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THE DEVELOPMENT OF AFRICAN LANGUAGES FOR SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY Neville Alexander The politics of language in post-colonial Africa The subject of this address1 is not a new one in South Africa or on the rest of the continent. In post-colonial states such as Nigeria2, Somalia and Tanzania, advanced work in this domain has been done for at least three decades and in our own context, work on terminology for Afrikaans at the universities of Stellenbosch, Pretoria and elsewhere became very well known in spite of the controversies around “Standard Afrikaans”. The expertise and the resources that Afrikaans speaking linguists accumulated in this process are now, paradoxically, beginning to benefit other African languages. However, it is necessary to register the fact that in post-apartheid South Africa, as in most of the rest of the continent, terminology development in African languages as a conscious practice is at this stage not simply a matter of linguistics or of applied linguistics. In order to understand why this is so, it is necessary that we consider a series of relevant extra- linguistic questions before we look more closely at the technical “language” issue itself. To begin with, why do we have to deliberate on the development instead of simply on the use, of African languages for science and technology? The answer to this question relates directly to the low status of African languages in the world and, more relevantly, on the African continent itself. On this occasion3, there is no need to address the question in detail. Suffice it to say that because of the history of slavery, colonialism, imperialism and apartheid, it is the European languages of conquest, specifically English, French and Portuguese that have become the languages of science and technology in the academies and among the intellectuals of Africa. With hardly any exceptions, no serious attempt was made, until very recently, to develop registers for science and technology in any major African language beyond what is necessary for basic education. There are 1 Seminar paper delivered on 25 May 2004 at the Tshwane University of Technology, Garankuwa. 2 A pathfinding paper is Bamgbose 1987. 3 There is a wealth of literature on the linguistic and social history of African languages. A useful modern introduction is Mazrui and Mazrui 1998 2 some cases of such language development attempts in West and East Africa as well as in the Horn, but most of these stem from the post-colonial period and, except for Kiswahili, none of them went very far and this fact is undoubtedly one of the main factors for the explanation of the relative underdevelopment of modern science and technology in Africa. By way of a contrasting argument, Dlodlo (1999:321) points out that the widespread translation of the Bible into local indigenous languages by European and African missionaries may be one of the reasons for the success of Christianity in Africa. Reduced to a generalised statement, I would suggest that we can only understand this lack of language development as the result of a combination of three core elements. There is, firstly, the entrenched monolingual habitus among the elites of Africa and, by a process of mediation, among the “common people” themselves. This habitus, ironically, refers not to one or other African language as one would expect, but to the language of the former colonial power, notably English, French and Portuguese. These are, even today, fifty years after the first independent African states came into being, the languages of power that have an evident market value by means of which well-remunerated jobs and high social status are accessible. Those individuals who have acquired proficiency in these languages, with the usual exceptions, become ipso facto members of the ruling elite, since knowledge of these languages is, in Pierre Bourdieu’s (1991:14-15) analytical framework, tantamount to the ownership of “cultural capital” that entitles one to what he calls “the profits of distinction”. It is also obvious that this monolingual habitus is the consequence as well as the continuing cause of the political economy of neo-colonialism. Secondly, there is what I have called the “static maintenance syndrome” 4. This means simply that most of them are willing to maintain their languages in the primary domains of the family, community and religious institutions. However, they have come to doubt that these languages can ever develop into languages of power. As a result, we have the well known, indeed notorious, passionately-held belief among parents in English orientated former colonies that unless their children learn English and are educated through the medium of English, they will end up as unemployable social drop-outs. The tragedy, as we all know, is that very few children will ever attain a level of proficiency in 4 See Alexander 2002:119. 3 the English language such that they can genuinely empower themselves in top-of-the- range jobs. The third element in this vicious triangle is “lack of political will”. This is just another way of saying lack of imagination, lack of scientific information, and lack of commitment to democracy and to the interests of the urban and the rural poor, who, lamentably, continue to constitute the majority of our people. Ultimately, all the evasions about the “costs of multilingualism” and the alleged “fact” that African languages “do not have the words” that would allow them to be used as languages of teaching and languages of tuition at higher levels of education, boil down to the fact that it is convenient and profitable for the elites to continue to monopolise the languages of power and, therefore, to find arguments for justifying the prioritisation of other social imperatives ahead of the language question. English or indigenous languages? Why should we use African languages in “the controlling domains of language” (Sibayan 