Fwd: "Curse hangs over African languages in Senegal"

Don Osborn dzo at BISHARAT.NET
Tue Feb 7 18:53:38 UTC 2006


--- In AfricanLanguages at yahoogroups.com, "Donald Z. Osborn" <dzo at ...>

FYI, this item was seen at
(Google also pulls up some other sites with the article). This article
is quite good, touching on several issues and mentioning the Year of
African Languages."

Curse hangs over African languages in Senegal

By Daniel Flynn

DJIBONKOR, Senegal -- Legend has it that the Bainouk people of
southern Senegal were cursed by a tyrannical king, who with his dying
breath condemned them to wander in poverty forever.

Today, the Bainouk eke out a meager existence from agriculture in the
forests of the lush Casamance region, their ancient language and
lifestyle under threat from the encroaching modern world.

"If we speak our language no one can understand us, so we use Diola if
we go into town," said 60-year-old Jacques Sanya, referring to the
Diola language commonly spoken in the region.

Seated in front of his mud hut weaving a reed basket, Sanya laughs at
the mention of the curse.

"Our parents just told us they left Guinea to come here ... Now we
cultivate crops and make baskets to earn some money."

There are an estimated 1,000 speakers of Bainouk scattered in villages
in Casamance -- a labyrinth of tiny inlets and creeks sheltering
dozens of other ethnicities and languages.

In the freshly painted village schoolhouse in Djibonkor, Bainouk is
not taught. It is a familiar story in Africa, home to a third of the
world's more than 6,000 languages.

"Here we speak French in school. We also study English and Spanish ...
We do not use Bainouk," said Lilian, 12.

Linguists say many African languages are dying because speakers
believe foreign tongues are more useful. To prepare students for
business, linguistics departments in West African colleges usually
teach French or English.

"It's like throwing a Picasso down the toilet if you just allow a
language to die. A wonderful culture would die with it," said Roger
Blench, an expert on African languages.

"It's a story about globalization ... Should the whole world be eating
McDonald's and drinking Coca-Cola?" he asked.


Senegalese student Serge Sagna has returned to his isolated village of
Essyl -- some 10 miles southwest of the regional capital Ziguinchor at
the end of a dirt track -- to study the Bandial language, one of the
Diola tongues.

With a fierce history of independence, the Diola peoples of Casamance
resisted the onslaught of Mandinka-speaking tribes from the Sahara.
Unlike the rest of Senegal, they also maintained Christian and animist
beliefs in the face of Islam.

But with trade, mass media and tourism reaching ever deeper into
Casamance's quiet palm groves and mangroves, languages like Bandial
are under threat.

"It's a language which is doomed to disappear maybe in two
generations," said Sagna, adding that some parents in the village have
already stopped teaching their children Bandial.

"People from our villages used to be self-reliant. They used to
cultivate their rice; they used to depend on their own production," he
said. "Now, people go away to the city and when they come back, they
come back with a different language."

Senegal's national tongue Wolof has become one of Africa's "killer
languages," like Hausa in west and central Africa or Swahili in the
east of the continent.

Wolof is spoken by around 40 percent of Senegal's 11 million people as
their mother tongue, and by around the same number as a second
language. Its success threatens the roughly 30 indigenous languages
spoken in the country.

"Wolof has more prestige than our language, because it is associated
with fashion, with hip hop (music)," said Sagna, who is doing a
doctorate on Bandial at London's School of Oriental and African Studies.

Locally produced hip hop and rap music in Wolof have grown in
popularity in the former French colony since the early 1990s.

"Intellectual people choose to speak French and those who want to look
cool speak Wolof," Sagna said.


The United Nation's Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
(UNESCO) says one world language disappears on average every two
weeks. To draw attention to the problem, the African Union has
designated 2006 the year of African languages.

While experts recognize languages such as Bandial will never be widely
spoken, they can at least be saved from extinction.

"The first step is the media: There should be more broadcasts in
vernacular languages. Where this has been tried, as in northern Ghana,
this has had a good effect," said Blench. 

Education is the other key step. Governments must encourage the use of
indigenous languages in schools, experts say.

Last year, South Africa embarked on a shake-up of its schools system
to enable students to be educated in any of the country's 11 official
languages -- an effort to develop indigenous languages which were
suppressed under apartheid rule.

Ethnologue, a language database, says less than 1 percent of Bandial's
10,000 speakers are literate in their language. Eighty percent of
African languages have no orthograpy.

"I can speak Diola but I cannot write it even though it is my mother
tongue," said Michel Diatta, 21, from the western Casamance village of
Kabrousse. "If I could meet someone who knew how to write Diola, I
would love to learn."

For Sagna, there is a clear personal motivation for fighting to
preserve his mother tongue.

"When I speak Diola, I am more relaxed: I am at home. When I speak
English or French, I just don't relate to some things.

And he believes a deliberate effort is needed to save the language,
which has 10 words for the local staple rice.

"You have to be a missionary! You have to make the same effort
missionaries made to bring French here," Sagna said.


--- End forwarded message ---

More information about the Ilat mailing list