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Review of  New Language Bearings in Africa

Reviewer: Angela Bartens
Book Title: New Language Bearings in Africa
Book Author: Margaret Jepkirui Muthwii Angelina Nduku Kioko
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 15.2202

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Date: Wed, 28 Jul 2004 16:13:31 +0300
From: Angela Bartens
Subject: New Language Bearings in Africa. A Fresh Quest

EDITORS: Muthwii, Margaret Jepkirui; Kioko, Angelina Nduku
TITLE: New Language Bearings in Africa
SUBTITLE: A Fresh Quest
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2004

Angela Bartens, University of Helsinki

As stated by Muthwii and Kioko in their editorial (pp. 1-9), the issues
most relevant to the discussion of present-day developments in the use
of languages in Africa are (1) the effects of language policies adopted
since independence, (2) language attitudes, (3) literacy dilemmas, (4)
challenges in the language classroom, and (5) the relationship between
language and economic development, and the continent's response to
globalisation (p. 1 and ff.). The issues are, of course, intrinsically
related and mostly it is all about the perpetuation of (neo-
)colonialism vis-à-vis African indigenous languages, but as several
authors of the volume under survey argue, the actual situation of
colonial languages such as English is not as straightforward as one
might expect when consulting a list of the official languages of Sub-
Saharan Africa. While studies on language policy and language attitudes
in Sub-Saharan Africa have been available to the larger academic
audience for some time now (cf. e.g., various studies by Bamgbose,
e.g. 1991, 2000), the fields of research on literacy, language
teaching and the effects of globalization and overall empowerment
(socioeconomic, cultural, linguistic) are going through a phase of
major expansion.

The volume under survey consists of twelve papers (in addition to the
editorial) dealing with the afore-mentioned issues. Felix Banda reports
on his research on literacy practices in Black and Coloured Communities
in South Africa (''A survey of Literacy Practices in Black and Coloured
Communities in South Africa: Towards a Pedagogy of Multiliteracies'',
pp. 10-33). Considering that multilingualism is a resource and that
everyday literacies constitute a stepping stone to academic literacies,
Banda investigated the literacy practices of a South African student
population drawing from the population groups formerly defined as Black
and Coloured. Major findings of the study were that Coloured students
have had more exposure to literacy events than their Black fellow
students. The urban-rural dichotomy works in the same sense. English is
the preferred language of literacy for all groups as it is perceived as
a literacy of power but this does not mean that positive attitudes
towards English translate into negative attitudes towards African
languages. On the other hand, this paper, too, confirms an independent
observation that the image of Afrikaans badly suffered during
apartheid, leading to language shift to English among part of the
Coloured population. Banda recommends that literacies in local
languages and in English should supplement each other.

Angelina Nduku Kioko and Margaret Jepkirui Muthwii examine the issue of
''English Variety for the Public Domain in Kenya: Speaker's Attitudes
and Views'' (pp. 34-49), their incentive being constituted by the fact
that ''when speakers' attitudes are known and well understood, language
planning and implementation ... is better achieved'' (p. 36). Drawing on
a sample of subjects from five different ethnic groups, Kioko and
Muthwii sought to establish for different domains which variety of
English was the preferred one. With minor differences between the
ethnic groups and according to urban or rural setting, a non-ethnically
marked educated Kenyan variety of English was preferred over native
varities as well as ethnically marked (i.e., L1-influenced) ones. This
empirical study confirms the observation made by Kembo-Sure in the same
volume (see below) that a Kenyan Standard English is currently
establishing itself.

The topic of Roni Sonaiya's contribution is ''The Globalisation of
Communication and the African Foreign Language User'' (pp. 50-58). The
main argument is that Africans need to come to terms with their past
and accept the functional value of the continued use of European
languages on the continent. However, only languages freely chosen stand
a chance of promoting understanding among the peoples of the world. In
order to enhance communication, communication skills have to be
specifically taught but they should be seen as applicable in specific
contexts only. Paul M. Musau raises the highly relevant issue of
''Linguistic Human Rights in Africa: Challenges and Prospects for
Indigenous Languages in Kenya'' (pp. 59-68). Taking Kenya as an example,
Musau concludes that the implementation of linguistic human rights in
multilingual African countries is very difficult and maybe even
impossible in many of them considering the enormous financial challenge
it constitutes. This is why language planning has to make part of
governments' overall long-term planning (p. 67). In Kenya, linguistic
human rights stand for the right to use at least three languages which
have to be adequately developed: one's L1, the language of wider
communication Kiswahili and the official language English. The
foundations for the predominance of English which continues to manifest
itself in the educational system, the media, book publishing and any
domain where socioeconomic mobility is to be expected were laid during
the colonial period. Musau considers that the enhancement of the status
of Kiswahili in the educational domain in Kenya over the past years
constitutes an example for the fact that ''favourable policy ... can
boost the fortunes of a language'' (p. 62). As far as the mother tongues
are concerned, the implementation of such policies as the
recommendation to use them as mediums of instruction from grade one to
three face serious problems: while there are over 40 languages in
Kenya, instructional materials have been developed only for 22 of them
(ibid.). Musau rightly remarks that ''At the moment there appears to be
a tendency for university research to treat these [unstandardised
African] languages as sources of data for testing linguistic theories''
(p. 63) while too little is being done in terms of developing them in
the sense of producing pedagogical materials, etc. This point is only
too valid for many other language groups/families as well.

