Zimbabwean sign language dictionary

Zimbabwe finally has its first comprehensive Sign Language dictionary. Authoritative and up-to-date, the dictionary will prove to be the standard reference book for years to come. It will be an indispensable guide not only for deaf people but also for their relatives, friends and others, such as teachers, counsellors, social workers and health care workers.

Richard Lee's picture

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Strategic communications for WWF

August 12th, 2011

Zimbabwe finally has its first comprehensive Sign Language dictionary. Authoritative and up-to-date, the dictionary will prove to be the standard reference book for years to come. It will be an indispensable guide not only for deaf people but also for their relatives, friends and others, such as teachers, counsellors, social workers and health care workers.

In the foreword to the dictionary, which can be downloaded via the links below, Zimbabwe's Education Minister David Coltart wrote, "Deaf Zimbabweans and educators of the deaf have long recognised a need to document our signs and develop Zimbabwe Sign Language. The first such effort saw the publication of Volume 1 of Zimbabwe. This book, with its more up-to-date signs, hopefully, will complement the original and other volumes. Like any language, sign language goes through some changes and these changes need to be documented to keep the language vibrant and alive."

Funded by the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA), the dictionary was put together by the King George VI School and Centre in conjunction with all of the three main deaf associations, the National Council of the Deaf, ZIMNAD and ASSOD.

So this is very much a dictionary for the deaf by the deaf.

The existence of several varieties can impede effective communication between deaf people, who use different varieties. It also poses a pedagogical challenge in that any education system may not know which of the dialects to teach and to use as a medium of instruction at school. This calls for the production of a unified standard variety which can be used in the whole country for both formal and informal purposes. For this reason, among several others, the Zimbabwe Sign Language Dictionary will be an invaluable asset to all Zimbabweans, be they deaf or hearing.

The publication of this dictionary by the King George VI School and Centre therefore represents a significant contribution to the enhancement of the rights of the deaf. These include their rights to education, health, a fair trial, freedom of opinion and expression, political participation, participation in economic discourses and debates, access to information and the right to non-discrimination in general. If the deaf do not learn the standard Sign Language variety for the country and if non-deaf (hearing) members of the community have no knowledge of Sign Language, then the deaf will not enjoy any of the rights they are entitled to.

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