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Review of  Globalisation and African Languages

Reviewer: Luna Beard
Book Title: Globalisation and African Languages
Book Author: Katrin Bromber Birgit Smieja
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 15.2327

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Date: Tue, 17 Aug 2004 12:49:14 +0200
From: Luna Beard
Subject: Globalisation and African Languages

EDITORS: Bromber, Katrin; Smieja, Birgit
TITLE: Globalisation and African Languages
SUBTITLE: Risks and Benefits
SERIES: Trends in Linguistics, Studies and Monographs 156
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2004

Luna Beard, Department of Afroasiatic Studies, Sign Language and
Language Practice, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South

This collection of papers is dedicated to Karsten Legère on the
occasion of his 60th birthday. Legère's contribution to African
language studies, and specifically to Swahili, is conveyed in the short
biography at the beginning. This is followed by a bibliography of
Legère's work.

In their introduction to the volume, Bromber and Smieja (1) point out
that as the notion of globalisation increasingly undergoes critical
review, it is their aim to explore the contributions of a variety of
African linguists to this debate.

This volume of articles that relate to Legère's work, is divided into
three sections, namely:
I Language use and attitudes
II Language policy and education
III Language description and classification

The articles in section I address issues in sociolinguistic research.
While language conflict as a result of attitudes and use is often
associated with a negative connotation, the contributions by Rene
Dirven and Martin Pütz, as well as that by Peter Nelde point to its
positive aspects, also with regard to minority or endangered languages.
Their articles contribute to a more general debate as they refer to
European and North American as well as African linguistic environments.
The issue of language imperialism in relation to language conflict is
also discussed, specifically the dominant position of English and its
function in creating a language-based elite as opposed to
countermeasures that can raise the awareness and status of African

In the other contributions in this section, Herman M. Batibo considers
Setswana as a possible under-exploited national resource, Christopher
Stroud looks at reversing language shift in postmodern language contact
scenarios, and the article of the late Rajmund Ohly deals with
triglossia in the African context.

Batibo (59) refers to Pres, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt who said in 2000
that international economic integration had greatly affected not merely
investment and trade in developing countries, but also all levels of
human activity. Linguistic diversity is one important level that is
being affected adversely by the process of globalisation. Batibo (59)
points out that as the Batswana people become active members of the
global village in which the super-global languages suffocate minority
languages, they will fall prey to the dictates of the key players and
progressively lose their linguistic and cultural identity. Batibo (61)
concludes that the future of Setswana in Botswana, as well as the major
languages in Africa, will greatly depend on whether the decision-makers
want the country to be identified with the people and the nation's
culture and traditions or with Western modernity and the globalisation
process. He (61) does point out, though, that it is possible to
preserve one's cultural identity thorough genuine commitment and
systematic planning while subscribing to the global environment.

Stroud (94) points out that to the extent that language is primarily a
capital resource for communities, it must be conceded that local values
in local languages are glocal values in today's world; that one cannot
talk of the local apart from the global. Within Stroud's rethinking of
Fishman's theoretical approach to language reversal, this implies that
even local languages gain vitality through an association of the
intimate with power functions.

Section II comprises three articles. In the first one Vic Webb, Biki
Lepota and Refilwe Ramagoshi examine the implications of using Northern
Sotho as medium of instruction in vocational training in South Africa.
The following article by Al Mtenje takes the case of Malawi as an
example of developing a language policy in an African country. With
regard to elitist attitudes in Africa, Mtenje (156, 157) claims that
African elites are enemies of their own policies for cultural
development in that they, for instance, pay lip service to the use of
African languages, but do not speak them in public. Local languages
are looked down upon as inferior, underdeveloped and incapable of
conveying technological and scientific concepts, while English is often
quoted as extremely important for international communication. The
third article, by Mechthild Reh, is entitled Writing and reading in
English and L1: Attitudes among pupils in Lira an Mpigi, Uganda. Reh
(175) observes that pupils derive their notion of what is relevant and
should be liked to a considerable degree from what is included or
excluded from the school curriculum and school leaving certificates.
Lack of printed material, in particular text books, may, however, be an
obstacle in such cases.

Section III deals with the collection of linguistic data, description
and classification of African languages and consists of nine articles.
Daniel J. Mkude examines the impact of Kiswahili on Kiluguru, while
Arvi Hurskainen discusses loan words in Swahili. These are followed by
four articles that deal with core syntactic and phonological aspects:
Christina Thornell examines the noun phrase in the Kerebe language,
Nelli V. Gromova the infinitive in Swahili and Rudolf Leger the vowel
systems in the southern Bole-Tangale languages. Bernd Heine and
Christa König discuss word order in !Xun, one of the Khoisan languages
of Namibia. After that Jouni Filip Maho asks: How many languages are
there in Africa, really? In the next article Tore Janson presents a
diachronic overview of languages and language names in Mozambique. The
section is concluded by observations on Swahili and Midzinchenda plant
names by Franz Rottland and Ralf Grosserhode. Section III very much
reflects Legère's passion and focus in language studies.

Mkude (193) points out that at many universities in Africa it is
difficult to generate and sustain an interest in research on local
languages, even those that enjoy national or international status. He
then (pp. 193-194) explains the value of indigenous languages and
motivates research on minority languages.

Mkude (183,184) makes two remarkable statements that relate to the work
of Botibo and Dimmendaal. Firstly, that the minority languages in
Africa are not so much threatened by the ex-colonial languages that
have become the official languages in most states, but rather by the
dominant indigenous languages, especially the ones that have assumed
lingua franca status or national importance. Secondly, the paradox
that African countries that have strongly embraced ex-colonial
languages as their official as well as national languages appear to
have provided (unintentionally) a better environment for the survival
of the multiplicity of their local languages. As a result of this last
point, language shift and the associated process of language death is
less dramatic on the African continent than in most other parts of the

While questions relating to globalisation is most explicitly addressed
in Section I, the themes in Section III also relate to globalisation in
that it emphasises the advantages it offers in terms of research
connections and technical facilities that can potentially accelerate
the collection of data on endangered languages and vanishing cultural
knowledge. In this way a balanced perspective on globalisation is
Luna Beard is a researcher in the Department of Afroasiatic Studies,
Sign language and Language Practice at the University of the Free State
in Bloemfontein, South Africa. She works mostly in Cognitive
Linguistics. As far as microlinguistics is concerned, she enjoys
syntax and phonology, but her real linguistic passions are stylistics
and textual studies. She is in favour of interdisciplinary studies,
especially those that combine linguistics and communication studies, as
well as those that focus on the interface between linguistics and Bible
studies. She taught linguistics for 11 years at the University of the
Free State and the University of South Africa. After that she lived in
Tucson, Arizona for five years where she joined in with linguistic
discussions. She dreams of continuing her research at the university
of the Free state, or elsewhere.

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 3110180995
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: xvii, 326
Prices: U.S. $ 118.00