Rosalie Finlayson and Sarah Slabbert report on a (pilot) literary
competition devised to encourage urban South African secondary school
students to use their primary languages and to gather data for the
development and analysis of oral and literary texts for wider use in
urban schools ('''What turns you on!': An Exploration of Urban south
African Xhosa and Zulu Youth Texts''; pp. 69-76). Such initiatives are
needed because in spite of the progressive language policy of post-
apartheid South Africa which conveyed official status to nine
indigenous languages in addition to English and Afrikaans, the standard
varieties of the African languages differ substantially from the
language use in multilingual urban settings. The authors suggest that
texts produced in such urban varieties could be used in the curricula
of both schools and universities (p. 75) and they also seem to imply
that this kind of endeavors could contribute towards the ''effective and
continuous restandardisation'' which they consider ''one of the key
processes in the development of the previously disadvantaged and
marginalised official languages in South Africa'' (p. 69).

Robinah Kyeyune discusses the ''Challenges of Using English as a medium
of Instruction in Multilingual Contexts: A View from Ugandan
Classrooms'' (pp. 77-88). Making the multilingualism of Ugandan
classrooms his main point, Kyeyune argues against mother tongue
education and, to a certain extent, even against bilingual education.
Although ''students often lack the mastery required for them to cope
with the demands of learning through the English medium'' (p. 82),
Kyeyune still recommends English as the only viable medium of
instruction. According to him, bilingual options should imply teachers'
awareness of the learners' deficiencies in using English rather than
the use of any particular mother tongue (p. 83; this corresponds more
or less to the accommodation programs as outlined by Siegel 1999). He
admits that ''there is no shortage of suggested benefits of [the]
mother-tongue medium'' (ibid.) but goes on to claim that the benefits of
English as a medium are equally numerous. Although he cites references
to literature, many if not most educationalists and language rights
activists may find this hard to digest. Admittedly, Kyeyune calls for
''case- studies of bilingual instruction, devoting these to clear,
systematic documentation of the realities of this practice'' (p. 85).
Wale Adegbite's paper (''Enlightenment and Attitudes of the Nigerian
Elite on the Roles of Languages in Nigeria''; pp. 89-100) is another
plea for the recognition of the complementarity of ex-colonial
languages such as English and indigenous African languages. He
considers that enlightenment and awareness campaigns should first
target the critical elite before addressing the masses. Adegbite
reports on a study of the language attitudes of university students
participating in an awareness-raising lecture course and concludes that
the information conveyed during the course radically changed students'
attitudes in the sense that they were much more favourable towards
their mother tongues after the course.

In his contribution ''Establishing a National Standard and English
Language Curriculum Change in Kenya'' (pp. 101-115), Kembo-Sure
essentially makes the same point as Kioko and Muthwii in their paper
(see above), i.e., that a Kenyan standard of English as spoken by
''educated and articulate'' Kenyans (p. 105) has to be recognized, but
takes it a step further by arguing that this standard must be catered
for in curriculum design. The same applies to the existing indigenous
languages. Kembo-Sure makes an interesting point by stating that code-
switching is not only considered a feature of good speech and writing
but that it should be employed and encouraged by the schools as well
(p. 111). This is most innovative when considering that teachers
traditionally have viewed code-switching as evidence for the lack of
dominance of any of the two or more languages in question and have been
hard pressed by linguists to change their views at all.

