Africa Speaks Reasoning Forum

GENERAL => Essays and Reasonings => Topic started by: Iniko Ujaama on May 17, 2009, 01:59:50 PM

Title: Globalization and the role of African languages for Development
Post by: Iniko Ujaama on May 17, 2009, 01:59:50 PM
The following exerpts come from an article by Ghirmai Negash entitled "Globalization and the role of African languages for Development” (

Negash raises a number issues, challenges and possibilities as pertain to African languages. This issue of language democratization is not unique to Africa and is true to most parts of the world whether it is intra- or international. The hegemony of certain languages mirrors that of people over others and engaging the issue with a wider scope of possibility as opposed to mere accommodation of the current hegemony of European interests and language on the world actually creates real possibilities of transforming the shape of globalization and that of persons within it with dividends to be had on a world scale(economically, socially, environmentally, culturally and otherwise). The promise of progress through specific languages has more significantly marginalized persons (intra- and internationally) than it has empowered, it had created elites in countries where such languages are not spoken effectively by the majorities and has secured a continuation of this status quo by these very elites. The tendency is not to empower persons in the roots where they stand(their language of proficiency) but to relegate that language to relative insignificance and to persuade them to substitute at least in terms of importance with one dominant language.
Negash interrogates both the challenges and possibilities for their insurmountability and feasibility respectively. He has shown the strides made and the obstacles yet to be overcome. In this article, he also gives an overview of nature of discourse which has surrounded this issue of language. The issue of the relationship between the preservation of languages and that of biodiversity is one which perhaps needs closer attention as he points out. European languages in Africa and other parts of the neo-colonial world are attached to some level of privilege as well as particular cultural ideals and preferences. I think there may be some basis to expect that the knowledge of herbs, the desire to preserve certain plants and other aspects of cultural heritage may gradually over time disappear. The effect of policies which bias certain languages is to remove from persons and cultures the ability or even willingness to share their cultural heritage.

While it is often argued that localized languages serve as a hindrance to development, this too is an issue which needs to be given closer attention. Language discrimination to a large extent has served to disempower and marginalize particularly females who tend to remain close to home whereas males are more likely to integrate in social spaces where proficiency is honed. From here onward, I will let Negash speak for himself.

“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.”

“There is more ground for optimism. According to an article in the New York Times of
November 12, 2004, in addition to the harmonization and standardization efforts, “across the
continent, linguistics are [moreover] working with experts in information technology to make
computers more accessible to Africans who happen not to know English, French or the other
major languages that have been programmed into the world’s desktops.”19 Motivated by
market factors, website giants like Microsoft and Google seem keen to integrate some of the
major African languages into the cyberspace, while linguists, rightly, embrace the
development as a welcome by-product of the information age, and seek to increase the
incidence of using and accessing as many African languages as possible on the internet, but
also for the “preservation” of the “so-called minority languages,” and quickly vanishing
ones.20”  ( this article looks at a Kenyan scholar who presented his Masters and Doctoral theses in Agricultural Science in Gikuyu

I have shared in this forum previously about Kenyan author Ngugi Wa Thiongo who has substituted English as his primary language of creative expression for Gikuyu his indigenous language and has also written much about the issues concerning language and how privilege or lack there of can be administered through language policy. He also provided some proposals, one of which was the role of translators which has the multiple purposes of preserving cultural heritage and knowledge, that of providing employment while further increasing the accessibilities of works in a language, increasingly literacy, increasing the market for books and peoples access to knowledge, removing the stigmas and marginalization integrated into discriminatory language policy, instilling self confidence and pride......

This is an issue I feel very strongly about and I would welcome comments. Please read the articles referenced before comment so that the discussion could at least be informed thereby. No need discussing exclusive of the central stimulus.
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