1999:471) if we already have albeit European languages that fulfil these functions? This is without any doubt the most important “extra-linguistic” question we have to answer. It is also one that we have to pose if we are not to waste our time in discussing issues that are of no concern to the practitioners in the fields of science and technology. There are at least four approaches towards finding the most relevant answers to the question. The first, and probably the most obvious one to most people, is the nationalist stance. Using African languages is a question of national, if not actually racial, pride. Even though I am myself not motivated by this approach at all, I mention and discuss it simply because I know that for very many people, it is considered to be a valid and important approach. However, I am concerned about the divisive and unscholarly implications of such an approach. Scholarship is after all an international, indeed internationalist, practice and one must be suspicious of any attempt to restrict it within the confines of a given “nation”. The important point is to draw a line between the 4 inescapable national space within which scholarship takes place and the attempt to confine it artificially within a nationalist frame. The second approach, one which I consider to be more relevant, is the argument of democracy. Essentially, the purpose of all scholarship is to produce knowledge that can be used in order to empower all people. In South Africa, we have to develop African languages for use in all domains of modern life so that any citizen or African person will be able to use the language or languages s/he knows best in order to access and deploy the relevant knowledge. If such knowledge is encoded only in a foreign or in a second language, which the citizen does not command very well, s/he is necessarily at a disadvantage, i.e., relatively disempowered. In post-apartheid South Africa, therefore, the development of the African languages for use in high status functions is a necessary aspect of the deepening and consolidation of the democracy we have attained thus far. The third reason for the development of African languages in the manner discussed hitherto derives from learning theory. That is to say, people acquire and understand concepts and explore the world into which they are born in their first or home languages (“mother tongues”) initially. Without delving into the relevant psycholinguistic and psychological theories on this occasion, I want to state clearly that the network of associations and the semantic range implied by proficiency in any given language constitute the ground upon which new or related concepts are placed and understood intuitively, to be deepened and internalised as the result of further reflection, discussion and analysis. This vital process is either impossible or extremely difficult if one is forced to engage with such concepts (“new knowledge”) in a language one does not know well enough. The latter situation leads to a lack of self-confidence, low self-esteem, reticence and passivity and to an apparent lack of creative energy, i.e., mediocrity, and lack of spontaneity. Scholars such as Prah (1995) and Djité (1997), among others, have pointed out that one of the main reasons for the failure of economic development projects on the continent is the fact that development “aid” comes packaged in foreign languages such as English and French. This fact immediately excludes the common people, the peasants and communal cultivators, whose indigenous knowledge is ignored and who, in turn, are unable to understand or even accept the “modern” technological and scientific 5 approaches5. The blending of the traditional and the modern is essential if such programmes are to work. This can only take place if the indigenous languages of the people are used to convey the relevant science and technology. By using only foreign languages in these powerful domains, we ipso facto cut off the modern sector from the subsoil that can render it relevant to the majority of the people who, presumably, are to be served through the introduction of modern science and technology. This has the unintended consequence of turning the entire economic development enterprise outwards, i.e., towards the foreign (Northern) countries, thus rendering the domestic economy even more dependent on outside forces. The substratum from which new recruits to science and technology can be recruited is thereby impoverished and the national economy and national development become ineluctably tied to so-called expatriate experts. The final argument for the development of African languages for use in high status functions is what I call the Renaissance argument. President Mbeki has declared the 21st century to be the “African century” and proclaimed the African renaissance. One of the unspoken implications of these programmes is precisely the development of the African languages. For this reason, the African Union has accepted the African Academy of Languages (ACALAN) as a specialised agency of the AU and there is a clear commitment to the implementation of the updated and revised Language Plan of Action for Africa, first formulated in 1986. These are at this stage no more than beacon-setting exercises but they are exceptionally important in terms of both global and continental scenarios. On this occasion, I cannot go into the detail I have gone into elsewhere 6 in this connection. Suffice it to say that Africa, which is one of the most multilingual regions of the world, has necessarily ranged itself on the side of those forces in the world that stand for the maintenance of cultural and linguistic diversity as opposed to monocultural and unipolar notions of the future of the human species. From the point of view of the survival of the species and of life itself, this is an exceptionally important positioning, one to which all worthwhile intellectual endeavour has to commit itself. 