The Sociolinguistics of Ethiopian Sign Language

A Study of Language Use and Attitudes

By Eyasu Hailu Tamene

Categories: Linguistics
Series: Sociolinguistics in Deaf Communities
Imprint: Gallaudet University Press
Hardcover : 9781944838065, 160 pages, January 2018
Ebook : 9781944838072, 160 pages, January 2018
Request a Desk or Exam Copy Request a Media Review Copy

This is a groundbreaking study of Ethiopian Sign Language (EthSL) that examines EthSL use in various spaces and investigates the factors that impact attitudes toward this under-researched language.



Ethiopian Sign Language (EthSL) emerged relatively recently; its development is closely tied to the establishment of the first school for deaf students in Addis Ababa by American missionaries in 1963. Today, EthSL is used by more than a million members of the Ethiopian Deaf community, but it remains an under-researched language. In this work, Eyasu Hailu Tamene presents a groundbreaking study of EthSL that touches on multiple aspects of Deaf people’s lives in Ethiopia.
               Tamene collects data from three principal groups of people: deaf participants, teachers of deaf students, and parents of deaf children. He examines EthSL use within families, in formal and informal settings, and in various community spaces. He documents the awareness among different groups of the services available for deaf people, such as sign language interpreters and Deaf associations. He finds that members of the Deaf community show positive attitudes toward the use of EthSL and investigates the factors that impact those attitudes. His work indicates that there are still critical gaps in recognition and support for the use of EthSL, which can pose a threat to the vitality of the language. The Sociolinguistics of Ethiopian Sign Language will help to advance public understanding of EthSL and contribute to improved educational and social outcomes for the Deaf community in Ethiopia.


Eyasu Hailu Tamene is an assistant professor in the Department of Linguistics at Addis Ababa University and is one of the founders of Ethiopia’s first BA program in Ethiopian Sign Language and Deaf Culture.



"Overall, this volume is a highly informative contribution to our understanding of the situation of the Deaf community in one of Africa's most populous countries...Tamene has done a great service to the field by providing a rich portrait of the Ethiopian Deaf community."

— Sign Language Studies

"The book provides a valuable contribution to the field of sociolinguistics of sign languages and Deaf studies...The focus of this study is on Ethiopian Sign Language (EthSL) and the Ethiopian Deaf community. A description of the sociolinguistic situation of EthSL is a valuable addition; it sets a benchmark for future linguistic research on EthSL, where very little research has been done."

— Language in Society