Gambian Association of the Deaf & Hard of Hearing

Gambian Sign Language & Books

The history of a national sign language in The Gambia is just unfolding. Gambia’s most common spoken languages are Mandinka, Wolof, Fula, Jola and Sarahuli. Gestures, although few, are characteristic of these languages. They are made whenever any of these languages are spoken, mainly to clarify or emphasis spoken words. Members of our community who cannot speak these languages, or who do so poorly, such as the Deaf, also share these gestures. However since these groups have to rely on these gestures totally for communication they and their families or close associates tend to invent additional signs and gestures in order to ensure they are understood. As a result only those sign users such as the hearing impaired or Deaf people who live in the close proximity with each other will share the same additional signs.


The majority of the Deaf throughout the world are born into or live within a family where there is no other Deaf person. Generally, Deaf people live not only in different families but in different geographical areas which in places like The Gambia may be some distance from each other with very little chance of contact. This means that the family with the Deaf member may develop their own way of signing, and that in certain areas a sign language may develop that is not used in other places. Such signed systems are relatively simple and tend to meet only basic communication needs.


When St John’s School for the Deaf was established in Kanifing it began to draw together a small number of Deaf children, encouraging their interaction with each other and the sharing of their home signs. In subsequent years the school admitted more deaf children as it grew bigger, and today has more than 150 students. The school’s teachers, while their main concern was to establish a reliable communication system to facilitate the children’s education, have made a significant contribution to the building of a Gambian Sign Language. They introduce many local and foreign signs to the children. The children were quick in absorbing these signs and building up their lexicon but naturally they also found their own way of making sign language phrases and sentences. Over the years not only did the group of Deaf people using these signs continue to grow bigger, but the school’s encouragement and the children’s growing need to express them better, forced this sign language to build up steadily.


When the Gambian National Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (GADHOH) came into existence it shared the school’s objective of developing a communication system for the Deaf school to facilitate education. However, unlike the school, GADHOH looks beyond the four corners of the school compound. Our objective is to develop a National sign language that our sign using citizens can rely on for communication purposes not only at school but also at home, at work, in prayers, and at leisure.


Among all the various sign languages in the world GADHOH selected the sign language used by St John’s School for the Deaf as a basis for our national sign language. It is the natural choice for most Deaf people in The Gambia and has by far the largest number of users and the fastest rate of growth and development.  In 1998 when GADHOH established its own office, we embarked on developing these signs further. We started building on what had been already achieved lexically. Profoundly Deaf people with at least basic general education were employed to work on this full time. They were encouraged to see sign language as an independent language and give preference to using and including our cultural signs at least on this basic level.


With the assistance of the Education for Development project (2001 - 2005) GADHOH has successfully documented GSL and produced 4 sign language books. These have been used as materials for GSL teaching activities with all our members both within and outside the St John’s School community. All the members of the school’s current or former community use it with little difficulty compared to other oral or signed communication systems. They are also part of an on-going project to produce a GSL Dictionary.


Sign language interpreters have been trained (in conjunction with EdDev) and are currently serving the deaf community at mainstream meetings, official meetings with Government officials, work with other NGOs, education and training activities, religious activities, legal matters, public information services, medical treatment and health services, as well as recreational events.

A number of deaf teachers have been trained successfully (supported by EdDev). These teachers teach sign language classes for deaf people and their families, and with co-workers with deaf people. They also assist in the training of new GSL interpreters and teachers. The teachers have also run projects on HIV/AIDS and other health matters; and basic literacy. They have also carried out surveys of the needs of deaf people in certain areas and assisted in the formation of regional branches of GADHOH


This is still developing and we hope to change some signs in future. GADHOH is again looking for assistance for this dictionary project.

