Thursday, November 12, 2015

More on "community languages" in Africa

Following up on one of the topics of the previous post on this blog, here is some more recent information on use of the term "community language" in African contexts. That post discussed what I saw as a contrast between on the one hand a common use of the term in the West to describe a language of a minority community as differentiated from the dominant language of the majority population, and on the other hand, an African usage emphasizing a language spoken in a wider area, even as a lingua franca - implying "community" in a larger sense.

Regarding the latter, I came across an updated version of the 1985 UNESCO list of African community languages in the form of a map (image of the original PDF is on the right) and accompanying document, "Language of Instruction Policy and Practice in Africa," published in 2004(?) by the distinguished Nigerian linguist, Prof. Ayo Bamgbose. There are a number of differences from the original list, beginning with inclusion of South Africa, and listing of 212 languages (the previous version had 159).

Prof. Bamgbose also offers a shorter, and as I read it slightly different, definition for "community language" than that in the 1985 UNESCO survey:  
languages that are used for inter-ethnic communication
This formulation would seem to leave out widely spoken maternal languages that aren't also lingua francas (although any African lingua franca is also a mother tongue for some, and any first language that is widely spoken would likely also be used as second language by some). Still, this is different than the definition one finds in most references.

Of course, "community language" at its most basic just means a language spoken by some community. A quick follow up search found other uses of the term in discussing language in Africa that shade somewhat between what I have been contrasting as a Western focus on communities apart, and an African one on communities that link.

For example, a 2010 policy advocacy brief authored by Adama Ouane and Christine Glanz - "Why and how Africa should invest in African languages and multilingual education" (UNESCO & ADEA) - refers to "community language" once, after bringing up the importance of "learning to read and write in the language/s used at community level." And two recent edited publications feature papers discussing "community language" in various ways (the linked titles bring up passages using the term):
In the previous post I had suggested that it might be interesting to bring "community language" back into discussions of language in Africa. Evidently some people are already there...

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