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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
INTRODUCTION 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.
SYNOPSIS 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 discussion
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.
CRITICAL EVALUATION 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''.
REFERENCES 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.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER 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.