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PhD defence

Ghanaian Sign Language(s): History, Linguistics, and Ideology

  • T.M. Hadjah
Thursday 27 June 2024
Academy Building
Rapenburg 73
2311 GJ Leiden


  • Prof.dr. M.P.G.M. Mous
  • Prof.dr. F.K. Ameka
  • dr. V.A.S. Nyst



The thesis explores Ghanaian Sign Language (GSL), the national sign language of Ghana within urban deaf communities. Using historical, linguistic and ideological data, the research discovered GSL is a cover term for various signing forms (e.g., ENGLISH, BROKEN, LOCAL). Tracing GSL roots back to the introduction of American Sign Language (ASL) in 1957 by an American missionary, this research unveils a lasting connection between ASL signs and GSL.

The thesis presents GSL's historical journey amidst significant challenges such as discrimination and sign language bans (oralism). It sheds light on signers' resilience and contributions to GSL's evolution. This exploration also highlights the emergence of local signing varieties (e.g., school-lects) alongside foreign-based signing forms within a triglossic framework that resembles the distribution and use of spoken languages in Ghana and other African countries.

The thesis unearths lexical relationships, examining variants of GSL’s connections not only with ASL but also with locally evolved village sign languages like Adamorobe SL and Nanabin SL. Moreover, the study investigates the expression of Size and Shape Specifiers (SASS) within GSL and Ghanaian gestural communication, offering valuable insights into the susceptibility of sign languages to their gestural environment throughout their life spans.

Beyond linguistics, the book explores social landscapes and language ideologies of sign languages in the Ghanaian urban deaf communities. It reveals a pluridimensional continuum of GSL usage and the interplay between high- and low-prestige variants. As an invaluable resource, this thesis enhances the understanding of African national sign languages, providing essential insights for researchers, teachers, and learners.

PhD dissertations

Approximately one week after the defence, PhD dissertations by Leiden PhD students are available digitally through the Leiden Repository, that offers free access to these PhD dissertations. Please note that in some cases a dissertation may be under embargo temporarily and access to its full-text version will only be granted later.

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