ASL University | Bookstore | Catalog | Dictionary | Lessons | Resources | Syllabi | Library

African Sign Language:

Brittany Auernig

American Sign Language vs African Sign Language

In June of 2008  I will be traveling to Africa to volunteer in an orphanage for three weeks.  I've been taking an American Sign Language class and have been wondering if the sign language I am learning is like what they use in Africa. Through my research I have come to learn about deaf Africans and even more importantly their rights as deaf citizens in their country and more largely their continent.

According to an article by International Communications (2008) the ARI (African Rehabilitation Institute) is trying to create a uniform of sign language for sub-Saharan Africa. This uniform sign language, they hope, will make it easier for people that are a hard of hearing and/or have speech impediments to travel around the continent and be able to communicate. According to International Communications (2008) people of Africa have been moving cross-borders more frequently and thus means people who are deaf and/or have speech impediments are traveling more as well. Sadly, the ARI's research has shown throughout Africa, many of the countries have their own type of sign language. Having multiple types of sign languages makes traveling harder for deaf persons. ARI not only wants to create a uniform sign language for Africa but wants to create with the help of the National Associations of People with Disabilities a universal sign language. This would be amazing. As a hearing student, it is a challenge to learn a new language fluently enough to communicate. It seems like a universal language would lessen the amount of communication struggles and errors. If sign language were universal, deaf persons might be able to relate and have a larger social network.

In an article by Reagan (2006), the South African Sign Language Research Programme (SASLRP) was created to produce a dictionary that would "document actual sign usage of deaf adult in South Africa for use in educational settings." The goal of the SASLRP and their dictionary project was to empower the deaf community. It was able to empower the deaf community because the dictionary project sought out the opinions and approval of deaf citizens and also gave jobs to deaf persons. The SASLRP wants deaf citizens to have the same language and human rights as any other citizen.

An article by Heap (2006) she sums up what my whole learning of African sign language has been. Heap writes, "As (South) Africa strives to find its way out of apartheid, the Deaf suggest that it may be possible to begin to imagine a transforming (South) Africa differently". Meaning, Africa has been moving closer to acceptance of differences, especially in the deaf community. While, there is still not a uniform language for the deaf, it is a work in progress which shows how much Africa has grown towards acceptance. Africa seems to be on the cusp of developing a widely shared sign language and hopefully with their efforts it can happen!


Heap, M. (2006). Sign-deaf spaces: The deaf in Cape Town creating community, crossing boundaries, constructing identity. Anthropology Southern Africa; 2006, Vol. 29 Issue 1/2, p35-44, 10p. 1Health and Human Rights Division, School of Public Health and Family Medicine, Health Science Faculty, University of Cape Town. 28 Apr 2008:

Reagan, T., Penn, C. & Ogilvy, D. (2006, July). From policy to practice: sign language development in post-apartheid South Africa. Language Policy, Vol. 5 Issue 2, p187-208, 22p. Communication & Mass Media Complete. 28 Apr 2008:

Unknown Author. (2008, Feb). Sign language for Africa. African Business. International Communications. 28 Apr 2008:



Bret Mackey (on 04/29/08)  writes:

Kevin Long has been striving to create non-profit organizations to help the deaf community. In his words about his non-profit organization, the first group of U.S. deaf professionals went to Kenya in 2000 and inspired eight students to enter college. The program has been so successful that more than 15 countries are interested in duplicating it, Long said, In the short term, Global Deaf Connection plans to expand into the Congo and Jamaica, Long said. "We are probably going to create a new form of deaf education in 50 countries."
Smith, S. (2002). Fellowship Boosts Education Efforts by Social
Entrepreneur. Minneapolis St Paul Business Journal, Volume 20,
Issue 6, pg 5.



Want to help support ASL University?  It's easy DONATE (Thanks!)
(You don't need a PayPal account. Just look for the credit card logos and click continue.)

Another way to help is to buy something from the ASLU "Bookstore."

Want even more ASL resources?  Visit the "ASL Training Center!"  (Subscription Extension of ASLU)   CHECK IT OUT >

Bandwidth slow?  Check out "" (a free mirror of less traffic, fast access)   VISIT >