Let’s look at African languages

My posts are published now on ‘Africa on the Blog’.

On 4 February 2016, a post was published entitled ‘Let’s look at African languages‘. In it, I ask the question why in Africa, local languages have a much lower status than in most European countries.


One of the reasons I put forward is the traditional way in which languages are defined – a way that basically comes from American Protestant missionaries who sought to bring the Gospel in every ‘tongue’ they could find. I point how this leads to apparently absurd results in Europe. In a country like the Netherlands, for example, there are supposed to be twelve different languages – where ordinary Dutchmen know of only two. I suggest that things may be similar in many parts of Africa, but that African languages have not been studied in the framework of what they have in common, rather than what is different.

I point to the fact that many languages as used today, in Europe as well as outside of Europe, are the result of a conscious policy of building up those languages, using a continuum of dialects as a starting point. I wonder why this does not seem to have been done for African languages. I point out that in Africa, local languages are not protected, barely studied, and not studied from the point of view of what they have in common, rather than what is different. Local languages are not supported or promoted.

My thesis is that in Africa, like in Europe and in other parts of the world, there must be a number of distinct and distinguishable dialect continuums that together can form more standard languages. Those languages can be used for vehicles of communications and for art and literature. The question I ask is: has not the time come to put resources into these, to study, protect and foster them?

This idea forms part of a wider exposé in my new longread, “African Identities: a New Perspective”. It is available free of charge via this link.






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