Number of Sign Language Users
Nation's Official Language
English (20%), French (80%)
The number of established languages listed in Ethnologue is 284. Some of these are:
- Cameroon Pidgin English
- Fulfulde, Adamawa
Name of Sign Language
Cameroon Sign Language (CSL), Extreme North Cameroon Sign Language
Overview Of Deaf Community And Education
The situation of the deaf community is Cameroon is linguistically complex since it involves the interaction of the colonializing powers and local communities. Schools for the deaf were founded by different organizations as the table below shows and different choices have been made about the language of teaching, often related to the spoken language used in the province. Before Foster founded the Deaf School in Kumba, deaf people were scattered and lived mostly in remote areas. Deaf people did not have contact and did not share a language, shared values or a Deaf Culture.
Associating with other Deaf people was practically impossible because of the lack of a common language. Families often viewed every other deaf person as a dangerous influence, and deaf people were regarded as imbeciles, nicknamed "mou-mous" (imbeciles), by the hearing community. Deaf people lived then with their parents and were hidden from the local communities.
Sign Language Overview
The sign language situation is complex. In the last few years a major political conflict has arisen between the French speaking regions and the English speaking regions, with considerable fighting. The two English regions are the North West Region (headquarters is in Bamenda) and the South West Region( headquarters is Buea). So Buea and Bamenda are the major cities of the English Cameroon. Limbe (coastal region) and Kumba are some major cities too.
The sign language situation is complex. Cameroon Sign Language (CSL) has been heavily influenced by two imported sign languages being used: American Sign Language and de l'Afrique Francophone (LSAF). Further there is evidence of an Extreme North Cameroon Sign Language. It is supposed that there were some original sign languages initially.
Although there already existed a Deaf school founded in 1972 by French missionaries in Yaoundé (French Cameroon), the school founded by Foster in Kumba in 1977 experienced an influx of deaf students from French Cameroon. Parents of deaf children believed that the school founded by a deaf American and a deaf doctor was better since the oralist method adopted by the missionaries of the
Yaoundé Deaf School was not being effective. The Kumba school for the deaf became more popular and attracted many deaf students in Cameroon. They became later Deaf teachers and leaders in the Cameroon Deaf Community. ASL was the main language used. Some students have become teachers.
There has been some study of both Cameroon Sign Language and the Extreme North Cameroon Sign Language. Data has been deposited at the Endangered Languages Archive. It is not clear however what the overlap is between ASL, LSF/LSAF and CSL. There is apparently no separate dictionary for CamSL. It appears that most deaf people can understand ASL. There have been many attempts to documenting Cameroon Sign Language. Such a project was first proposed to the Cameroon government by CDEO but failed because it did not represent the interest of the majority (French included). A coalition lead by Associations in French Cameroon later proposed this same project to the Cameroon government and it is under approval. But this move does not necessarily represent the interest of the English Cameroon Deaf Community.
There is ongoing work on Extreme North Cameroon Sign Language including the development of a dictionary. There is resistance in that region to using ASL in education.
Every Deaf adult in Cameroon knows the ASL better what their own families is unable to offer and later when the parents to send their children to the local Deaf school, the child's first language is now the ASL and eventually would need a school where the ASL is used.
Deaf Organizations In Country
There are several organizations representing deaf people’s interests:
- Cameroon Deaf Empowerment Organization (CDEO),
- Christian Association of the Deaf in Cameroon (CADC),
- Cameroon Deaf Development Organization (CDDEO) (formerly Cameroon Deaf Organization, CAMDEO).
Some outside agencies are supporting the situation
Overview of Interpreting Services
Training of Sign Language Interpreters, both in Yaounde and other parts of Cameroon is being carried out. This Sign Language Interpreter Training Programme was launched in 1996. It is not clear what the accreditation of this training is. There are only volunteer interpreters. There is no exposure on television.
Sam Lutalo-Kiingi & Goedele De Clerck 2013 Interdisciplinary perspectives on sign language and deaf/sign community documentation and vitalization in Uganda and Cameroon. 3rd International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC).
De Clerck , Goedele Am (2011) Fostering Deaf People's Empowerment: the Cameroonian deaf community and epistemological equity. Third World Quarterly, Volume 32, 2011 - Issue 8: Disability in the Global South Pages 1419-1435.
Lutalo-Kiingi, Sam & De Clerck, Goedele (2012) Sign Language Research and Deaf Community Development in Africa at the 7th World Congress of African Languages (WOCAL7), Buéa- Cameroon
List of Contributors
Henri Evouna Etoundi, Ajong Gerald Keys, Anne Baker