to call censorship in India, an incentive for the people in power to stay in power.

In principle, government holds a responsibility to make the art accessible to whoever is interested. However, with a country as diverse as ours, both absolute freedom and strict censorship could be problematic. The heterogeneity of citizens suggests the varying needs, sensibilities, attitudes and therefore, one needs to strike a balance.

-Prepared by Samiksha Goel of NewsGram. Twitter: goel_samiksha

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Warning Signs of Radicalization : Understanding What Makes a Terrorist

The internet is an irrefutable aspect of modern life. But do you know what your child is doing online?

What motivates children to join terrorist outfits and participate in extremist activities? Pixabay
  • Radicalization is the process by which young individuals are introduced to a blatantly ideological message that accompanies extreme views
  • Over 50 per cent of the radicalization operations carried out by terrorist organizations are conducted over the internet
  • Parents must observe any change in their child’s behavior to gauge potential radicalization

New Delhi, September 4, 2017 : Imagine looking at a video of adolescents in camouflage, wearing ISIS bandanas in a barren dessert, learning hand-to-hand combat. Imagine ISIS fighters wielding long daggers standing behind them, wearing black scarves that mask their faces.

Imagine watching these masked men address the government; they claim that the government is no longer fighting an insurgency but an entire army of young adolescent recruits- kids who should have stayed in school.

ISIS has made shocking progress in expanding its operations in recent times due to the upsurge in enthusiasm that would-be jihadist from all parts of the globe demonstrate to join their fight in Iraq and Syria.

However, one of the most frequently asked questions about terrorism traces the very root of the matter.

Why do children join terrorist outfits and participate in extremist activities?

The ISIS runs an elaborate operation that targets, manipulates and eventually recruits young people to believe and uphold their twisted ideologies- a process understood as radicalization.


What is radicalization?

According to a report published by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in 2009, radicalization is understood as the process by which young individuals are introduced to a blatantly ideological message that accompanies extreme views.

While radicalization is not always negative, it becomes problematic when it culminates into acts of violence, a phenomenon common to organizations like ISIS, IRA and Al Qaeda.

Over 50 per cent of their radicalization operations are conducted over the internet- a space flocked and dominated by young, impressionist minds.


Online risk of radicalization

According to John Horgan, a psychologist at UMass- Lowell who specializes in terrorism, terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda, and ISIS can be viewed as amateur psychologists, who are also adept marketers. They provide youngsters, usually very young people, with a ‘one time offer’ and encourage them to act fast.

These extremist organizations make use of internet and the social media to communicate and spread their messages, and recruit people to join their forces.

In an attempt to brainwash and lure young individuals to join forces, their messages usually present extremist vision as an exciting alternate to the ‘mainstream’.

ALSO READ Pakistani Militant Group Tehreek-i-Taliban (TTP) Now Targeting Women as New Jihad Recruits through their Magazine

Who are most vulnerable to radicalization?

Personal attributes or local factors can make an individual more susceptible to extremist influence. An absence of a positive, supportive force can additionally accelerate the process of radicalization.

  • Children struggling with independent identity

Some children can have a hard time accepting the culture they practice, which can make them question their place in the society. Young children tend to struggle establishing a sense of independent identity which often makes them vulnerable to extremist influence.

  • Personal circumstances

Instances in a child’s personal life such as fights within the family, or undergoing any trauma can increase their vulnerability to radicalization. Extremists prey on children with low-self esteem, who harbor feelings of injustice, such as those who believe they have been subjected to racial discrimination.

Additionally, kids who feel detested by their peers or abandoned by their family members are also at a greater risk of harboring feelings of vengeance that can motivate them to indulge in extremist behavior.

  • Emotional response

Kids who seek adventure and excitement tend to indulge in activities just for the adrenaline rush, without thinking about the consequences. Additionally, kids who yearn to dominate or control others and those who are comfortable with violence can also be an easy target for radicalization.

  • External factors

A child can also be influenced by what he experiences in the local community, country or when exposed to people who have joined any extremist group.

  • Criminal background

Individuals with a previous criminal background or those who find it difficult to integrate with the mainstream society after serving sentence in a jail, or a reprimand home may also be at a greater risk.

  • Exposure and indulgence with technology

Additionally, kids who spend increasing amount of time online, or have no supervision on their online interaction are at a greater risk.

FILE – Indonesian youths browse their social media accounts at an Internet cafe in Jakarta, Indonesia. VOA

Signs of Radicalization

There is no single route to radicalization- it can either occur quickly, or over a long period. Sometimes, there can be clear warning signs that can intimidate you when a child acts out of character. But, sometimes, these changes may not be very obvious,

  • Change in appearance and personal relationships

Young individuals may distance themselves from people, bring a significant change in their appearance and dressing style and refrain from activities that were previously a part of routine.

