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Sign language, communication system using gestures is interpreted visually. Many people in deaf communities around the world use sign languages as their primary means of communication. These communities include both deaf and hearing people who converse in sign language based on their language. But for many deaf people, sign language serves as their primary, or native, language, creating a strong sense of social and cultural identity.
Sign language can also be used as an alternative means of communication by hearing people. For example in the United States during 19th Century, groups of Native Americans in the Plains who spoke different languages used a sign language now known as Plains Indian Sign Talk to communicate with each other.

Sign languages exhibit the same types of variation that spoken languages do. For example, sign languages have dialects that vary from region to region. In the United States, many African Americans in the south who communicate through sign language use a variant of standard ASL, just as many African Americans might communicate through their own vernacular English in speech. In Switzerland, there are five geographic dialects of Swiss German Sign Language with slight variations that derive from regional schools for the deaf. In Ireland, where boys and girls attend different schools, the sign language used by deaf boys has a distinctly different vocabulary from that used by deaf girls. Although girls learn the boy’s signs when they begin dating, after marriage women continue to use the female signs with girls and women.

In Ghana the American Sign Language (ASL) was originally brought by an American deaf pastor. The deaf group tried to use ASL as their communication instead of customary language in home. In the past, many of deaf people used traditional and customary sign language that was meant by communication through their mothers during the infancy until aged. In having no means of modern communication, they had in past become acquired with knowledge of the traditional language; however, they always faced communication problems and were conceived as idiots, stupid, foolish, of low intelligence, leaf-mouth blow, and a cursed group. During gaining interdependence from the Britain, an African American pastor, Rev. Andrew Foster himself deaf arrived in the country and started a modern sign language called American Sign Language for deaf people, instead of Customary Sign Language (CSL), which was usually used and taught by their mothers during the childhood at Osu in Accra. Additionally, he started the school with 13 deaf students with the support of Dr. Seth Ocloo. The deaf people’s parents and relatives were happy when there was modern communication called American Sign Language for the deaf. Now the modern language is developed from 1957 and is really simpler than CSL.

Today, in Ghana, Deaf people use Ghana Sign Language (GSL) which borrowed some signs from ASL as their communication and Ghana National Association of the Deaf (GNAD) still manages to make new signs for the deaf community, instead of ASL. However, they could use ASL and GSL together. GSL is the language of Ghana deaf people in the country based on concepts and visual gestural in nature as well as grammatical structures. Also apart from GSL and ASL, in the village of Adamorobe in the Eastern Region, the Deaf people have their own language which is called Adamorobe Sign Language. For example if one person from GSL community who has knowledge of GSL comes to Adamorobe and seems to speak the sign language, Deaf Adamorobians (the people of Adamorobe) may not recognise GSL. They control their society.

At the present, GNAD advocates for the use of Ghanaian Sign Language (GSL) in the schools for the Deaf in view of that GSL is the first language of the Deaf, which GNAD seems to manage to remove some signs of ASL, which was brought to the country. GNAD have ideas for creating new manuals. The signs would be changed into the new faces in the deaf community where Deaf people know ASL.


The first school for the deaf, the Institut Royal des Sourds-Muets (Royal Institute for the Deaf and Mute), was established in Paris during the 18th Century. Teachers at the institute taught in French Sign Language (FSL), a language already in use in Paris and other parts of France.

In 1816 American educator Thomas Gallaudet traveled to Paris to study the French method of deaf education at the institute. His interest was promoted by the deaf daughter of a close friend who wished to go to school. Gallaudet returned to the United States with a deaf teacher named by Laurent Cleric and together they established the first American school for the Deaf in Hartford, Connecticut in the USA, in 1817. They adapted the French Signing method for use in American classrooms. The merger of French signs with signs in use by American deaf people formed what is now called American Sign Language.

Opposition to teaching sign language in the classroom arose at the end of the 19th Century from educators who believed in teaching deaf children to speak, a method known as oralism. Supporters of oralism proposed that deaf people would be less isolated from the hearing community if they learned to speak instead of sign. They also claimed that speech was a gift from God and viewed sign language as an inferior system of communication. By the beginning of the 20th Century oralism had became the accepted method of deaf education in both the United States and France. Schools for the Deaf promoted lip reading and speaking, often punishing children when they signed among themselves.

In the 1960s American linguist Williams C. Stokoe pioneered the modern linguistic study of sign languages were natural languages with distinct vocabularies and grammatical structures, Stokoe’s work changed the way in which deaf educators viewed oralism.

Although American educators still taught lip reading and speaking, during the 1970s and 1980s they began to bring the teaching of sign language back into the classroom. In the 1990s U.S. educators remain divided on whether and how to teach ASL to deaf children, and the extent to which sign language is used in the classroom varies from school to school.

Although exact numbers are unavailable, estimates of the number of deaf people in the United States and Canada who use American Sign Language range from 100,000 to 500,000.

Deaf education in Ghana started in 1957 when Andrew Foster, a black Deaf American pastor intended to set up the Ghana Mission School for the Deaf at Osu, Accra. The few Deaf pupils were enrolled at the school, but it was moved to Mampong Akuapim in 1960. The Specialist Teacher Training College for the training of professional teachers to teach the deaf children was established at Mampong Akuapim in 1965. Its first principal was Anne Hewitt, a British national.

