Sign Language Could Become One Of South Africa's Official Languages

In what could be a major victory for the deaf community of South Africa, the sign language used by the community could be granted an official status in the country.

The parliamentary constitutional review committee of South Africa has made a recommendation to alter the country’s constitution to officially recognize sign language.

The deaf community of the country believes that the official recognition of their language would help "give them a voice”.

A Decision Long Time in the Making

The issue was first seriously discussed back in 2007 when the associations representing South Africa’s deaf community filed a petition that claimed that millions of members of the community were unable to access required facilities and services since they were unable to communicate with the service providers.

If the change becomes effective after going through the parliamentary process, the sign language would become the 12th official language of South Africa.

Supporting the change, the Pan South African Language Board believes that the use of the sign language is a "fundamental human right".

Official Status Could Help Promote, Protect Language

The recognition of the sign language as one of South Africa’s official languages will imply that the language is taught in the country’s schools. The government departments will also need to harness the skills of personnel with the required knowledge to communicate with the country’s deaf community.

The change would lead to a modification in the way the government institutions view sign language.

Even the private sector will have to incorporate changes in their businesses and institutions to ensure that their personnel can communicate in sign language.

The recognition of the sign language as one of South Africa’s official languages will make the country one of Africa’s few countries to do so. Currently, the Zimbabwean constitution recognizes sign language as an official language and the constitution of Kenya advises the state to “promote” the use of the sign language.

Thus, as of now, the deaf community of South Africa is awaiting the final decision, hoping that their quality of life will improve with the recognition of their language as South Africa’s 12th official language.


Dr. Oishimaya Sen Nag is a freelance writer and editor from Kolkata, India. She loves to participate in wildlife conservation activities and to explore new places and cultures.

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