Google celebrates unsung hero Prof. Okoth Okombo

Professor Okombo would have been 71 years old today.

Google celebrates unsung hero Prof. Okoth Okombo

As you navigate through Google today, you will see a doodle of the late Prof. Okoth Okombo, founder and former director of the Kenyan Sign Language Research Project based in the University of Nairobi.

Professor Okombo's international contribution to the field of sign language is extraordinary, and he is one of the leading scholars of sign language studies in the world. In recognition of his accomplishments, this exhibit celebrates his life and legacy, said Google.

Born on November 8 1950, Okombo grew up in the village Kaswanga of Rusinga Island located on the north of Lake Victoria. Okombo was an only child and his aunt and foster mother raised him.

Okombo attended Kaswanga SDA Primary School and Mbita High School in the Homa Bay County. He caught an interest in languages at an early age and wanted to pursue a career as a teacher.

Okombo was awarded a scholarship to the University of Nairobi, and here received his B.A (1977), M.A (1979) and PHD in Linguistics (1987).

He worked passionately with the university to his death in 2017, and was the youngest Professor to present its inaugural lecture.

While pursuing his linguistics doctorate in 1983, Okombo published Masira ki Ndaki (Misfortune is Inevitable”) in Dholuo, which is considered one of the first novels published in a local language.

Okombo founded the Kenyan Sign Language Research Project at the University of Nairobi, and published over 30 scientific publications on the structure, vocabulary, and sociological properties of the language of deaf Kenyans.

As a result, Kenyan Sign Language (KSL) was implemented in schools, hospitals, courtrooms, churches and the media. Okombo then implemented similar projects in Uganda, Tanzania, Swaziland, and South Africa.

Okombo furthered the research and reach of indigenous African languages. Working with UNESCO and government institutions, he was involved in creating guidelines on language policy in Africa. He was also part of developing the formulation of a national language policy for Malawi.

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