Zimbabwean Sign Language Requires Harmonisation

August 18, 2015

Zimbabwe’s sign language has several variations that inhibit communication among deaf people, according to a new study. The study titled: “Sign Language Variation,” states that harmonisation of the variations in sign language is required to bridge the differences and facilitate better communication among the deaf.

The research, conducted by Deaf Zimbabwe Trust (DZT) in the ten provinces of the country, confirmed anecdotal evidence among the deaf community that there are sign language variations. The research targeted people who use sign language as a primary means of communication.

“If the different varieties of sign language across the country are unrecognised and uncategorised, we will continue to have very limited communication among deaf people and those who work with them. This seriously reduces socialisation capabilities,” said Dr Victor Mugari, one of the authors of the report.

Hivos Southern Africa Hub provided funding support to DZT aimed at ensuring that deaf people fully enjoy their right to freedom of expression. The mission of DZT is to transform and empower deaf people through education and change of societal attitudes.

According to the study, variations in sign language are largely attributed to the influence of sign language from other countries such as Germany, the UK and the US. In addition, the variations are attributed to the lack of popularisation of the dictionaries that have been produced by the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education.

Within the school system, sign language has not been given the prominence that it deserves. Because deafness is regarded as a pathology, people who are deaf are often marginalised at both familial and community level.

“There are no sign language resources for children who are deaf and hard of hearing to learn baby sign language as they grow. The lack of sign language resources has resulted in poor language development for deaf children that has negative consequences for their future learning,” says part of the report.

The report also states that deaf children in Zimbabwe have no access to deaf role models who can provide sign language knowledge and transfer of the deaf culture.

According to the study, there is a need to create resources for parents so that they are able to learn sign language and communicate with deaf children early on, which will encourage language development and improve learning.

The report also recommends the need to develop a harmonised version of sign language, which will promote better communication among the deaf and those hard of hearing. 

“There is a need to create a syllabus for sign language from primary to university level to begin the standardisation process as well as teaching and learning of sign language” says the report.

The report further states that there is a need to review the teacher education curriculum in order to include sign language and disability education.