  • Change in political orientation

The children may exhibit sudden indulgence in a particular behavior or growing interest in politics especially relating to trouble areas. They may additionally become intolerant to those who do not share the same beliefs as them (other religions, races and ethnicity) and may begin to look down upon them.

ALSO READ How a young Astronomer from Turkey turned into an Islamic State Fighter

  • Change in online identity

A change in the online identity of the individual such as changing their username on various social media accounts or the profile picture. Alternately, the individual may make two parallel profiles- one being the ‘normal’ one and the other used for extremist purposes, more often than not with a pseudonym.

Spending long hours on the internet, being secretive and showing reluctance to divulge personal details and information about their whereabouts also comprise suspicious behavior.

  • Additional signs can also include a growing fondness, sympathy or justification for extremist ideologies, increasing interest in accessing more extremist material online, being in contact with extremist recruiters or jihadis, etc.

Exhibition of one of these signs does not necessarily mean that a child is being radicalized. They can also point out to other issues that a child might be facing, such as depression.

At the heart of it all is – COMMUNICATION.

Talking to children regularly and honestly is the best way to keep them safe. Making sure that the individual is safe online is also of equal importance.

An individual undergoes several changes during adolescence that can either make children react in different ways. As a parent, you should try and recognize these changes and trace their roots. Also, we would suggest addressing all issues, rather than simply ridiculing or ignoring them.



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Discussion leading to an Argument? 5 Steps to be Followed to learn the Art of Perfect Conversation!

Honesty, brevity, clarity, empathy and a good amount of healthy listening are the most important ingredients of a great conversation.

bad news
How to deliver bad news to people? Conversation is an art that can be mastered. Pixabay
  • Most conversations today have the potential to turn into an argument 
  • A balance between listening and talking is what results in good conversations 
  • Honesty, brevity, clarity, empathy and a good amount of healthy listening are the most important ingredients of a great conversation

New Delhi, July 31, 2017: Most people, at least once, have unfriended someone on Facebook because the latter said something that offended them. Almost all of us know a person, who we go extraordinary extents to avoid talking to, and another person who we would love to have a conversation with, any hour of the day. What is it that when mastered can make a person look approachable, and the lack of which can make him look dull, boring, or simply unpleasant. It is the art of conversation.

Most conversations today have the potential to turn into an argument. We have become more polarized than ever. The tendency to prove one’s point and unwillingness to listen to the ideas/opinions of others have made us, what we call as, bad conversationalists.


We all have had conversations where one feels engaged and inspired, where one believes that they have been perfectly understood, noticed or valued. A balance between listening and talking is what results in such conversations.

Eye contact, the strategy of picking up an interesting topic, nod to show you’re listening and repeating back to show you understand are some of the advices that one usually gets in order to master the art of conversation. But, honestly, these are all outdated concepts. One doesn’t need to show they are involved in a conversation, when they are actually involved in it. Yes, involvement or willingness to listen is the number one skill to be able to have good conversations.

ALSO READCinema: How the Idea Turned into Reality!

One must always Keep in mind the words of Buddha, “If your mouth is open, you’re not learning.” and to add to it, are only there for a speech, not a conversation.

Here are some other points that one need to taken care of, for good conversations to happen.

Do Not Multitask!
Multitasking is a crime in the world of great conversations. When you are talking to someone, be completely involved in it. You can’t be sitting there talking to a person and also thinking about what would you be doing after the session. To put simply, you have to be fully there in the conversation to make it great.

Be curious!
Ask questions. But questions that matter or are relevant. That’s how conversations grow. Find what interests them and talk about it. This is the easiest way to get them to open up and have a good talk.

Never equate your experiences with others!
When somebody tells you about their experience, you don’t need to tell them that the same thing has happened with you, only worse. No, this is not a competition. Experiences are individual and it’s not about you. Conversations are not promotional activities.

Stay out of the weeds!
Nobody cares about the exact date, the exact day, the exact place when something happened to you. All they care about is ‘what happened’ and ‘You’. Details are mostly boring, try to maintain a distance.

Talking to strangers is another specific area where one can conquer the art of conversation. In fact, researchers have found that people are more comfortable being honest about their inner-selves with strangers than with their acquaintances. However, there are certain rules one needs to follow while talking to strangers, according to one’s culture and country. A balance between civility and privacy is what one must aim for.

‘Hello! How are you?’ is a question that one may ask or ‘It’s a beautiful day!’, an exclamation that one may use while starting a conversation with a stranger. How the person is or how the weather is might not hold any semantic meaning, but they hold something else and something bigger, the social meaning.

Honesty, brevity, clarity, empathy and a good amount of healthy listening are the most important ingredients of a great conversation. Conversation, indeed, is an art which with practice can be mastered, however, always leaving a scope for refinement.

-by Samiksha Goel of NewsGram. Twitter @goel_samiksha