UCL Deafness Cognition and Language Research Centre


Media Release

11 December 2013, 5:00 pm

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Interpreter at Nelson Mandela's Memorial

Bencie Woll, Director of DCAL has commented on claims that the interpreter at Nelson Mandela's funeral was signing in Zulu.

"There's no such thing as signing in Zulu. No sign languages are versions of spoken languages: British Sign Language is not a form of English, and sign language used by people from the Zulu Deaf community is not a form of Zulu. It's like saying someone is speaking French in English. Sign languages are independent languages with their own grammar and structure. What he was doing looked extremely odd. There has been almost universal agreement among deaf South Africans they did not recognise it."

There are however very many sign languages across the globe. In the European Union for example, 23 official spoken languages and 31 sign languages have been documented.

The study of sign language is also a global discipline. DCAL has for example recently hosted the world's most important international conference for sign language studies.  The 'Theoretical Issues in Sign Language Research' conference (known as TISLR for short) was held from 10th to 13th July. Academics from over 40 countries descended on London to present their latest thinking on a wide range of subjects within the field of sign language research.

For further information on Sign language please visit the FAQ section of the DCAL website