Book 1       Book 2       Book 3       Book 4



Book 2

Food – Eat – Hungry – Cook – Drink – Thirsty

Butter – Salt – Oil – Sugar

Cheese – Egg – Groundnut – Soup

Vegetable – Yam – Potato – Beans – Cassava – Tomato

Cabbage – Garden egg – Onion – Okra – Cucumber – Pepper

Fruit – Orange – Pawpaw – Banana – Lemon – Mango

Pineapple – Coconut – Apple – Watermelon

Coffee – Water – Tea – Milk


Feeling & Emotions Love – Like – Forgive – Hate – Quarrel – Fight

Laugh – Smile – Promise – Cry – Afraid – Hope/Expect

Pity – Happy/Glad/Joy – Funny – Worry – Sad/Grief – Angry

Kind – Shy – Patience – Sorry – Surprise

Serious – True/Truth – Jealous – Lie


Health & Medicine Hospital – Doctor – Nurse – Pharmacy/Chemist – Medicine

Sick/Ill – Patient – Pain – Health/Healthy – Dentist

Fever – Injection – Malaria – Blood


School – Teacher – Class/Grade – Student

Principle – Library – Book – Holiday – Office – Paper

Letter – Newspaper – Pen – Computer – Pencil

Teach – Learn – Read – Study – Examine/Test – Write


Meeting & Communication Come – Meet – Invite – Go – Leave – Visit

Ask – Explain – Remember – Answer – Repeat – Forget

Think – Know – See/Look/Watch – Understand – Call – Show

Say – Listen – Fax – Hear – Telephone – Email




Transport – Taxi – Bicycle – Train – Car – Bus – Motorcycle

Truck/Lorry – Ship/Boat – Drive – Van – Plane – Fly


In The House Room – Toilet – Step/Stairs – Kitchen – Key

Door – Bed – Mirror – Window – Mat/Mattress

Table – Cupboard – Chair – Broom – Basket


Time – Hour – Early – Watch – Minute – Late

Always – Soon



Religion – Christian – God/Allah – Muslim

Bible – Pray/Prayer – Qur’an – Pray/Dua

Church – Believe – Alms/Charity – Mosque



Describing People & Things New – Young – Beautiful – Nice/lovely – Old – Ugly

Same/Equal – Easy – Right/Correct – Important – Different – Difficult – Wrong



Animal – Elephant – Monkey – Lion – Crocodile – Hyena

Cow – Goat – Horse – Gazelle/Deer – Sheep – Donkey

Dog – Rabbit – Lizard – Cat – Pig – Rat

Fish – Bird – Duck – Frog – Chicken – Owl

Insect – Fly – Spider – Mosquito – Worm – Snake


Quantities All/Whole – Many – More – Half – Few – Less

Enough – Only – Nothing


Colour – Blue – Green – Red – Yellow - Orange

Black – Brown – Pink – White – Grey - Purple

Gold - Silver

Book 1       Book 2       Book 3       Book 4      Top of Page

Book 3

Places in Town Post Office – Gamtel – Hotel – Bookshop – Cinema – Restaurant

Police Station – Court – Fire Station – Prison – Stadium

Port – Garage


Locations & Direction Left – Above – In Front of – In – Right – Below/Under – Behind – Out

Up – Down – Over – From – Close/Near/Near to – Straight – Far


Things in the House Radio – Television – Freezer – Video Recorder – Iron – Fridge

Lamp – Bulb – Candle – Key – Plug/Socket – Torchlight – Matches – Hanger

Air Conditioner – Drawer – Fan – Ladder – Box – Bucket

Blanket/Bedsheet – Pillow – Napkin


Things in the Kitchen Dishes/Plates – Cup – Glass – Pot – Bowl – Mug – Pan

Kettle – Knife – Spoon – Ashtray – Flask – Fork – Ladle

Sign Language - GADHOH – Language – Dictionary

Signing – Translate – Interpreter


Education – Class/Grade – Training/Practise – Result – Certificate

Lesson – School Bag – Blackboard – Break – Uniform – Chalk – Duster

Letter – Envelope – Paper – File – Rubber – Ruler – Example – Copy

Nursery School – Primary School – Middle School – High School

College – University – Clever – Stupid


Job/Work/Profession – President – Minister – Politician – Soldier – Officer

Policeman – Lawyer – Messenger – Receptionist/Secretary – Typist – Watchman – Herdsman

