During his undergraduate years, Novian Whitsitt found literature classes, chiefly Western literature, too limited.
He wanted to explore the world of African literature, which was born on a continent where there are more than 2,000 languages. So he decided to go to Madison, Wis.
Since then, Mr. Whitsitt, a doctoral candidate at the department of African languages and literature at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, has been immersed in works of African literature.
The department, the nation's only degree-granting program, has attracted students like Mr. Whitsitt, a native of California, from across the country and even overseas, who are eager to expand their world of literature through learning African languages.
Five African languages - Yoruba, Zulu, Swahili, Hausa and Arabic - are taught at the university.
The University of Wisconsin at Madison is one of the few schools in the United States that routinely offer several African languages.
Even at Harvard University, where Henry Louis Gates, the chairman of African-American studies, has vigorously recruited prominent African-American professors, neither an African language program nor a graduate course in the studies has been established.
But there are similar African studies programs at American schools other than Wisconsin-Madison.
The department of African-American studies at Temple University offers the nation's only doctorate in that kind of program. It is the premier center for graduate studies, with 40 faculty and about 80 graduate students. It offers 60 courses, including four African launguages - Swahili, Hausa, Yoruba and ancient Egyptian.
Mkamburi Lyabaya, a lecturer of Swahili at Howard University, who has taught the language at various institutions in Washington for 18 years, said that a language is a reflection of lifestyle. …