By Agreement Mabunda
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet has approved the Constitutional Eighteenth Amendment Bill for public comment, which will give recognition to South African Sign Language as the 12th official language of the country.
This comes after the Department of Basic Education announced that it will incorporate sign language as an option in the school curriculum in its annual budget speech this month.
South African Sign Language (SASL) has been mooted as an official language for a number of years, with a parliament committee proposing its adoption in 2020. While the amendment bill has not been published at the time of writing, it is set to include an amendment of Section 6 of the Constitution and the National Official Languages, recognising SASL as the 12th official language.
According to the Western Cape government, South African Sign Language has its own grammatical structure independent of any spoken/written language such as English, Zulu, and Xhosa.
The majority of deaf people (95.6%) are born to hearing parents and therefore do not acquire SASL as a mother tongue. Instead, they acquire SASL at school from peers and SASL is the first language of the majority of South African Deaf children.
SASL, despite regional differences and variations, has the same grammatical structure countrywide. However, there is not a one-to-one relationship between SASL and English.
One sign may be translated into English by more than one word, such as a phrase or a sentence. Likewise, an English word may be represented by more than one sign.