Mary Edward, McMaster University, Canada/ University of Ghana

Mary Edward is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Department of Language and Linguistics, McMaster University, Canada and a sign linguist with Indigenous Hands. She earned a BA in English and Linguistics from the University of Ghana, an MA in Linguistics from the University of Bergen in Norway, and a PhD in Linguistics from the University of Brighton in the United Kingdom. Mary is proactive in researching on signed languages. She is a field linguist with research experience in Ghanaian Sign Language, Adamorobe Sign Language, Nigerian Sign Language, and indigenous Nigerian sign languages. Her research interests include iconicity in sign languages, phonology of signed languages, morphology of signed languages, sign language typology (foreign-based and indigenous sign languages), Deaf Culture, diverse areas of the sociolinguistics of Deaf communities in Ghana and Nigeria, sign language acquisition and multilingualism in Deaf communities She has published several research papers on Sign Language Linguistics, Deaf Culture, Sociolinguistics of Deaf Societies, Multilingualism in Deaf Communities among many others.

Marco Stanley Nyarko

Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi (Ghana)

Marco Stanley Nyarko is a pioneering deaf educator, sign language linguistic and researcher serving the national and international Deaf Community with excellence for 17 years.
Nyarko holds a bachelor’s degree in Special Education from the University of Education, Winneba and a master’s degree in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) from the University of Ghana.
He has been involved in several deaf education projects in sign language research with the University of Leiden, University of Central Lancashire, and the University of Ghana, and currently partnered with working on AfriSign AI at Kwame Nkrumah University of Scienc and Technology, and also participated in deafness and development forums with his peers in Ivory Coast and Swaziland. Fluent in English, Akan, Ghanaian Sign Language, American Sign Language, and International Sign. Nyarko has an international network and exposure worldwide through his studies and research activities. He currently teaches Ghanaian Sign Language for Health Communication at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi (Ghana).

Multilingualism and Language Contact in African Deaf

Mary Edward & Marco Stanley Nyarko


Multilingualism constitutes a fundamental aspect of Deaf cultures. In African Deaf communities, multilingualism is a complex language phenomenon that has received little research. While multilingualism has demonstrated economic advantages for African societies (Brock-Utne, 2017), it has historically posed challenges for minority or indigenous sign languages in rural African areas (Edward, 2022; 2023). The diverse linguistic repertoires of African communities’ impactnumerous signing communities, influencing the vitality of indigenous sign languages. Our presentation expands on this by considering the dynamics of multilingualism and language contact among various sign languages across the African continent. Multilingualism in Deaf communities can result in language contact, which is the interaction of multiple languages in a common linguistic environment. This interaction can occur in a variety of ways, with both positive and bad outcomes. Multilingualism in Deaf cultures can result in contact between languages through a variety of means, including code-switching, borrowing, pidginization, and language shift.Understanding these interactions is vital for preserving linguistic diversity and protecting the rights of Deaf individuals to use and access their native sign languages. The study investigates the linguistic characteristics, patterns of language contact, and sociocultural factors influencing multilingualism in African Deaf communities using a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods, such as participant observation, interviews,and linguistic analysis of sign language recordings. Furthermore, it explores the risk of languageextinction resulting from language shift towards dominant languages. We will also examine thelinguistic diversity of African sign languages, emphasising their uniqueness and regionalvariances. Throughout the presentation, we shall examine case studies from different Deafcommunities in Ghana, Nigeria among others, highlighting their unique experiences, successes,and challenges. These case studies provide a more in-depth knowledge of the multifaceted natureof multilingualism in African Deaf populations. This investigation will provide insights into the dynamic processes of language interaction, such as code-switching, code-mixing, and borrowed signs. Drawing attention to the social components, our talk will consider the social dynamics among multilingual Deaf groups, including linguistic attitudes, ideologies, and the functions of the different languages in multilingual Deaf communities. Our presentation will add to the theoretical understanding and practical strategies for promoting linguistic diversity and inclusivity in Africa and beyond by investigating the consequences of multilingualism for language policy, education, and community identity. We will also suggest future directions for research on multilingualism and language contact in Deaf communities in Africa.


Brock-Utne, B. (2017). Multilingualism in Africa: Marginalisation and empowerment.

Multilingualisms and development, 61-77. London: British Council

Edward, M. (2022). Challenges and opportunities of teaching in multilingual Deaf Communities

in Sub-Saharan Africa. In Erasmos Charamba ed. Handbook of Research on Teaching in

Multicultural and Multilingual Contexts, 225-244. Hershey, PA: IGI Global. DOI:


Edward, M (2023). Multilingualism in Adamorobe and the Case for Adamorobe Sign Language

(AdaSL). In Julia Gspandl, Christina Korb, Angelika Heiling and Elizabeth J. Erling, The

Power of Voice in Transforming Multilingual Societies. Multilingual Matters.