Currently, since the first deaf school, there are fifteen schools for the Deaf in Ghana; twelve are primary and junior level basic schools and two of them are senior secondary and technical and vocational education. One is an integrated school. There is at least one school in each region in the country. The following schools for the Deaf are in Ghana:

State School for the Deaf, Ashaiman, Accra (Basic)
Cape Coast School for the Deaf, Cape Coast, Central region (Basic)
Salvation Army School for the Deaf, Agona Swedru, Central region (Basic)
Sekondi School for the Deaf, Sekondi, Western region (Basic)
Unit School for the Deaf, Kibi, Eastern region (Basic)
Unit School for the Deaf, Koforidua, Eastern region (Basic)
Demonstration School for the Deaf, Mampong Akuapim, Eastern region (Basic)
Volta School for the Deaf, Hohoe, Volta region (Basic)
Ashanti School for the Deaf, Jamasi, Ashanti region (Basic)
Bechem School for the Deaf, Bechem, Brong Ahafo region (Basic)
Savelugu School for the Deaf, Savelugu-Tamale, Northern region (Basic)
Gbeogo School for the Deaf, Bolgatanga, Upper East region (Basic)
Wa School for the Deaf, Wa, Upper West region (Basic)
Navrongo Secondary Technical School, Navrongo, Upper East region (Integrated)
Bechem Technical Institute for the Deaf, Bechem, Brong Ahafo (Technical and Vocational)
Mampong Secondary Technical School for the Deaf, Mampong Akuapim (Academic and Technical)
Other few private Deaf schools in Ghana


Linguists have found that sign languages and spoken languages share many features. Like spoken languages, which use units of sounds to produce words, sign languages use units of form. These units are composed of four basic hand forms: hand shape, such as an open hand or closed fist; hand location, such as on the middle of the forehand or in front of the chest; hand movement, such as upward or downward; and hand orientation, such as the palm facing up or out.
In spoken languages units of sound combine to make meaning-separately, b, e, and t have no meaning. However, together they form the word bet. Sign languages contain units that by themselves hold no meaning, but when combined create a word. Spoken languages and sign languages differ in the way these units combine to make words, however. In spoken languages units of sound and meaning are combined sequentially. In sign languages, units of form and meaning are typically combined simultaneously.
American Sign Language Manual Alphabet
Sign language for the deaf was first systematized in France during the eighteenth century by Abbot Charles-Michel l'Epee. French Sign Language (FSL) was brought to the United States in 1816 by Thomas Gallaudet, founder of the American School for the Deaf in Hartford, Connecticut. He developed American Sign Language (ASL), a language of gestures and hand symbols that express words and concepts. It is the fourth most used language in the United States today.
Along with sign language and lip reading, many deaf people communicate with the manual alphabet, which uses finger positions that correspond to the letters of the alphabet to spell out words.
Manual Alphabet

Sign for Numerals

Sign for Deaf

Handshape: index finger

Starting location: In general it starts on the cheek near the ear but occasionally you will see it start near the mouth.
Ending location: On the cheek near the mouth.

Orientation: If done with the right hand, the right palm can face either left or somewhat forward.

Movement: Small arc.

Variation: If you do this sign while puffing out the right cheek, with a larger arc it means, "Deaf, and proud of it!"
Description: Touch your finger on your cheek near your ear, then move your finger in a small arch and touch it near the mouth.
Example: Are you deaf? = DEAF YOU? or YOU DEAF?

Note: In this picture I'm touching the tip of my finger to my cheek. Another common method is to touch the side of the index finger to the cheek instead of using the tip of the finger.

Sign for Baby

The sign for "baby" is made by placing both arms together as if holding an infant. Then gently rock your arms back and forth. Tip: think of holding a baby in your arms.

Variation: Some people place the right hand over the left hand (both palms up) and use an up and down motion (as if comforting a crying baby).

Sign for Dad/ Father
For the sign DAD/ FATHER you can use a slight "tapping" motion to touch the thumb to the forehead, move the hand out an inch, then touch the thumb to the forehead again. You don't have to "tap" it. You can just touch your thumb to the forehead for a moment.

Some people "wiggle" the fingers--it means the same either way, wiggle or no wiggle. Sometimes starts with an "A" hand and opens into the "5" hand.

Make the sign for "Mother" by placing the thumb of your right hand against your chin.
Your hand should be open.

Make the sign for "Father" by placing the thumb of your right hand against your forehead.
Your hand should be open, and you may choose to wiggle your fingers slightly.

Other Signed systems

People who sign sometimes use fingerspelling to represent letters of the alphabet. In some sign languages, including GSL, fingerspelling serves as a way to borrow words from spoken language. A deaf person might, for example, choose to fingerspell “d-o-g” for “dog” instead of using a sign several types of fingerspelling systems exist. FSL and ASL use a one-handed system, whereas BSL has a two-handed system.

In an effort to teach deaf children the spoken and written language of the hearing community, educators of deaf children often use invented sign systems in addition to primary sign language. Examples of such systems in the United States include Signing Exact English, Seeing Essential English, and Cued system. These systems often mix ASL signs with English word order and grammar. Typically, they incorporate a sign from ASL signs to represent the base or stem of a spoken English word. To this they add various invented signs to form suffixes (for example, the-ness at the end of kindness, prefixes (for example, the pre- at the beginning of premature, and other parts of words.

In this way, the signed English word prearrangements might consist of a base sign for “arrange” together with invented signs for the prefix pre- and the suffixes-ment and –s.
In Signed Exact English, a fingerspelling letter is sometimes used in conjunction with a sign in a process called initialization. For example, by fingerspelling “f” or “e” with the base sign “money” (a two-handed gesture in which the upturned right hand, grasping some imaginary bills, is repeatedly brought down onto the upturned left palm) a signer can differentiate between the English words finance and economics.
Linguists still have much to learn about the world’s sign languages. What has become clear is that hundreds, if not thousands, of sign languages exit around the world.

Johnson Dei-Kusi
Deaf Sign Language Instructor
Sign Language Training Centre
Ledzokuku-Krowor Municipal Association of the Deaf (LEKMAD)