Sign Language could become South Africa’s 12th official language

Parliament’s Constitutional Review Committee is preparing to present to the house of representatives that South African Sign Language (SASL) be officially recognised as the country’s 12th official language.

This follows a parliamentary committee meeting on 3 February, in which PanSALB (Pan South African Language Board), the Department of Arts and Culture and the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission) discussed the status of SASL and other lesser-known languages in South Africa.

The change would require an amendment to the language clause in the Constitution with South African Sign Language (SASL) being added as an official language.

Proceedings for SASL to become South Africa’s official language officially began nearly 10 years ago in 2007, following an application by the Deaf Federation of South Africa.

It argued that millions were hindered from access.

While deaf schools finally teach sign language rather than trying to teach speech – and although the Schools Act had granted recognition for education purposes to sign language – it is still not officially recognised.

This means that other departments, institutions, media and facilities did not support such language.

However, the matter remains controversial because of the expected cost of introducing a 12th language. There are also other considerations, such as there not being a single dialect or language used by deaf people in South Africa (despite the prominence of SASL) and the challenge of implementing the language across schools, media and courts.

The issue is expected to be placed before the House before the end of 2017.


Read: SA public service department wants to use only 3 official languages

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