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|Title:||Literacy, Language and Liberty: The Cultural Politics of English as Official Language in Africa|
|Keywords:||English language--Africa. English language--Political aspects--Africa. English language--Social aspects--Africa. Language policy--Africa|
|Abstract:||The debate on the value and appropriateness of English as the language of governance and education around the world has been going on for many decades and it is not going to end any time soon. The lecture tries to link literacy (primarily the ability to write and read), liberty (the fundamental individual and group rights) and the language in which literacy is taught and utilized, and the medium in which liberty is expressed and exercised. In situations of linguistic diversity as is the case in most of Africa, the choice of language for vital public functions entails competition among interest groups and hence the need to probe the link between language choice and the distribution of power (economic and political) over different sectors of the society. The use of English as official language in countries where it is not native is associated with cultural, political and economic domination and has been dubbed as a perfect example of cultural imperialism, what Phillipson (1992) calls Linguistic Imperialism and Ngugi (1986) refers to as colonization of the mind. The strong negative reactions to English in Africa and elsewhere sound very convincing and on moral grounds, wins a lot of hearts. However, the fact that English has continued to expand its territory in the former British colonies as well as other African countries colonized by other European countries, calls for a more critical examination of the complex issue of language choice. The other thinkers consider the anti-English crusaders as practicing ‘inverse snobbery;’ that is, now that they have succeeded because of the enabling power of English they would wish to keep the rest on the other side of the River Jordan, what Edwards (1985) terms ‘ghettoizing’ of those without proficiency in English. According to Bamgbose (2000) the ‘linguistic rightists’ are being ‘idealistic’ and as long as states do not commit themselves to enforcing international treaties, calling for these rights is useless. The lecture discusses the Ethiopian and Tanzanian experiences with English and compares their cases with Kenya to try to find an alternative language policy for Kenya. The paper proposes a rational language policy that avoids extreme views but tries to harmonize the pragmatic (which may only provide short- term solution) and the ideal (which may sound unrealistic now but hold the only key to a lasting solution). According to Fishman (1985) this is possible when we allow ourselves to be ‘re-linguified and be ‘re ethnified’ by embracing multilingualism and developing what he calls ‘panhumanism’, a state in which diversity is celebrated and the best in all languages and cultures are exploited for the good of all. Not any one language can do this.|
|Appears in Collections:||Lectures|
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