Rent Collector – Postman – Cook – Waiter – Cleaner

Baker – Butcher – Blacksmith – Welder

Chemist – Electrician – Engineer – Gardener

Barber – Hairdresser – Tailor – Fisherman

Artist – Painter – Photographer – Marabout

Carpenter – Plasterer – Mason – Plumber


Weather & Nature Earth – Sky – Heaven – Mountain – Nature – Cloud – Star – Valley

Hill – Lake – Island – Rock/Stone – Ocean/Sea – Mangroves – Swamp

Forest – Palm Tree – Flower – Grass/Plants – Wood – Leaf – Thorn

Sunshine – Rain – Air/Wind – Sand – Shade – Rainbow – Storm

Ice – Snow – Warm – Wet – Dry


Farm – Farmer – Land/Field – Soil – Seeds – Hay – Crops

Cassava – Millet – Maize/Corn – Cashew – Yam – Sorghum – Sugar Cane – Sesame


Business, Trading & Money Market Stall – Bank – Supermarket – Company – Business

Shopkeeper – Businessman – Cashier – Shop

Sale/Sell – Buy – Trade/Exchange – Pay – Cheap – Expensive – Poor – Rich

Money/Loan – Price/Cost – Delasi – Butut


Give & Take Give – Take – Send – Receive – Borrow – Keep – Bring – Find

Share – Carry – Help – Support – Put


Follow – Pass – Stand – Lie (down) – Hide – Kneel – Sit (down) – Sleep

Fast/Quick – Slow

Book 1       Book 2       Book 3       Book 4      Top of Page

Book 4

Life / Alive ‘V Recover ‘V Breath / Breathe ‘V Death / Die ‘V Common Cold ‘V Dizzy ‘V Cough

Stomach Upset ‘V Diarrhoea ‘V Vomit ‘V Mumps ‘V Measles ‘V Meningitis ‘V Aids

Heart Attack ‘V Cancer ‘V Disabled ‘V Blind ‘V Dumb ‘V Menstruation ‘V Circumcise / Circumcision

Pregnant ‘V Midwife / Nurse ‘V Health Worker ‘V Red Cross


Hygiene ‘V Soap ‘V Shampoo ‘V Body Lotion / Oil ‘V Talcum Powder ‘V Perfume ‘V Comb

Bath ‘V Shower ‘V Clean ‘V Dirty ‘V Towel

Razor Blade ‘V Barbing Machine ‘V Toothbrush ‘V Toothpaste ‘V Nail Cutter ‘V Nail File


Today ‘V Now ‘V Then ‘V Earlier‘V Later ‘V Once ‘V Twice

Sometimes ‘V Daily / Every Day ‘V Recently ‘V Again ‘V Still / Yet ‘V Until ‘V Since

Forever ‘V During / While ‘V Future ‘V Past ‘V Second ‘V Alarm Clock

Sunrise ‘V Sunset ‘V Noon / Midday ‘V Midnight


Quantity, Size & Measurement Quantity ‘V Full ‘V Half ‘V Some ‘V Quarter ‘V Empty ‘V Most

Much / Many / Plenty / A lot ‘V None ‘V Part ‘V Almost ‘V Both ‘V Weigh ‘V About

Heavy ‘V Light ‘V Size ‘V Measure / Measurement ‘V Long ‘V Short ‘V Large / Great / Huge ‘V Little / Small

Wide / Width ‘V Narrow


Counting & Commerce Add ‘V Subtract ‘V Multiply ‘V Divide ‘V Increase ‘V Decrease ‘V Raise ‘V Discount / Reduce

Count ‘V Total / Sum ‘V Profit ‘V Percent ‘V Fee ‘V Receipt

Commerce ‘V Industry ‘V Import ‘V Export ‘V Customer / Client ‘V Tax


Describing People and Feelings Tall ‘V Short ‘V Thin ‘V Fat ‘V Strong ‘V Weak ‘V Busy ‘V Lazy

