Language Endangerment, Identity and the Challenging Issue of Multilingual Education in Africa

Author: Ilaria Micheli (University of Trieste, Italy)
Speaker: Ilaria Micheli
Topic: Linguistic Landscapes
The GLOCAL AFALA 2023 General Session


If it is true that at the end of this century the world will have lost most of the more than 7.000 languages spoken today, it is also true that Africa should be one of the areas where this phenomenon could hit harder. Most African languages are still just orally transmitted and their survival seems to be utopia. In recent years safeguard and promotion of indigenous languages and cultures have been included in many African Constitutions and this has been reflected, in some cases, in the elevation at the status of “national languages” of some local languages and, on this basis, in the tentative implementation of experimental curricula in primary schools, where some local languages have been proposed as medium of instruction alongside with the official language of the country (e.g. Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal).

Despite this concatenation of determinations looks rational and welcome in a theoretical dimension, aim of this chapter is to go though some of these experiments and try to understand their impact on local identity urgencies and understand if this is really the right path to follow in order to slow down the decline and possible death of African local languages in the near future.

Basic References

Fishman, J. A. (1991). Reversing Language Shift. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Rubagumya, C. M. (1990). Language in Education in Africa: A Tanzanian Perspective. Clevendon: Multilingual Matters.

Skuttnabb-Kangas, T.; Phillipson, R. In collaboration with Rannut, M. Eds. (1995). Linguistic Human Rights. Overcoming Linguistic Discrimination. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Tucker, G. Richard (1998). A global perspective on Multilingualism and Multilingual education. In Cenoz, J.; Genesee, F. (1998). Beyond bilingualism. multilingualism and multilingual education. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters Series; pp 3-15.

Babaci-Wilhite, Z. (2015). Local languages as a Human Right in Education. Comparative Cases form Africa. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Micheli, I (2016) We are indigenous and we want to be literate in our own language. The Ogiek of Mariashoni: a good example of how a literacy project with the best premises can be a failure. In AION 2016, vol 76, pp. 77-101. Brill.

Mitchell, R. (1996). 1. Language, Education and Applied Linguistics in a Changing World. In Hickey, T; Williams J. (1996) Language, Education and Society in a Changing World. Clevendon: Multilingual Matters; pp. 7- 20.

Keywords: Endangered languages, formal education, informal education, linguistic human rights