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Sign Language Studies 2.3 (2002) 335-341

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Book Review

Maganar Hannu:
Language of the Hands, A Descriptive Analysis of Hausa Sign Language

Maganar Hannu: Language of the Hands, A Descriptive Analysis of Hausa Sign Language by Constanze Schmaling. International Studies on Sign Language and Communication of the Deaf, ed. Siegmund Prillwitz, vol. 35. (Hamburg: Signum Verlag, 2000, 295 pp., paperback, $49.95)

Constanze Schmaling’s published doctoral dissertation (1997) provides a detailed description of Hausa Sign Language (HSL), the language used by the Deaf community in northern Nigeria. This volume offers the first comprehensive linguistic description of any West African Sign Language (the work cites nearly 290 references). It also is a significant contribution to our understanding of the nature of African sign languages, where research is still in its infancy. The book is divided into two main parts: background and Hausa Sign Language. The fifty-six-page background section consists of three chapters. Chapter 1 contextualizes the Deaf community in Kano State in terms of the history, culture, and language of the broader hearing community. In chapter 2 the focus shifts to the sociocultural conditions, education, and language situation of the Deaf community under consideration. Interestingly, Deaf people in Hausaland are more completely socially integrated than they are in Europe and the United States:

There are no written historical records on deaf Hausa people and the deaf community but according to oral tradition deaf people have always had their meeting points in the towns and villages where they come together to share information and experiences. The deaf have their meeting places where they assemble in the afternoons, after work, or in the evenings, just as the hearing do. Often hearing friends or neighbors join these meetings, and frequently acquire some knowledge of sign language. (14) [End Page 335]

Schmaling describes a multilingual society where many hearing people are communicatively competent in basic HSL, which they learn informally from Deaf people (18). In contrast, the situation is different in South Africa, where Deaf people report that they are isolated from their hearing families and the broader society, who cannot communicate with them (Morgan 2000).

There is also a detailed examination of the Deaf education system. The only Deaf school in Kano State is Tudan Maliki. Since 1980 (following Andrew Foster’s legacy), the school has had a policy of using ASL vocabulary as part of Total Communication based on spoken Hausa and English. 1 Their system incorporates vocabulary from both HSL and ASL. The students at Tudan Maliki have been responsible for the introduction of ASL loan signs into HSL and for the lexicalization of initialization of signs discussed in chapter 6.

Chapter 3 introduces the research itself. It includes an overview of sign language studies in general and in Africa in particular and follows with a description of the methodology and transcription system employed. This reviewer, who is unfamiliar with the Hamburg Notation System, found the modified use of the HamNoSys difficult to decode. Although the book provides Hausa and English glosses, diagrams of examples would greatly increase this book’s accessibility.

The second part of the book presents a descriptive analysis of HSL in relation to the literature and provides crosslinguistic comparisons with other sign languages. Part two consists of three chapters dealing with phonology, morphology, and the lexicon.

Chapter 4 deals with a detailed phonological analysis and an inventory of the sublexical components or parameters of HSL. Schmaling does not use a particular phonological model for her descriptive analysis. She considers both manual (handshape, orientation, location, and movement) and nonmanual (facial expression/eyes, body movement/head movement, and mouth/tongue and mouth patterns) parameters. Schmaling analyzes parameters in terms of distinctive features with reference to minimal pairs and near-minimal pairs. Minimal pairs are “sign pairs whose meaning is distinguished only by [End Page 336] a difference in one of these parameters” (59). This definition demonstrates the contrastive nature of a particular feature across all the segments of a parameter, but according to Liddell and Johnson (1989) these are not...


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