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ASL in Northern Nigeria: Will Hausa Sign Language Survive? Constanze Schmaling Systematic linguistic research on African sign languages has only recently begun, and so far, no African sign language has been documented in a way comparable to the way that ASL or some of the European sign languages have been documented. However, any researcher who wants to study an African sign language is almost automatically confronted with an additional sign language that has been imported from the United States or from Europe; the latter is typically encountered when coming into contact with deaf people who have had access to Western education. Foreign sign languages from the United States and from Europe have played an important role in the education system in almost every African country, having first been imported by foreign missionaries and teachers and, later on, by deaf people themselves who went abroad for their education . Depending on the kind of foreign aid programs a country may have received, different European sign languages and ASL have been imported to different African countries, and some countries have experienced not only one but also a number of foreign sign languages over the years (see table 1). In fact, claims have been made that, in some African countries, deaf people did not have their own (indigenous) sign language before a foreign sign language was imported.1 African sign languages have frequently been referred to as local signs or gestures and not as developed language systems. Thus, they share the fate of spoken African languages that are often treated as local dialects or idioms, not as fully developed languages, and are therefore regarded as inadequate for teaching. Similar arguments have been made that African sign languages cannot be used in the education of deaf people but that one has to use a “proper” or “more developed” sign language, namely, ASL or a European sign language. Without question, the imposition of a foreign sign language is problematic . Not only is it “an obstacle to the development of African sign languages” 180 I wish to express my profound gratitude to Ibrahim Abdu Dambatta, Sani Ahmed, and Lawan Bala, whose pictures appear in this article, and also to the many other deaf people who shared their language with me over the past years. 1. For example, in Burundi (see Lane, Naniwe, and Sururu 1990, especially page 225). 11 (180-194) Chapter 11 5/21/01 4:01 PM Page 180 (Okombo 1991, 167) but also it has led deaf people in various countries to believe that their own sign languages are less sophisticated than the imported ones (see, e.g., Ozolins 1991; Pinsonneault 1995; Schmaling forthcoming ).2 In several African countries, groups of people have advocated the adoption of ASL, often in the context of creating one unified sign language for a country with numerous different spoken languages and possibly different sign languages.3 In Nigeria, for example, the Nigerian Sign Language Working Group was established in the 1970s with the goal to develop a Nigerian Sign Language based on ASL. The idea was to adopt and modify ASL signs to fit the Nigerian context and to add signs where ASL in Northern Nigeria: Will Hausa Sign Language Survive? 181 Table 1. Foreign sign languages in Africa African country Foreign sign language(s) used Botswana American, Danish, German Burkina Faso American Burundi American Ethiopia American, Finnish, Swedish Ghana American Guinea American Kenya American Madagascar Norwegian Mali American, French, Quebec Nigeria American Rwanda French South Africa American, British, Irish Swaziland British Tanzania American, Danish, Finnish, German, Swedish Uganda American, British Zaire French Zambia American Note: The information presented in this table has been compiled from various articles on sign languages in Africa, including Akach (1993); Amedofu (1993); Lane, Naniwe, and Sururu (1990); and Pinsonneault (1995). 2. The World Federation of the Deaf “strongly opposes the importation of one country’s sign language to another” (Liisa Kauppinen, quoted in Okombo 1991, 172). Some of the problems with using foreign sign languages in Africa are discussed by Akach (1993) and Okombo (1990, 1991). Okombo (1991) regards the importation of foreign sign languages to Africa as “Western cultural arrogance.” 3. For example, in South Africa (see Penn and Reagan 1994), in Zambia (see Katongo 1987), and in Nigeria (see Adenuga 1991). 11 (180-194) Chapter 11 5/21/01 4:01 PM Page 181 necessary. The group has disappeared, however, and nothing has been published on their work. ASL IN NORTHERN NIGERIA In Nigeria, ASL was introduced into the education...


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