Language is reflective of culture, heritage and history. Language is the medium through which we make our voices heard. Africas’s voice is one of the most captivating, because of it’s unique intonation, particular vocal range, silencing resonance and enchanting rhythm. When she looses her voice, her conscience is infected and her children’s minds are infected with the idea that they are inferior.
The idea that the western world is superior to the African continent is not new. It is seen in our pursuit of ‘rapid economic transformation’ in order to compete with western economies, in our boundless hunger for American products and most especially, it is seen in most high school students’ desire to study in the U.S. and never look back. As Africans we hold the belief that everything that comes from the west, is simply the best.
Traveling with a group of African students this past week for the Pan-African Youth Leadership Conference (PAYLP), I spoke to Filomeno Paulo, a boy from the capital of Angola, he asked me which languages were spoken in South Africa and when I proudly replied that we have eleven official languages, he was shocked. After counting off our country’s abundant languages, admittedly I could only name eight out of the eleven, and asking Filomeno about the languages spoken in Angola; he told me something that both shocked and saddened me. He explained that the native language of Angola is frowned upon and one’s ability to speak Portuguese and English only works to elevate one higher on the social ladder. I decided to do some investigating and found that the same is believed in Mozambique and in Mauritius, French Creole is seen as vulgar and indicative of subpar education, while those speaking French are the epitome of sophistication and education.
African people are rejecting their native languages with the intention of appearing more westernised. It should go without saying that this is deeply problematic at best and incredibly dangerous at worst. Globalisation has created a vast network of communication, connecting people from all of over the world to each other and providing never-ending avenues for shared knowledge, however, these networks operate mostly in English. When these networks aren’t monopolised by the English language, another European language is an easy replacement. I cannot disagree that learning English and other European languages is valuable, as due to our colonial history and the enduring power of these western global superpowers, these languages are spoken across different continents. What I cannot agree with is the integration of European languages to the detriment and destruction of native African cultures and languages.
When Angolan and Mozambican education systems tell their people that their native languages are irrelevant and unsophisticated, they reinforce the hierarchy established by colonial powers and feed Africa’s already well-fed inferiority complex. When Mauritius frowns upon French Creole it destroys a language so deeply entrenched in the country’s national identity and history. When South Africans use one’s ability to speak English as a measure of one’s intelligence we adopt the mentalities of our colonial powers and oppressors. Language is a part of culture and if we lose our languages we, inevitably, lose the culture that fuelled long and passionate battles for African independence, we lose our identity as a people and African loses her soul.
Each African country needs to find a way in which it can marry its cultural history with its need for adaptation to an increasingly connected and English speaking world. This article is not the first to address such subject matter nor will it be the last. It is yet another article that urges Africans to protect our languages and dismantle the colonial influence that continues to propagate the idea that African is not good enough because it is not western enough. Make no mistake, we are fighting to protect Africa’s soul. Our continent has already endured centuries of damage at the hands of the very people we are working so hard to emulate. We are Africa’s children. Our mother has been violated and looted by foreigners and inhabitants alike, are we willing to let culture be stolen from us as well?
Written by Amukelani Mnisi