June 2, 2023
Promotion of sign language can unlock potential – News24

Promotion of sign language can unlock potential – News24

Despite claims that more than one million South Africans use this language, South African Sign Language (SASL) is the least-recognised language in the country.

The 2011 census survey indicated that 234 655 citizens view SASL as their language of choice. This number may include hearing children of deaf parents.

The estimated one million users include citizens who utilise SASL as an additional language and hearing citizens who have learned sign language because of regular contact with deaf people.

In effect, SASL ends up as a language of the same order of magnitude as Ndebele (1 090 223 speakers), Swati (1 297 046 speakers) and Venda (1 209 388 speakers).

One could also include the non-Bantu click languages like Nama.

Presently, citizens speaking the Nama language Khoekhoe as their first language fall under the census category “other languages” (828 258 speakers). This category also includes languages like French and Hindi. Promoting SASL will influence other small languages.

However, our Constitution makes no distinction between recognised South African languages in terms of size, but rather follows an egalitarian approach by envisaging the promotion of the recognised languages. Section 6 of the Constitution specifically entrusts the Pan-South African Language Board, a statutory body, with this responsibility by requiring of the Council to promote and develop the 11 official languages, the non-Bantu click languages (including Nama) and sign language.

In language-planning terms, language development includes the standardisation of the language corpus and language code, as well as the development of a writing system, grammar, glossaries, dictionaries, terminology, curricula and literature. Teaching of the language as an additional or foreign language is also critical.

The institutionalisation of SASL as a home language within the so-called Caps curriculum since 2014 is an obvious example of the effective promotion of the language by the Department of Basic Education and Umalusi, the Council for Quality Assurance in General and Further Education and Training.

To promote SASL, the language should now also be taught as an additional language. The Use of Official Languages Act paves the way for this by requiring state and statutory institutions to be able to communicate effectively with members of the public who choose to use SASL.

From this factual overview, we note why the writers of the South African Constitution consider the promotion of SASL to be important.

The promotion of this language will contribute both to the realisation of language rights in the Bill of Rights and the realisation of the ideals of the Constitution as contained in the Preamble to the Constitution.

The aim to “increase the quality of life of all citizens and unlock the potential of every human being” catches one’s eye. – Prof. Theo du Plessis is emeritus professor of the Department of South African Sign Language and Deaf Studies at the University of the Free State.

Source: https://www.news24.com/news24/southafrica/local/express-news/promotion-of-sign-language-can-unlock-potential-20211026

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