5 For a detailed practical demonstration of this phenomenon, see Mshana 1992. 6 See Alexander 2003. 6 Corpus development in language planning The systematic development and use of scientific and technological registers, among others, is a normal activity in any language. Such development comes along with need and use. Vocabulary expansion, which includes devising of terminology, is an important aspect of language planning. In some countries, there are special institutes, boards or committees charged with the responsibility of finding appropriate terms and putting a stamp of authority on their use, after generally ascertaining their acceptability. In most countries, however, there is no such central authority, but, even so, vocabulary expansion takes place through the efforts of teachers, authors, media practitioners, language associations, and other interested professional bodies (Bamgbose 1987:5). Bamgbose distinguishes between the organic process of “vocabulary expansion” in which all native speakers of the language concerned are normally and spontaneously involved, because they have a good idea of the concept and the context for which a new term is needed, and the technical process of “terminology creation” where, generally speaking, only specialists are conversant with the concepts pertaining to a given discipline. It is for this reason that terminology work must be a collaborative effort between subject specialists, linguists, and competent language users. Any proposed term must pass the test of correctness in terms of the concept, viability in terms of the structure of the language, and acceptability from the point of view of the users (Bamgbose 1987:5). From a language-planning perspective, terminology creation is only one albeit a very important aspect of the corpus development of a language. One of the fundamental issues to be agreed on by the linguists in this regard concerns the term-creation rules to be adopted. Dlodlo (1999:324-325), for reasons that need not detain us here, prefers coining new terms to direct borrowing. Essentially, he believes – correctly in my view - that the intuitive understanding of the relationship between the underlying concept and the term that would normally be implicit in this practice has many positive spin-offs. The best route is to create new words from and give scientific meaning to both new and existing Nguni vocabulary. In this way, the words used at school will be familiar and meaningful to the students’ everyday experience (Dlodlo 1999:324). 7 In the most “developed” languages, the rules of term creation are so well established that the process can be said to be virtually automatic. In Africa, because of the use of the European languages in these high status domains, in many cases, beyond grammatical (morphological imperatives) even the rules of term creation in African languages have not yet been the subject of consensual discussions. The development of science and technology registers for the African languages is a sub-set of the process we call the “intellectualisation” of African languages. As intimated above, this is not at all a peculiarly African phenomenon. All the most powerful languages in the world have undergone, and continue to undergo, this process. There are many scholarly treatments of this question, including recent analyses and discussions by South African linguists and applied language scholars7. Suffice it to say that “… (intellectualisation) … involves the development of registers in the academic and technical domains of language use” (Llamson 2001:17). There is, in other words, an established theory and many examples of the practice of intellectualisation of languages drawn from many different regions of the world, including Africa itself. The examples of Kiswahili and Afrikaans are probably the most immediately relevant to this discussion. (In Tanzania) … the egalitarian post-Arusha Declaration (1967) language policy led to conscious and rigorous development of Kiswahili, including its terminological modernization, for use as a medium of instruction beyond lower primary education. Specific language planning agencies (LPAs) were established by government and charged with the technical development of Kiswahili. These include the Department of Kiswahili and the Institute of Kiswahili Research, both of the University of Dar es Salaam, the Tanzanian Institute of Education, and the National Kiswahili Council (BAKITA = Baraza la Kiswahili la Taifa). The latter LPA is the Kiswahili policy formulation agency whereas the former three LPAs are its operational arms, i.e. policy implementation organs. (Prof. H. Mwansoko. Personal communication) The texts by Sibayan, Llamson, Finlayson and Madiba, Dlodlo and Bamgbose, referred to are useful starting points for anyone interested in the technical issues involved in terminology creation and other aspects of corpus planning or intellectualisation of languages in the Asian and African contexts. It is important to note that in South Africa, 7 See, e.g., Finlayson and Madiba 2002. 8 we are very fortunate in that a relatively strong language infrastructure already exists. What is required is optimal co-ordination and planning of all government as well as non- government organisations that are active in this field. At this point, I want to draw attention to two important issues we need to address as we embark on the long and uneven road of intellectualisation. The first of these takes us back to the rules of term creation, since it involves the question of maximum inter- translatability. This refers to the suggestion that has been made by many scholars to the effect that across the continent, we should try to keep the terminology base as coherent and common as possible. While we should avoid all artificial and absurd coinages, we should, as far as possible use the same term stems across the continent and, wherever possible, remain as close to the international usage as possible. I would suggest that terms such as “atom”, which are essentially the same in most European languages, should be accepted as borrowings into African languages, unless there are reasons for not doing so in any given language. Others, such as “energy” should, as far as possible, be derived and generalised from existing usages in some of the major languages of the continent. I know, of course, that this is a highly complex and even idiosyncratic field, but I believe that we should make definite catalytic suggestions, sooner rather than later, so that this vital debate can take place in the academies and other research and development institutes across the entire continent8. For similar and related reasons, it is my view that it is very important that the existing orthographies (scripts) should as far as possible be standardised. According to Llamson (2001:22), … the strictly one-to-one correspondence between phoneme and grapheme is not always easy to implement, even though it is the most efficient system. The reason for this is that when certain words have been in use in the community for a certain length of time, it acquires a visual identity of its own, and it seems to be a different word when it is spelled in a different way. It is much like meeting an old friend who now has dyed his hair blond and wears sunglasses to boot. He does not seem to be the same person anymore. … 8 For a related well-reasoned, but in some respects different, view see Dlodlo 1999. 9 In our context, we might think of the orthographic difference between the Sotho of Lesotho and that of the Free State province9. It would seem to me to be very necessary that we convene a continent-wide conference on the orthographic conventions relating to the languages of Africa, past, present and future, so that we can initiate a process of orthographic convergence and, wherever possible, orthographic uniformity. Conclusion In concluding, I want to raise the question of leadership. If we see ourselves as organic intellectuals of the urban and the rural poor, we have to find the courage and the entrepreneurial energy to “commit class suicide”, as Amilcar Cabral called on us to do some forty years ago. Middle-class convenience and the exploitation of the cultural capital that comes with that class location are ultimately a betrayal of the people we have been educated to assist and to represent in our institutions and organisations. This implies the formation and/or strengthening of organisations that promote the development and use of African languages and literature and the mobilisation of people on a mass scale for the realisation of their linguistic human rights. In saying this, I am all too conscious of the searing indictment implicit in the matter-of-fact pronouncement by Mazrui and Mazrui (1998:64-65) to the effect that an African scientist or scholar south of the Sahara, more or less, who does not know a European language is “a sociolinguistic impossibility”. Similarly, their laconic statement that no conference on these issues can be held exclusively in an African language, besides being, as they state, an index to the intellectual dependence of Africans on the North, tells us where we are parked, as it were. On the other hand, because of the real danger of opening a Pandora’s box of ethnic or tribal competition and conflict, the paradigm in which mobilisation should take place should always be a multilingual and multicultural one. Nothing, however, should deter us from setting out on a road that clearly leads to the destination we have struggled to reach for these many decades past. 9 Under the leadership of Professor Kwesi Prah and the Centre for the Advanced Study of African Societies (CASAS), this issue and other similar legacies of the missionary enterprise in Africa are being attended to. CASAS has managed to get the most competent scholars from all relevant countries to work on the harmonisation of the orthographies of the affected codes. 10 References Alexander, N. 2002. Linguistic rights, language planning and democracy in post- apartheid South Africa. In Baker, S. (ed.), Language Policy: Lessons from Global Models. Monterey, CA.: Monterey Institute of International Studies. Alexander, N. 2003. The African Renaissance and the Use of African Languages in Tertiary Education. Praesa Occasional Papers, No. 13. Cape Town: Praesa/University of Cape Town. Bamgbose, A. 1987. A Guide to Terminology for African Language Education – Its Selection and Harmonization. Dakar: BREDA Batibo, H. 2000. Some key issues in the development and revision of orthographies in Africa. 2nd National Synposium on Language Policy in Education. Local languages in education, science and technology. Malawi 25 – 29 October, 2000. Djité, P. 1993. Language and development in Africa. International Journal of the Sociology of Language. (100/101)149-166. Dlodlo, T. Science nomenclature in Africa: Physics in Nguni. Journal of Research in Science Teaching. 36(3) 321-331. Finlayson, R. and Madiba, M. 2002. The intellectualization of indigenous languages of South Africa: challenges and prospects. Pretoria: Unpub. Mimeo. Llamson, T. 2001. Intellectualization of Filipino: an update. Philippine Journal of Linguistics. 32(1) 17 - 29. Mazrui, A. and Mazrui, A. 1998. The Power of Babel. Oxford: James Currey. Mshana, R. 1992. Insisting on Peoples’ Knowledge to Resist Developmentalism. Peasant Communities as Producers of Knowledge for Social Transformation in Tanzania. Erziehung und Gesellschaft im internationalen Kontext, No. 9. Frankfurt am Main: IKO Verlag. Mwansoko, H. 2004. Personal communication. Prah, K. 1995. Mother Tongue for Scientific and Technological Development in Africa.. Bonn: German Foundation for International Development. Sibayan, B. 1999. TheIntellectualization of Filipino. Manila: The Linguistic Society of the Philippines. Neville Alexander Director: PRAESA University of Cape Town 9 November 2004
"THE DEVELOPMENT OF AFRICAN LANGUAGES FOR SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY"