"Globalization & the Role of African Languages for Devt."

Don Osborn dzo at bisharat.net
Sun Feb 24 06:23:44 UTC 2008

Thanks for the feedback. I think there are several things going on in such
situations (apart from the particular tragic events in Kenya recently).


It is not uncommon that the ways people use a language shared by some but
not all in a particular setting might give those who don't speak it the
feeling of exclusion. A lot depends on how the languages are used, the
speakers' behavior, etc., and is not inherent to multilingualism or its
expression. On the other hand, I have noticed in West Africa a tendency to
shift languages if necessary to include someone coming into a discussion, or
else someone does a quick translation. 


The notion of keeping some languages away, down and out of the picture for
whatever reason may have more costs than is realized. They don't go away so
easily, and while relegated to the margins not only serve less good than
they might, but perhaps serve as vehicles for continuing prejudice or worse.


There was a news item about radio broadcasts in various local languages in
Kenya inciting hatred and violence.* The solution of course would not be to
curtail use of these languages, but to use those same tongues and the terms,
metaphors and cultural references that are part of them to counter negative
messages with more positive messages.


Part of the hope of language development, as I see it, is to seize the high
ground for more positive and constructive discourse, preferably before you
get to the point of such radio broadcasts.


One other note re perceptions of language and linguistic diversity in
Africa: Nigerian linguist Ayo Bamgbose has written of the twin fallacies of
language policies on the continent: that multilingualism always divides and
that one language always unites. The assumption that language necessarily
divide is strong enough that one article from Tanzania a last year referred
to the genocide in Rwanda as being between groups speaking different
languages,** which of course it was not.


Maybe the issue at the water cooler in Kenya - or in places of work in the
US - should not be how to keep people from speaking certain languages, but
rather encouraging tolerance on the one hand and politeness (at the risk of
sounding quaint) on the other. Acceptance of linguistic diversity and
consideration of others' feelings in social settings go together. The coming
together in Kenya may be difficult after what has happened, but is
suppressing use of languages really an ideal element of reconciliation or
could there be other ways, especially for the longer term?


This view of linguistic pluralism from Uganda in 2005 may be of interest***


"From my experience with East and Southern African cities, Kampala and
Johannesburg are the more culturally plural, that is in terms of language
diversity. With inhabitants freely expressing themselves in any of their
languages that they deem fit, rather than being constrained to relate to
each other in one State-imposed lingua franca. And this is a strength that
adds to the cosmopolitan outlook and cultural tolerance of these two post
conflict societies.


"On the other hand, the language policies of a number of our neighbours,
notably Sudan with Arabic and Kenya and Tanzania with Kiswahili, have led to
cultural-cide. This has undermined their numerous indigenous languages.  ."


I might add that the description of language use in Kampala and Johannesburg
sounds a rather like my experience in some West African cities.


Don Osborn


*Alisha Ryu, "Radio Broadcasts Incite Kenya's Ethnic Violence" VOA 30
January 2008 http://www.voanews.com/english/2008-01-30-voa38.cfm 

**Neema Mugali, "Kiswahili, bridging the gap of ethnic divide" Guardian
2007-05-03 09:07:34

***Kintu Nyago, "Kiswahili: No General Application"  The Monitor, February
24, 2005 http://groups.yahoo.com/group/AfricanLanguages/message/314 




From: owner-lgpolicy-list at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
[mailto:owner-lgpolicy-list at ccat.sas.upenn.edu] On Behalf Of Stan & Sandy
Sent: Saturday, February 23, 2008 7:55 PM
To: lgpolicy-list at ccat.sas.upenn.edu; AfricanLanguages at yahoogroups.com
Subject: Re: "Globalization & the Role of African Languages for Devt."


A Feb 11 article in the New York Times, entitled "Kenya's Middle Class
Feeling Sting of Violence " seems to come to a different conclusion. 

"Mr. Mbugua spoke the other day at one of those meetings about the
importance of reconciliation in the workplace. His idea was to keep local
languages, which many Kenyans speak in addition to the country's official
languages (English and Kiswahili), away from the water cooler. 'We don't
want people to feel excluded when they're at work,' he said.

----- Original Message ----- 

From: Don Osborn <mailto:dzo at bisharat.net>  

To: AfricanLanguages at yahoogroups.com ; lgpolicy-list at ccat.sas.upenn.edu 

Sent: Friday, February 22, 2008 1:42 PM

Subject: "Globalization & the Role of African Languages for Devt."


I just came across a link to Ghirmai Negash's 2005 paper, "Globalization and
the Role of African Languages for Development," on the Sociolingo's African
Linguistics blog at
role-of-african-languages-for-development/ and thought I'd pass on the
reference. Apparently it was just made available online at
http://repositories.cdlib.org/ies/050219/ . The abstract follows; the full
paper in PDF format can be downloaded at


"Indigenous African languages are largely eliminated, and marginalized from
use. Instead of investing in and using their linguistic, cultural, and human
potential, African governments and the elite still continue to channel away
their resources and energies into learning 'imperial' languages that are
used by a tiny minority of the populations. Against the backdrop of
constraining global forces, and Africa's internal problems (wars,
repression, and general economic misery), this paper argues that African
languages could be the most critical element for Africa's survival, and
cultural, educational and economic development. In order for this to happen,
however, Africa must invest in this sector of 'cultural economy' as much as
it does (should do) in the 'material economy', since both spheres are
interrelated and impact on each other."

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/lgpolicy-list/attachments/20080224/841d9f27/attachment.html>

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list