AFRICAN LANGUAGES AND CULTURES: A BOTTOM-UP APPROACH

(This is a summary of the research project I will be undertaking as a student at the African Studies Centre, Leiden University, the Netherlands.)

THE PROBLEM

In policy debates on Sub-Saharan Africa, the ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity in Africa has been seen as a problem to be overcome, rather than as a resource to be harnessed. Not enough study has been done into the positive sides of language and culture and into how cultures and languages are perceived and used by Africans today. Ideas on cultures and language that go back to colonial times are still prevalent.

Two separate research avenues are part of this project: one dealing with language, the other with culture.

OBSERVATORY OF AFRICAN LANGUAGE USE

The plan is to establish an observatory of indigenous African language use as an online resource, showing how Africans use indigenous languages in a number of key domains. These will be domains where language policy and practice intersect:

  • Education (at various levels);
  • Language(s) of instruction and communication in the police and military;
  • Legal: language(s) allowed to be spoken in court, language(s) allowed for reporting and written deliberations;
  • Sub-national governance: languages used for debating and reporting in city, county, district or provincial/state legislature meetings;
  • Healthcare: language(s) used for reaching out to young or expectant mothers;
  • Surveying: language(s) used for major surveys like the Demographic and Health Surveys;
  • Media: language(s) used in mass media.

Phasing (tentative)

Pilot phase: Initial database design and exploration of web interface and hosting possibilities – September 2017 to March 2018.

Data collection: March 2018 to March 2019.

Initial publication(s): towards the end of 2019.

Institutionalisation, seeking a permanent home for the observatory: early 2020.

How you can help

Information needed for the observatory is available, but not accessible through one database. Collaborators are needed to help establish and test the best database structure and web interface and to provide information on individual languages.

AFRICAN CULTURES BASED ON SELF-REPORTS

Culture here is seen as the value system that serves as common point of reference for a people. Cultures the world over have been characterized in terms of dimensions such as Individualism versus Collectivism or Indulgence versus Restraint. These dimensions have been developed through research by Hofstede, Minkov and others. Today, they are widely used in cross-cultural training and international management consultancy. They are based on how people self-report on their values through surveys such as the World Values Survey.

These surveys will be re-analysed for Africa at the level of ethnolinguistic groups, in order to establish if and how individual groups are different from or similar to the national averages.

For two countries, the data will be compared to data available through ethnographic literature, expert interviews and focus group discussions. An attempt will be made to document shifts in values over time.

This should contribute to a vision of African cultures as a dynamic resource and to more explicit attention for culture in policy debates on Africa.

Phasing

A field visit to Ghana took place in September/October 2017.

A field visit to Botswana and/or Lesotho and/or South Africa and/or Swaziland is foreseen for February/March 2018.

Target completion: June 2018.

How you can help

Contacts are needed in Botswana, Lesotho, South Africa and/or Swaziland for setting up expert interviews and focus group discussions.

OUTCOMES

Several outcomes are targeted:

  • A web-based information source for information on African languages (the observatory).
  • Publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals.
  • A Master and a PhD Thesis at Leiden University.

SUPERVISORS

Prof. Dr. Maarten Mous, Leiden University Centre for Linguistics.

Dr. Akinyinka Akinyoade, African Studies Centre, Leiden University.

CONTACT

bert.van.pinxteren@upcmail.nl

https://www.linkedin.com/in/bert-van-pinxteren-b18bb62

https://africanations.wordpress.org (This blog – not yet the observatory. A URL for the observatory will be added later.)

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