Person ‘V Feeling ‘V Proud ‘V Angry ‘V Tired ‘V Feel ‘V Courageous / Brave ‘V Nervous

Frustrated ‘V Shocked ‘V Disappointed ‘V Depressed ‘V Careful ‘V Lonely ‘V Selfish

Stubborn ‘V Wish ‘V Prefer ‘V Envy ‘V Impress ‘V Satisfy / Content ‘V Suffer

Succeed ‘V Fail ‘V Reject ‘V Protect ‘V Neglect ‘V Dear ‘V I Love You

Meeting ‘V Assemble ‘V Introduce ‘V Notice / Recognize ‘V Attention ‘V Announce

Sound / Noise / Noisy ‘V Silence / Quiet ‘V Talk ‘V Scream / Shout ‘V Clap ‘V Disturb ‘V Warn ‘V Criticize / Condemn

Begin / Start ‘V Finish ‘V Continue - Co-operate ‘V Make ‘V Do ‘V Try / Attempt ‘V Happen / Occur

Check ‘V Cause ‘V Choose / Select ‘V Pick ‘V Include / Involve ‘V Join ‘V Change ‘V Correspond

Internet ‘V Internet Cafe ‘V Message / Chat ‘V Mobile Phone ‘V Minicom

Word ‘V Sentence ‘V Vocabulary ‘V Grammar


Physical movement & force Race ‘V Chase ‘V Escape ‘V Slip ‘V March ‘V Line up ‘V Tip-Toe

Surround ‘V Rise ‘V Kick ‘V Hurt ‘V Crawl ‘V Rest ‘V Knock ‘V Beat / Defend

Force ‘V Prevent / Stop ‘V Faint - Hold ‘V Release ‘V Pull ‘V Push

Collect ‘V Scatter / Spread ‘V Search / Seek / Look for ‘V Catch - Distribute ‘V Gather ‘V Throw

Touch ‘V Break ‘V Drop ‘V Cover ‘V Lock ‘V Open ‘V Close


Other words And ‘V Or ‘V Because ‘V But / However ‘V Maybe / Perhaps ‘V Also

There are four books with signs from Gambian Sign Language that have been compiled by GADHOH. The books were printed in 2002 - 2005 and are available from the GADHOH office.

Book 1 focuses on signs for greeting, family, weather, months, days, and countries, and contains the manual finger alphabet and number signs. In Book 2, signs for food and drinks, feelings and emotions, health, education, and other aspects of everyday life are presented. Book 3 features signs for different locations, directions and places in town, professions and occupations, nature and farming, trade and business as well as physical movement and travel. Book 4 builds on the vocabulary of the first three books and focuses on signs in the areas of medicine and hygiene, quantity, size and measurement, counting and commerce, and describing people and feelings, among other things

These form part of GADHOH's work in developing and establishing a common sign language in The Gambia. They can be used in the sign language and literacy classes as well as in the sign language teacher training courses, both run by GADHOH. They are also useful as reference materials for learners and interpreters of Gambian Sign Language.

In the books, only single lexical items are presented. Sign language phrases or sentences as well as grammatical information are not included. Therefore, these booklets are not compiled as self-teaching materials but more as support materials for the sign language teaching and literacy classes. The signs were selected by the GADHOH team in relation to their importance in the areas of sign language teaching and literacy. They are arranged in thematic groups for easy reference. Book 4 comprises of approximately 300 signs as well as two picture stories.

The sign language teachers working within the GADHOH team have been involved for some time in the documentation of signs used by deaf people in the Gambia and have worked extensively on this series of booklets. Lamin Jaiteh and Ousman Saidy, GADHOH's artists and themselves sign language users, have produced the drawings for this book, and Andrew Mootoo of the Deafax trust has undertaken the graphic design work. Dr Constanze Schmaling has acted as principal advisor on behalf of Education for Development. The publication was part of a five year project funded by Comic Relief (UK).

Book 1       Book 2       Book 3       Book 4      Top of Page