The universal 12th language

The universal 12th language

Artist Susan Woolf depicts the complex hand signals of the taxi-bus in Johannesburg, almost its own language: 

In a nation with 11 official languages, the hand signals are a universal “12th” language that crosses cultural lines. Each signal pinpoints a specific route in street-side finger lingo that is used to bring jam-packed minibuses to a swift, traffic defying halt.

The burden is on the passenger:

As soon as you have the wrong sign, they take you to the wrong place. So it’s important to have the right sign,“ said Hlile Doshane, 52, who is a daily passenger. “If you show the wrong sign, it means you are lost.


Hopefully the map and the taxi hand signs will become an everyday thing like the London Underground. …. It doesn’t only empower blind people, it also empowers those who will to render services to blind people in the form of taxi operators. …. It’s going to help people – tourists and South African people beacause they don’t know where they’ll be going during the World Cup. The signs are very important so that people don’t get lost.

As a city that used visual language in the underground from the start, New York City might benefit enormously from something similar for its own taxis.