Southern Africa: Zimbabwe dictionary unifies rival sign languages

A new unified sign language dictionary has gone on sale in Zimbabwe to end the confusion sometimes caused by the country's various signing dialects. For example, the sign for "shoe" in the capital, Harare, means "pig" in the second city, Bulawayo. And in Bulawayo, you say "good" by giving two thumbs up, but in Harare the sign is putting four fingers on top of the thumb. Representatives from all of the country's provinces worked on the year-long project, bringing together the various dialects that have evolved. Previous sign dictionaries had been rejected by Zimbabwe's deaf community as they were not compiled by deaf people. Speaking in sign language using an interpreter, one of the compilers, Sindile Mhlanga, said this was a huge breakthrough for deaf people in Zimbabwe. "Many people were not comfortable to use the old sign language dictionaries as the signs used in them are different to what is being used on the ground, but this dictionary was made for the deaf by the deaf," he said. "An accurate dictionary is the key for good communication with deaf people, and it will empower us to communicate with others. "We have situations where a boss will communicate with a deaf worker by writing notes on pieces of paper, that's disrespectful to us, and this dictionary will help to end this." Other signs have been changed because of lack of cultural relevance. The widely-used sign for "girl" imitates tugging a lock of long hair with the fingers, which is of US sign origin.