LINGUIST List 15.2327

Wed Aug 18 2004

Review: Applied Ling/Socioling: Bromber & Smieja (2004)

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  1. Luna Beard, Globalisation and African Languages

Message 1: Globalisation and African Languages

Date: Tue, 17 Aug 2004 13:20:13 -0400 (EDT)
From: Luna Beard <BeardL.HUMmail.uovs.ac.za>
Subject: Globalisation and African Languages

EDITORS: Bromber, Katrin; Smieja, Birgit 
TITLE: Globalisation and African Languages
SUBTITLE: Risks and Benefits
SERIES: Trends in Linguistics, Studies and Monographs 156
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2004
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/15/15-744.html


Luna Beard, Department of Afroasiatic Studies, Sign Language and
Language Practice, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South
Africa.

This collection of papers is dedicated to Karsten Leg�re on the
occasion of his 60th birthday. Leg�re's contribution to African
language studies, and specifically to Swahili, is conveyed in the
short biography at the beginning. This is followed by a bibliography
of Leg�re's work.

In their introduction to the volume, Bromber and Smieja (1) point out
that as the notion of globalisation increasingly undergoes critical
review, it is their aim to explore the contributions of a variety of
African linguists to this debate.

This volume of articles that relate to Leg�re's work, is divided into
three sections, namely: I Language use and attitudes II Language
policy and education III Language description and classification

The articles in section I address issues in sociolinguistic research.
While language conflict as a result of attitudes and use is often
associated with a negative connotation, the contributions by Rene
Dirven and Martin P�tz, as well as that by Peter Nelde point to its
positive aspects, also with regard to minority or endangered
languages. Their articles contribute to a more general debate as they
refer to European and North American as well as African linguistic
environments. The issue of language imperialism in relation to
language conflict is also discussed, specifically the dominant
position of English and its function in creating a language-based
elite as opposed to countermeasures that can raise the awareness and
status of African languages.

In the other contributions in this section, Herman M. Batibo
considers Setswana as a possible under-exploited national resource,
Christopher Stroud looks at reversing language shift in postmodern
language contact scenarios, and the article of the late Rajmund Ohly
deals with triglossia in the African context.

Batibo (59) refers to Pres, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt who said in 2000
that international economic integration had greatly affected not
merely investment and trade in developing countries, but also all
levels of human activity. Linguistic diversity is one important level
that is being affected adversely by the process of globalisation.
Batibo (59) points out that as the Batswana people become active
members of the global village in which the super-global languages
suffocate minority languages, they will fall prey to the dictates of
the key players and progressively lose their linguistic and cultural
identity. Batibo (61) concludes that the future of Setswana in
Botswana, as well as the major languages in Africa, will greatly
depend on whether the decision-makers want the country to be
identified with the people and the nation's culture and traditions or
with Western modernity and the globalisation process. He (61) does
point out, though, that it is possible to preserve one's cultural
identity thorough genuine commitment and systematic planning while
subscribing to the global environment.

Stroud (94) points out that to the extent that language is primarily a
capital resource for communities, it must be conceded that local
values in local languages are glocal values in today's world; that one
cannot talk of the local apart from the global. Within Stroud's
rethinking of Fishman's theoretical approach to language reversal,
this implies that even local languages gain vitality through an
association of the intimate with power functions.

Section II comprises three articles. In the first one Vic Webb, Biki
Lepota and Refilwe Ramagoshi examine the implications of using
Northern Sotho as medium of instruction in vocational training in
South Africa. The following article by Al Mtenje takes the case of
Malawi as an example of developing a language policy in an African
country. With regard to elitist attitudes in Africa, Mtenje (156,
157) claims that African elites are enemies of their own policies for
cultural development in that they, for instance, pay lip service to
the use of African languages, but do not speak them in public. Local
languages are looked down upon as inferior, underdeveloped and
incapable of conveying technological and scientific concepts, while
English is often quoted as extremely important for international
communication. The third article, by Mechthild Reh, is entitled
Writing and reading in English and L1: Attitudes among pupils in Lira
an Mpigi, Uganda. Reh (175) observes that pupils derive their notion
of what is relevant and should be liked to a considerable degree from
what is included or excluded from the school curriculum and school
leaving certificates. Lack of printed material, in particular text
books, may, however, be an obstacle in such cases.

Section III deals with the collection of linguistic data, description
and classification of African languages and consists of nine articles.
Daniel J. Mkude examines the impact of Kiswahili on Kiluguru, while
Arvi Hurskainen discusses loan words in Swahili. These are followed
by four articles that deal with core syntactic and phonological
aspects: Christina Thornell examines the noun phrase in the Kerebe
language, Nelli V. Gromova the infinitive in Swahili and Rudolf Leger
the vowel systems in the southern Bole-Tangale languages. Bernd Heine
and Christa K�nig discuss word order in !Xun, one of the Khoisan
languages of Namibia. After that Jouni Filip Maho asks: How many
languages are there in Africa, really? In the next article Tore Janson
presents a diachronic overview of languages and language names in
Mozambique. The section is concluded by observations on Swahili and
Midzinchenda plant names by Franz Rottland and Ralf Grosserhode.
Section III very much reflects Leg�re's passion and focus in language
studies.

Mkude (193) points out that at many universities in Africa it is
difficult to generate and sustain an interest in research on local
languages, even those that enjoy national or international status. He
then (pp. 193-194) explains the value of indigenous languages and
motivates research on minority languages.

Mkude (183,184) makes two remarkable statements that relate to the
work of Botibo and Dimmendaal. Firstly, that the minority languages
in Africa are not so much threatened by the ex-colonial languages that
have become the official languages in most states, but rather by the
dominant indigenous languages, especially the ones that have assumed
lingua franca status or national importance. Secondly, the paradox
that African countries that have strongly embraced ex-colonial
languages as their official as well as national languages appear to
have provided (unintentionally) a better environment for the survival
of the multiplicity of their local languages. As a result of this
last point, language shift and the associated process of language
death is less dramatic on the African continent than in most other
parts of the world.

While questions relating to globalisation is most explicitly addressed
in Section I, the themes in Section III also relate to globalisation
in that it emphasises the advantages it offers in terms of research
connections and technical facilities that can potentially accelerate
the collection of data on endangered languages and vanishing cultural
knowledge. In this way a balanced perspective on globalisation is
ensured.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Luna Beard is a researcher in the Department of Afroasiatic Studies,
Sign language and Language Practice at the University of the Free
State in Bloemfontein, South Africa. She works mostly in Cognitive
Linguistics. As far as microlinguistics is concerned, she enjoys
syntax and phonology, but her real linguistic passions are stylistics
and textual studies. She is in favour of interdisciplinary studies,
especially those that combine linguistics and communication studies,
as well as those that focus on the interface between linguistics and
Bible studies. She taught linguistics for 11 years at the University
of the Free State and the University of South Africa. After that she
lived in Tucson, Arizona for five years where she joined in with
linguistic discussions. She dreams of continuing her research at the
university of the Free state, or elsewhere.
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