A twelfth official language? The constitutional future of South African Sign Language

DOI: 10.2989/16073614.2020.1753545
Author(s): Timothy ReaganSchool of Learning and Teaching, College of Education and Human Development, United States


The 2017 recommendation by the Constitutional Review Committee of the South African Parliament that South African Sign Language (SASL) be added to the Constitution as the country’s 12th official language has been forwarded to parliament for action, but, as of the writing of this article, it has yet to be approved. Should parliament accept the committee’s recommendation, there are a number of important issues that will need to be considered and resolved. As background for such consideration, in this article a very brief overview of the nature of sign languages in general (and of SASL in particular) will be provided. We will then turn to an examination of language policies that address sign languages in different national contexts, and will consider the case to be made for recognising SASL as South Africa’s twelfth official language. We will also explore what such recognition would entail, since making SASL an official language is in some ways similar to the status of the other eleven official languages of South Africa, but in other ways would be unique.

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