Republic of Sierra Leone

  • Total Population

    7.8 million

  • Deaf Population


  • Nation's Official Language


  • Other Languages

    The number of established languages listed in Ethnologue is 24.  Some of these are:

    • Arabic
    • Gola
    • Kisi, Southern
    • Kisi, Northern
    • Klao
    • Kono
    • Krio
    • Mende
    • Themne
    • Vai
    • Yalunka
    • Yoruba
  • Name of Sign Language

    Sierra Leonean Sign Language

  • Overview Of Deaf Community And Education

    Sierra Leone has three deaf schools, only offering primary level (WFD: 2008:68). The first deaf school was established in 1964. The website of Sound Seekers (2017) mentions only two schools; the national school for the deaf in Freetown, and the St Joseph’s School for the Hearing-Impaired in Makeni. The predominant medium of instruction is oral instruction or cued speech. According to the WFD (2008:67, 70), no sign language is used in education.

    Most deaf children are integrated into mainstream schools (WFD 2008:69). There are no special provisions made for deaf people wanting to receive a university education.

  • Sign Language Overview

    According to Ethnologue (2018), Sierra Leonean Sign Language is to be found in the Western Area (Freetown, scattered). It is estimated to have around 200 deaf users, according to the WFD survey (2008). The language is seen as vigorous on the vitality scale of Bickford et al. (2014).

    So far, there has been no documentation of sign language use in Sierra Leone. One of the few sources on the sign language situation in Sierra Leone is Sahr (2008). He complains that in Sierra Leone, the use of a sign language does not stand on a par with the use of a spoken language. He argues that this is situation that needs to be addressed urgently. Talking about the language use of deaf Sierra Leoneans, he states: “They also use different sign languages and their sign language are  restricted to their different geographical polities within the four provinces of the country which explains why they find it difficult to develop a common sign language for all deaf people in Sierra Leone.” This observation needs to be backed by research.

  • Deaf Organizations In Country

    • Sierra Leone Association of the Deaf (SLAD)

  • Overview of Interpreting Services

    In 2017, the Sierra Leonean Police Force recruited two sign language interpreters to “to cater for the justice needs of people with special needs” (Admini, 2017). The WFD (2008:73, 76) reports the presence of a few voluntary interpreters. Sign language training is provided by the National Association of the Deaf, by Jehovah’s Witness Church, and by the El Shammah Mission (WFD, 2008: 73). There is no TV program regularly interpreted or presented in a sign language in the country (WFD, 2008:62).

  • Resources

    Admini (2017) LAB thanks police for recruiting a Sign Language interpreter. Africa Young Voices:  

    Bickford, J. Albert, Lewis, M. Paul & Simon, Gary F. 2015. Rating the vitality of sign languages. Journal of multilingual and multicultural development 36 (5):513-527.  

    Gallaudet University: World Deaf information source.  

    Global Survey Report. WFD Regional Secretariat for Southern and Eastern Africa (WFD RSESA)  (2008)

    Sahr Njepeh, Philip (2008) Sierra Leone: Between the Bo Sign Language Training Workshop, Human Rights And Development.  

    Simons, Gary F. and Charles D. Fennig (eds.). 2018. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Twenty-first edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Online version:  

  • List of Contributors

    Anne Baker

Africa Map - Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone Sign Language
Name Sign of Sierra Leone