CRG Seminar: The emergence of sign language in Côte d’Ivoire

The introduction of sign language in West Africa countries and especially in Côte d’Ivoire is linked to Reverend Andrew Foster, an African-American deaf Pastor, who made use of sign language for the needs of the education of deaf communities within the structures of the Christian Mission for the Deaf (CMD). American Sign Language (ASL) as language of education is spread in Abidjan and to most other urban places. ASL became high prestige language in the deaf community. It is associated with formal education and by extension with economic opportunities and educational progress. The spread of ASL was at the cost of local sign languages that were used by uneducated deaf people who use various forms of Ivorian Sign Language named Langue des Signes de Côte d’Ivoire (LSCI). Even if the role Reverend Andrew Foster was preponderant in the expansion of sign language, it also indirectly contributed to masking everything that existed previously. We hypothesise that everything did not really start with Reverend A. Foster. Deaf communities in Côte d’Ivoire existed well before his arrival and, sign languages were in use.

Awareness about local sign languages in Côte d’Ivoire took form in 2011 with the project ‘’documentation des langues des signes de Côte d’Ivoire’’ in which a lexical corpus was collected in several locations. Information on lexical variation in Sign Languages of Côte d'Ivoire (LSCI) are rare. In this presentation, Dr Angoua Tano will first address the history of sign languages in Côte d’Ivoire and then focus on the level of lexical variation in Ivorian SL to establish the importance of the difference between the ASL used in Côte d'Ivoire (LSAF) for the education of the deaf and SL premises. The variation will be verified at two levels. The first level will concern variation among signers in the same locality. The second will consist of variation between different localities. The study on variation will help to establish a basis for the construction of an LSCI Internet lexical corpus that can be used by educators and specialists in sign language and to promote local sign languages.

Photo credits: Tano Angoua.

Dr Angoua Tano wrote a pioneering PhD thesis research in Leiden University on an emerging village sign language in Côte d’Ivoire. After his defence, he returned to Côte d’Ivoire and obtained a position as a lecturer and researcher in sign language linguistics at the Département des Sciences du Langage of the Université Houphouët-Boigny in Abidjan. His expertise is in language documentation and description of rural signed languages in Côte d’Ivoire. Dr Tano is an active member of the sign language linguistic community and has remained associated with Leiden University as a guest researcher ever since his defence and frequently collaborates with his Leiden colleagues on various signed language linguistics research in West Africa.



Date, time and location

22 March 2024
14.00 - 15.30
Pieter de la Courtgebouw / Faculty of Social Sciences, Wassenaarseweg 52, 2333 AK Leiden
Room 6.C03