African Languages: Myth or Reality

Topics: Africa, African Union, Language policy Pages: 15 (4478 words) Published: March 7, 2011

This is the first draft on the use and usage of African languages. Concern has been placed on economic development and indigenous languages. The question that is being answered or addressed in this writing is whether the use of indigenous languages in developmental issues (economic) is a myth or reality especially in African states. It is of much relevance to note that various Afro centric views have been employed in the issue of African languages in development.

Much-related examples have been drawn from the East in China and Japan and the West in Germany where their economic revivals came as an issue of using indigenous languages as languages of science and technology. It is in highlight that for the past 30 years of having attained independence, Africans are still in the verge of colonialism, under colonial legacy and perplexing themselves in the name of development.

In as much as can be noted African languages have been dealt with backwardness, poverty and non-intellectuality as has been noted in South Africa though present is a solid language policy uplifting marginalized Zulu, Xhosa, Swazi, Sotho, Tswana, Leboa, Tsonga, Venda, Ndebele languages at the expense of English and Afrikaans. As Ngugi (1987) puts it Africans were taught to be ashamed of their own languages and in colonial use of colonial languages called for punishment.

K.K Prah (2001) further asserts that language is the main pillar in any system. Societies are to advance scientifically and technologically if primacy is vested in the development and use of African languages.

It is therefore the purpose of this writing to point at the problems leading to the mythicisation of indigenous languages usage and the solutions thereof.


The coming of the Europeans brought about so many changes among them what Rodney (1989:30) says “…cultural and psychological…” It follows that the African was made to believe that everything about him was going to die. Cultures as well as tradition were whipped out of the African’s mind as well as the sense of belonging and self-reliance. In as much as African culture was overtaken by foreign values and ideologies the local people were introduced to a world of minority and superior languages where African languages were said to be inferior.

Missionaries’ roles are not to be left unidentified, as they played a big role in the construction of indigenous languages in African states. The main reason for doing this was solely for the dissemination of Christian news to the locals. It therefore followed that in order to reach the people they had to use a local language to initiate understanding and mutual agreement. However as Vambe (2002) notes foreign languages in most colonial African states were passport to opportunities and success beyond the global village. Though missionaries had a role in promoting the use of indigenous languages, it can be noted that, they were to some extend just pushing for initial literacy as mother tongues era vital for understanding at the initial stages of education. The system continue to the present day Africa where local languages in schools are the medium of instruction from Grade 1 up to Grade 3 then English takes over as according to the UNICEF declaration of 1954.

Indigenous languages were marginalized and sidelined as poor and backward and in such ideologies the broad masses on the continent were also marginalized. Owino (2002:23) states that “use of European languages constituted marginalization or exclusion of the broad masses on the continent.” The assertion is that the larger masses are rural and traditional bound and very few know foreign languages. In so doing, the African was made a stranger in his own land, since intellectuality determined success.

It followed that the African was mentally thrown out of order by the colonial authority with the assumption that everything African was going to die as Rodney (1989:30) notes. Just as...
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