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Should Africa Safeguard Its Native Languages?

Africa, considered the cradle of existence, also has the distinction of being home to thousands of languages; some of which are considered the oldest languages in the world. Africa is the second largest continent with about 11.6 million square miles and 1.1 billion people. There are estimated to be some 3,000 native languages spoken in Africa as well as many more dialects. Even the small African countries are homeland to more than a dozen, and sometimes hundreds, of languages. Nigeria, with over 500 languages, is one of the most intense areas of linguistic diversity in the world. Should Africa safeguard its native languages?

People find it difficult to connect with someone who they cannot communicate with. Many newly independent African countries were in search of national unity that native language barriers could prevent. There were also concerns that these language barriers would slow down progress in a developing nations. In order to unify their citizens and advance progress, many African countries instituted an official language allowing there to be one unified language for a reasonably sized region. English, French or Portuguese were often established as the official language because these languages were already widely used and a part of African culture.  Many Africans will speak pidgin or Creole versions of these European languages. However, the more rural an African village is, the less likely you are to hear English, Portuguese or French spoken. In northern Africa, Arabic is the official language used by the government and the media. Another unique and colloquial Arabic is spoken on the city streets of Egypt. In East Africa Swahili is the predominate language spoken. Other languages considered important to Africa include Hausa, Somali, Zulu and Afrikaans.

In recent years, awareness has been raised concerning the safeguarding of native African languages. The African Union, which considers all African languages as official, declared 2006 as the “Year of African Languages.” Fortunately, Africans value their native tongues.  Because of this, the policies now being implemented are geared toward multilingualism and not to letting one language go in favor of another.

Africa should safeguard its native languages. The languages of Africa are tied to its long history and colorful culture. Some of these languages have a unique phonology with some sounds that, when spoken, are heard as clicks.  Like the rest of the world, language is not static in Africa. Despite the institution of official languages, minor languages are still being used in newspapers and elementary schools. There are still cases of dialect leveling due to outside forces, and even today new dialects are emerging. I believe that everyone would agree that for Africa to allow any of its still surviving languages to die would be unfortunate. What do you think?


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