What’s in a Language?

Language is a body of words and the systems for their use common to a people who are of the same community or nation, geographical area or the same cultural decision. This is a dictionary definition of the word “language”. Of the many definitions that were produced, this particular one addresses some key points that I would like to discuss.

In the world we live in today, English, French and Mandarin are languages which have monopolized  communication, education and technology. Without knowledge of any of these languages, it is near impossible to make any sort of “difference” in the world as it is today. This issue poses a problem and a threat to Afrikans on the continent as well as those in the diaspora. The position that we find ourselves in is that the future has no space for Afrikan languages.

Language is an important part of culture that helps to shape the paradigm in which you think. How you think is also the way you view the world and conceptualize ideas. As an Afrikan, I think it is important to have a good knowledge of your own language and others, be it SeTswana, isiXhosa, KiSwahili or even Wolof. Being able to view the world through the perspective of family, friends and just as important, your ancestors. Afrikan history is glorious and to retrace and be able to continue with its splendor, it is important to be able to understand what your ancestors were saying and what they were thinking. That is of course the way to praise and honour your ancestors by speaking their names, using their complete works and complete and further develop their unfinished works. This will be impossible to do if we do not understand the language our ancestors spoke because, 1 – we won’t understand what is being communicated and 2 – we will not be able to tap into the vision they saw to complete the said works.

As there are many languages in Afrika, it was suggested by Cheikh Anta Diop in Black Africa: The Economic and Cultural Basis for a Federated State that linguistic unity is a way for Afrikans to seek a way to unite and further advance the cause of continental advancement. Recognition of language amongst different Afrikans fosters kinship rather than alienation because the language is not foreign and can hence be learnt with the purpose of uniting and collaboration. The selection of one or two languages to be used across the whole continent will serve us well in our communication amongst ourselves and to further entrench cultural unity. These could be learnt as a secondary language to each person’s mother tongue therefore not forcing any particular culture to forsake its origin. This linguistic unity will help with education as well as commerce on the continent, further breaking down barriers that presently exist amongst ourselves as Afrikans who, for the most part, depend on European language such as English and French to communicate to one another. Furthermore, linguistic unity on the Afrikan continent and selection of one or two languages would lead to simplification of intercourse with any foreigner who wishes to interact with Afrika and therefore make international relations easier and to our benefit as Afrikans.

What is needed is for Afrikan leaders to be visionary in the implementation of their mandates and policies and to recognise the importance of cultural and linguistic unity to bring the people of their countries.

We need to look back to classical Afrikan languages like the Mdw Ntchr (hieroglyphics) from Kemet (ancient Egypt) the same way Europeans did with Latin to advance our unity and cultures back to the levels which they once were and even more. The power of our languages that carry vibrations that reverberate in the universe are matched by none in the world and we need to recognise this fact.

Izwe lethu

Nfr Sa Ma’at


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