There is no doubt that you could have seen some ways they use to interact, including the use of arms, hands, body language, or facial gestures. That is sign language.
The World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that there are over 466 million persons with hearing and speech impairments globally, and the number could rise to 900 million by 2050. They use over 135 sign languages, mainly from America, United Kingdom, China, France, and Rwanda.
The nature of sign language
Sign language is like any other language, the difference is that it can’t be written as other languages are. This leaves many people confused about whether it is really a language. In addition, people often mistake sign language for gestures used to replace words, like waving, pointing at someone, or head shaking among others.
You might think that sign language derives from other languages like French or English, where signs or gestures can be found for each word of that language. That is totally wrong, because someone may not know a single word in English, or any other written and spoken language, and can rather effectively use sign language well to communicate.
You may, as a result, be asking yourself like “If they are signs why aren’t they used the same way across the world?” Every country’s sign language apparently has its particularities depending on its own culture. Some words or tools may therefore be a particularity of a given country.
Sign language has grammar and vocabulary
Though no thorough research has been done yet on the rules that govern sign language in Kenya, similar research done in developed countries across the globe indicated that the sign language has its own grammar and vocabularies.
Such language exists based on things we can see with our own eyes, the culture and norms of citizens as well as the relationship between one thing and another.
First and foremost, sign language has alphabets A to Z. But does that mean that people who know those alphabets are sign language literate? No way!
Sign language is made of a lot of components. It does not use only hands and arms but also facial expressions (eyes, eyebrows, mouth, and cheeks) and even body language and signs of direction (front, right, left, up and down).
The effective mix of all those signs and gestures create vocabularies used in sentences in line with grammar rules.
When errors occur using such gestures and body language while making a word or a sentence, like pointing your hand in the wrong direction or when your facial expression insinuates a different feeling, you realize that the message you intended to deliver was not understood or confuses the audience. That is when you come to realize that sign language has its own grammar and vocabulary rules.
An efficient tool for education
Sign language, is the native language for a child with hearing and speech impairment. This has to be clear.
You may ask yourself, “How can that happen since the child is Kenyan?”
You’re right. The research shows that a child starts to learn language from the mother’s womb and are born hearing people surrounding them speaking it, then grow up learning it from them until they speak it well. So what happens to a child with hearing and speech impairment?
The majority of children with such a disability never hear languages used in their families from the day they were born until they start school. Nor do they know their names, names of domestic materials, and basic words like ‘Daddy’ and ‘Mama’ among others.
This reminds me of a then seven-year child that I met in 2016.
When we met, we realized that the child didn’t know a single language, except the signs she was using at home to communicate with their parents.
After joining the school where she would learn sign language, the child discovered a lot of new things and today, she can chat in sign language when she meets her colleagues with the same impairment.