Mompoloki M. Bagwasi describes ''The Functional Distribution of Setswana
and English in Botswana'' (pp. 116-121). In the terms of Fasold (1984),
Botswana is a double overlapping diglossia without (extensive)
bilingualism where both the national language Setswana, spoken by 80%
of the population as a mother tongue, and the official language
English, some sort of knowledge of which is estimated at 35-40%, are
occasionally used in official situations and as mediums of instruction
in schools (p.118). However, in Botswana, too, English is the language
of economic mobility. One of the many consequences has been the
reduction of the number of years during which Setswana is to be used as
the medium of instruction from five to two in 1994. But in practice the
majority of children go to schools where Setswana is the medium of
instruction until seventh grade (p. 119). As a solution to this dismal
situation, Bagwasi advocates bilingualism (p. 121). He reports that a
national standard English is emerging in Botswana as well (p. 120).
Anna M. Kishe makes the case for ''Kiswahili as Vehicle of Unity and
Development in the Great Lakes Region'' (pp. 122-134). In recent years,
the region made up by the countries Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya,
Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo has made worldwide
headlines as a major conflict herd. Kishe argues that the continued use
of (neo-)colonial languages ''has inevitably led to disunity'' (p. 124)
and has fostered ''foreign thought'' (p. 125; Sapir and Whorf are
apparently still around). She proposes that Kiswahili, the de facto
lingua franca of the region be empowered to serve as an integrating
force in the unification and the development of the region. Stating
that Kiswahili has been used as a written language of art, literature
and commerce since the beginning of the twentieth century (p. 128)
obscures the fact that Kiswahili has been a literary language since at
least the early eighteenth century albeit the works produced before the
early twentieth century were written in Arabic script. Likewise, the
affirmation that ''its flexible structure (agglutinating) not only
provides room for it to adapt to social changes thereby expanding
further, but also gives it the ability to assimilate and incorporate
into its structure linguistic forms from other languages and
particularly scientific terminology'' (p. 129) does not seem exactly
scientific, to take up the term of the quote, and stands in outright
contradiction to the reminder that ''It should be realised that any
language is capable of meeting the demands placed on it provided that
it is given the opportunity to do so with clear language-planning
policies'' (p. 130). In many cases, the in itself laudable
recommendation that decision-makers, linguists and language planners
should work together in partnership (p. 130) represents above all
wishful thinking. Finally, when discussing the current status of
Kiswahili, mentioning not only that it is one of the official languages
of the OAU (only since 2002!) or that it is taught to such and such
extent in the individual countries of the Great Lakes region but also
that it is taught as a degree course in universities in places like
Beijing, Japan and Finland among others seems to reveal a dependence on
that very foreign thought criticized above. Nonetheless, the main point
made by Kishe is more than valid.

G.O. Simire's contribution ''Developing and Promoting Multilingualism in
Public Life and Society in Nigeria'' (pp. 135-147) is an insitent plea
for multilingualism and for the development of the indigenous languages
of Nigeria. Although the codes of wider communication should be more
strongly promoted, all Nigerian languages should be eventually
standardised and ''streamlin[ed] ... to meet with modern needs while at
the same time purging them of regional peculiarities as well as foreign
impurities'' (p. 144; sic).The subchapter on Nigerian Pidgin English
(pp. 139-140) constituted the most interesting part of the paper for
me. Although Simire admits that Nigerian Pidgin English is much more
widely used than any of the three national codes (Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba;
ibid.), he does not make any explicit recommendations to enhance its
status. This is not too surprising considering the attitudes towards
NPE (cf., e.g., Mann 2001).

In the last paper of the collection, Modoupe M. Alimi and Sibonile
Ellece discuss ''Course Design and Testing in an English Programme'' (pp.
148-156). The examination of whether course aims, contents and
objectives as well as teaching, learning and evaluation are in line is
based on written and oral data from the English Department of the
University of Botswana. This paper strangely comforts a European reader
like myself who grapples with the demands of the university enterprise
of the 21st century where, as the authors state, ''excellence is the
watchword'' (p. 154). However, in spite of the accuracy of the

of the fairly limited data this is the paper which least fits into the
general frame of the volume under survey. This is doubtlessly why it
was put last by the editors. The volume contains a Table of Contents
(p. v). There is no Index or summary information on the authors but
affiliation and correspondence addresses are indicated at the beginning
and at the end of each paper, respectively.

As stated by the editors, ''the volume's major asset lies in the
diversity of topics, the range of languages and the African
geographical areas covered'' (p. 1). This is perhaps not quite true:
there is not a single paper dealing with so-called Francophone or
Lusophone Africa which would have nicely completed the picture as
language issues were dealt with quite differently by the three main
colonial powers, something which among other things has contributed to
different realities today. The relative diversity of the papers alluded
to by the editors makes the collection quite heterogeneous as far as
the topic, quality and philosophy/ideology of the papers are concerned.
This may not find unanimous approval by all readers, especially those
interested in specific issues. As a matter of fact, it seems that the
general public of those interested in the sociology of language per se
is being catered for at least as much as the Africanist readership. On
the other hand, the fact that no such ideology as ''indigenous African
languages should replace neocolonial languages in public life or at
least be warranted parity'' can be interpreted as a plea for freedom of
speech and plurality of views on the part of the editors. The volume
under survey makes most interesting reading and it certainly is ''a
fresh quest''.

Bamgbose, Ayo (1991): Language and the Nation. The Language Question in
Sub-Saharan Africa. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Bamgbose, Ayo (2000): Language and Exclusion. The Consequences of
Language Policies in Africa. Münster, Hamburg & London: LIT.

Fasold, Ralph (1984): The Sociolinguistics of Society. Oxford: Blackwell.

Mann, Charles (2001): Towards a theory of language attitudes: Findings
on Angola-Nigeria Pidgin. Paper presented at the SPCL Conference in
Coimbra, June 26-27, 2001.

Siegel, Jeff (1999): Creoles and minority dialects in education. An
overview. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development
20:6, 508-531.
Dr.phil. Angela Bartens is Acting chair of Iberoromance Philology at
the University of Helsinki. Her research interests include language
contact including pidgins and creoles, sociolinguistics and applied
sociolinguistics including language policy and language planning.

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