South African Sign Language, South African Deaf Community
The two questions constituting the title of this presentation may look simple but answering them is far from obvious. It is a well-known fact that across the world, the majority of deaf children are born to hearing parents who are not likely to know a sign language. These children start acquiring their sign language only when beginning (pre)school mostly as a playground variant through contact with (slightly older) peers since sign languages are still not widely used as medium of instruction in deaf education. The atypical acquisition process is but one of the factors likely to influence any sign language. Another such factor is the spoken language used by the surrounding hearing community. Both (deaf) education and (spoken) language use are complicated issues in South Africa. There are 11 official spoken languages and even more unofficial ones. Deaf education ranges from no education to certain (groups of) black deaf children, over Signed English education to other groups of (black, coloured and Indian) deaf children, to oral education to white deaf children. All of this has played a part in shaping South African Sign Language. It is therefore not hard to understand that determining the nature of SASL is also far from simple. And because it is the sign language that is the most important defining characteristic of any Deaf community, the same goes for the second question in the title. This presentation gives an overview of past positions on both these questions and aims at providing some preliminary answers.