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Interdisciplinary perspectives on sign language and deaf/sign community documentation and vitalization in Uganda and Cameroon

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Title: Interdisciplinary perspectives on sign language and deaf/sign community documentation and vitalization in Uganda and Cameroon
Issue Date: 03 Mar 2013
Description: Sign language and deaf community research in sub-Saharan Africa, though scarce, has already illuminated considerable linguistic and cultural diversity. In the light of endangerment, this indicates that the need for documentation is urgent. The development of urban deaf communities in the region has often been tied to the establishment of deaf schools, which have mostly adopted the sign language of the founding/supporting country. Contact between African sign languages and dominant Western sign languages such as American Sign Language (ASL), and the import of ideologies of Western education and religion, has lowered the perceived status of gestures and indigenous sign languages. Documentation also reveals the endangerment of rural sign communities, where sign languages are used widely and deaf people experience a sense of inclusion (for research review, see Authors, 2012). How can deaf/sign communities benefit from transnational exposure, while being able to revitalize indigenous linguistic and cultural practices? Questions of knowledge transfer and interdisciplinary anthropological/linguistic research are explored in the south-south cooperation between Uganda and Cameroon, which aims to document and vitalize an endangered rural sign language in the Extreme North of Cameroon. Whereas sign language documentation in Cameroon has only just begun, Ugandan Sign Language (USL) is well documented. Tailoring long-term deaf-led development cooperation to the needs of the community, the vitalization of USL was embedded in a broader approach of capacity building and human rights, which led to sustainable community development through the constitutional recognition of USL, the Ugandan Sign Language Dictionary, educational and employment access, training for deaf researchers, and the USL teacher and interpreter training programs and continued USL research at Kyambogo University (Author & Bergmann, 2012).
Interdisciplinary (linguistic-anthropological) researchers found evidence for a rural sign language in Cameroon’s Extreme North (Author, 2011). These deaf scholars, including a Ugandan linguist, exposed Cameroonians to the USL community’s experiences of vitalization during the World Federation of the Deaf’s human rights and capacity building training. The Extreme North sign community resisted the adoption of ASL outside the deaf school that recently imported it, and specifically asked for linguistic knowledge transfer in the development of a dictionary. The training of language consultants and the use of multiple sources of data, including corpus and ethnographic methods in an on-going ELDP project, not only lead to a dictionary and an annotated and archived data corpus, but also to an educational DVD on the Extreme North’s sign language and sign community.
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections:3rd International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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