Little is known about the sign languages used on the African continent. This chapter considers the distribution, use and history of sign languages in the western part of this continent. Studies pertaining to these topics are very rare, and for a number of countries information is completely lacking. For others only bits and pieces of information are available. A radical increase of research efforts in this area is necessary. At present, some basic information on the sign language situation and structure is available for Ghana, Mali and Nigeria. A typical feature of the sign language situation in these and other countries is the coexistence of local and imported sign languages. The most widespread sign language of foreign origin is beyond doubt American Sign Language (ASL), which was introduced in many countries together with deaf education in the past five decades.
The sign language situation in West Africa is as diverse as it is undocumented. A non-exhaustive list of sign languages used in West Africa is found in Table 18.1. Their places of use are indicated on the map in Figure 18.1. The list of sign languages is partly based on information in the Ethnologue (www.ethnologue.org), partly on Kamei (2006) and partly on my own information.
This chapter starts off with an inventory of basic facts about deafness in West Africa in section 2, followed by a short history of deaf education in the region in section 3.
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