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Documentation and description of a sign language in Côte d’Ivoire

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Language Cote d’Ivoire Sign Language
Depositor Angoua Tano
Affiliation University of Cocody Abidjan; Leiden University, Holland
Location Cote D’Ivoire
Collection ID 0076
Grant ID IGS0141
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle



Summary of the collection

Like in several countries in West Africa, at least two sign languages are used in Ivory Coast. American Sign Language (ASL) is used in Deaf education and by educated Deaf adults. Deaf people with no formal schooling use various forms of Ivorian Sign Language. ASL is spreading in the Ivorian Deaf community at the cost of Ivorian Sign Language or Langue des Signes de Côte d’Ivoire (LSCI).

This collection consists of documentation and analysis of LSCI. It includes a digital corpus that features a representative sample of signed discourse, a lexical database and a description and analysis of selected features of the language.


Group represented

Users of sign language in Côte d’Ivoire with no formal schooling in American Sign Language (ASL).Users of the local sign language are usually not literate and are marginalized within the Deaf community.

According to the 1998 general census, Côte d’Ivoire has 50,689 deaf Ivorians (out of a population of 16m inhabitants). The first and only school for the Deaf was established in 1974 by Foster in the capital of Abidjan, with ASL used as the language of instruction. ASL there was slightly modified to accommodate loan elements from the French language and to adopt local signs for culture-specific concepts for which no sign was available. The school has educated over a thousand deaf children since its foundation. For them, ASL is the primary language.

The prominence of ASL in West Africa overshadows the local sign languages used to such an extent that the latter are viewed negatively by many people, both Deaf and hearing. Like elsewhere in West Africa, ASL is the high prestige language in the Deaf community. It is associated with formal education and – by extension – economic opportunities and educational progress. Also, ASL is seen as the language of the international Deaf solidarity movement, both at the regional (i.e. West African) and the global level.

Despite activities of the World Federation of the Deaf promoting the maintenance of local sign languages, both Deaf and hearing people in Côte d’Ivoire favor the use of ASL, particularly in education. As a consequence, the use of ASL is widespread in Côte d’Ivoire, insofar as it is the language is the dominant means of communication in most associations of the Deaf.

The marginalization of the local LSCI is partly the result of a lack of information. At a national level, most people do not know that the signs used by deaf people constitute a language. Furthermore, within the community of people engaged with Deaf children and adults professionally or privately, many people believe that the local sign language has no structure, are limited in functionality and not adequate for use in education. On the other hand, there seems to be a counter-movement supporting the use of LSCI, and which seems to be part of a larger tendency to revalue the use of local sign languages as noticed in other parts of Africa as well.

At a broader level, the attitudes within African Deaf communities and their leaders with respect to local sign languages are changing in favor of their maintenance or revitalization. An important
factor supporting this new ideology is the World Federation of the Deaf, who is currently also training Ivorian Deaf leaders. Worldwide, sign linguists form important allies for Deaf associations in their campaigning for equal rights for deaf people, including legal recognition for national sign languages and their facilities (interpreters, access to education, information, etc.).


Language information

Also called Ivorian Sign Language or Langue des Signes de Côte d’Ivoire (LSCI).


Collection history

Prior to this documentation project, there was no linguistic study of local Ivorian signs. The only study available had been the researcher’s MPhil thesis, which addresses the level of lexical variation in the signing of Deaf people in two locations with different spoken languages in Côte d’Ivoire. The researcher collected data for his thesis with three signers in the Dida towns of Hiré and Bouakako (south of Yamoussoukro) and one signer in Kouté in Yopougon, an Ebrié village that has become part of Abidjan.

In the study, he finds similarities as well as differences between the signing of the Dida signers and the Ebrié signer. Some of these were based on cultural differences between these groups (e.g. signs for culture-specific concepts like particular types of sauces, etcetera), others were conventionalized choices to iconically represent particular aspects of a concept as representations for the whole concept (e.g. the cleaning of a fish for preparation in the Dida sign for ‘fish’ and the curved shape of smoked fish in the Ebrié sign).

In view of the lexical variation found and the value of the cultural knowledge found to be encoded in the two varieties, the following study aimed to document LSCI as used in various locations in Côte d’Ivoire by signers varying in age, gender and cultural/linguistic affiliation. It is hard to estimate whether the degree of lexical and structural variation is distinguishing dialects or separate languages. This question has not been resolved for many well-documented sign languages either. In his research, the researcher used the term ‘Langue de Signe de Côte d’Ivoire’ as a provisional label to cover the local signing varieties this project aims to document and analyze, keeping in mind that the study may find data supporting the use of a unified label or indicating separate languages.

This project aims to contribute to the development of methodologies for establishing language and dialect borders in and between sign languages.


Acknowledgement and citation

To refer to any data from the collection, please cite as follows:

Tano, Angoua. 2013. Documentation and description of a sign language in Cote d’Ivoire. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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