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Getting Heard 111 CHAPTER SEVEN African Languages as Key to African Identity Mwenda Mukuthuria Introduction It is a known fact that languages are key to any people’s identity. However, in as much as this is a universal truth, African languages have not been given prominence in the African setting to play this major role effectively. Immediately after African states gained independence, there were signs of realizing the potential of African languages. This was because the freedom fighters had African languages at heart. However, today, foreign languages are at the center stage. They are exalted by African scholars and institutions of higher learning at the expense of African languages which have been ignored. The consequences are enormous, including the current underdevelopment of some African languages and the extinction of others. Therefore, this chapter is a modest attempt to re-examine and recommend positive measures which could reduce the negative identity of African languages in order to forge new impetus of elevating African languages as a marker of African identity. African identity can be viewed as the sum total of all aspects of life that when put together can be used to give Africa a uniqueness in the universe that is a composition of very many races. The identity of any community can be inherited or the community can evolve and reshape its identity. In this respect, among the human heritance of identity is language. While underscoring this fact, Mulokozi (2000:72) observes that language is fundamental to people’s identity (cf. Nsibambi, 2000: vii). Therefore, in as much as language can be determined by the environment, it stands as a beacon of identity, cutting across all classes of people and nationalities. Africa is a continent of diversity, and in terms of language endowment it is estimated that it has over 2000 languages. East Africa alone has got approximately 239 living languages.1 However, the traumatic experience with colonizers in the early 19th and 20th centuries left big scars of 112 (Re)claiming Performance Space in Kenya demonization onAfrican languages, a ghost which has continued haunting Africans for many years after independence. Immediately the colonizers left Africa, the culture of aping invaded the continent. The pride that Africans had of their local African languages was no more. Emphasis was put on the colonizers language, which were used for imparting literacy skills. Besides, these foreign languages were seen as the sole link between administrators/colonizers in terms of recruiting labour and later in the postcolonial African countries they were seen as ladder to white color jobs and an avenue of acquiring Western technology through education. All these factors were the impetus that led to the stagnation of most African languages. Among the issues to be interrogated here are the reasons why African languages are not given the prominence they deserve in the same way as they did during the struggle for independence; the reason why their role as sources of identity is not taken seriously, and, above all, what can be done to bring back the appreciation of our languages in view of the fact that it is an anomaly for a people to downplay their languages. Language as Key to a People’s Identity As it has already been mentioned, languages are key to identity. Although languages are subsets of cultures, their common practice makes them to be more overt than the cultures which breed them. Indeed, it is possible to lose other aspects of culture and yet retain a language; however, the vice versa is not true. This is because culture uses a language not only to reinvent itself for the purpose of dynamism but also to sustain continuity for posterity. It is out of this that languages have been used to identify communities, nations and even empires. The evidence to this dates back to the ancient world. For example, the Greek empire was identified by the common use of the Greek language, which was one time a lingua franca from Turkey to Portugal (Trudgill, 1974:58). Later when the empire changed hands and the Romans came to power, the Latin language was imposed on the region. This same is the case all over the world. As a result of colonialism in Africa, today we have Anglophone, Francophone, and LusophoneAfrica. These linguistic blocks came into existence because the colonizers were not discriminative in enforcing their languages to Africans across the expansive areas which were under their control. All this was motivated by a simple fact known to them very well...


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