Literature Review Standardisation and SASL January 2024

In accordance with the recommendations of the report on the 2023 South African Sign Language (SASL) Indaba, this literature review was produced by the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB) in preparation for the second PanSALB SASL Indaba, to be held on 1 & 2 February 2024. The literature review investigates and clarifies for past and future attendees of PanSALB workshops on SASL lexical and grammatical standardisation, and PanSALB staff and Board, perspectives on standardisation and the typical process of standardisation. Further, it presents case studies on the standardisation of South African official languages and sign languages abroad and makes proposals on the way forward for SASL and standardisation. The research reveals that it is more democratic to perceive the standardisation process as creating a standard variety (not language) that is equal (not superior) to other varieties and that this variety should be used in formal, professional, and public domains, namely education (subject terminology), legislation and court matters, official governance, economics, and SASL interpreters in media. It should not be taught as the “correct” form of the language. It is further revealed that standardisation may be an inappropriate and marginalising process given its ties to the Global North, single-language states, and empire, and so it should not be implemented in a prescriptive
manner. Through case studies of the standardisation processes of many languages, it is shown that a descriptive approach is more democratic and mitigates later risks of restandardisation demands, which are often justifiably based on the exclusion of marginalised groups from the original standardisation process. A descriptive approach entails first the extensive collection of all SASL signs in the form of a dictionary after which prescription may never take place or may never been enforced. Alternatively,  the Dutch Sign Language method, presented as a case study, is an interesting consideration for future efforts of an inclusive selection process. However, the major finding of the review is that it is premature to  initiate any formal standardisation processes for SASL. Rather, further research into SASL variation and the SASL corpus should be professionally conducted along with the collection of signs and lexicographic data to create a near-exhaustive SASL monolingual dictionary and thesaurus. In the medium term, an SASL National Lexicography Unit needs to be established while government departments and educational institutions identify commonly-used words in their fields of expertise that can be prioritised for dictionary making, education, and interpreter training.


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