Academic journal article NAWA: Journal of Language and Communication

1. Cultural and Linguistic Aspects of Development in Africa: The Missing Ingredients

Academic journal article NAWA: Journal of Language and Communication

1. Cultural and Linguistic Aspects of Development in Africa: The Missing Ingredients

Article excerpt


Understanding the relationship between language and culture is important, because both are vital ingredients for socio-economic development. However, because this relationship is considered by some to be obvious and common knowledge, its role in development is not properly appreciated. As a result, reference to the relationship between language and culture has often been made in ways which undermine rather than promote their use in development. A popular understanding of culture is that it refers to the ways in which a people's ancestors lived. In other words, culture is taken to be part and parcel of a given people's past. Such approaches to African culture are retrogressive and have been criticised by previous scholars. For instance, Rukuni had this to say about African governments' understanding of and approach to African culture:

Most African Governments tuck away culture in some corner somewhere where the focus is mainly on traditional dance and dress and the revival of some dying habits. This is sad. Governments must take a broader view of culture to include Afrikan languages, Afrikan religion, education from early childhood to tertiary level, traditional Afrikan science, art, music, theatre and all the things that make us Afrikans in terms of customary laws and leadership systems, and so on (Rukuni 2007, p. 157).

This interpretation of culture is based on the misconception of culture and language as being static rather than dynamic. Consequently, it has had a negative and retrogressive effect on development in African states, for culture and African languages are considered to be relevant only for old and illiterate rural folk and not for relatively younger and 'educated' urban dwellers. In spite of the foregoing misgivings, African languages and culture are crucial ingredients of development. This paper will attempt to demonstrate that language and culture do not merely belong to the past. Furthermore, the paper will discuss the following aspects of African culture: indigenous education; health care and indigenous medicine; African religion and spirituality; agriculture and food preservation; the media; political participation and governance. In order to place all these into the context of African culture, some definitions of the term culture are explored below.

Some Definitions of Culture

The definitions of the term culture cited here will be largely those provided by social anthropologists, sociologists and linguists such as Wardhaugh (1990), Hudson (1980) and Prah (2015). Wardhaugh (1990, p. 211) cautions that the term culture may be used in the following two senses:

* High culture--i.e. the appreciation of music, literature, the arts, and so on

* Whatever a person must know in order to function in a particular society.

It is the latter of the two senses that Wardhaugh (1990) advises readers to pay attention to with regard to the relationship between culture and language. An Afrocentric definition of culture which is probably simpler to discern is one by Nangoli as quoted in Manona (2002, p.274):

Culture is a language or languages people speak; the way they behave; live; relate to one another; dress; worship their God; care for their own; marry for productive purposes; name or baptize their children; regard their children; treat their elderly; bury their dead and generally the way they carry on--a way that distinguishes them from other peoples. (Nangoli 1986, p. 16)

An anthropological definition of the term culture is one by Prah (2015, p.1), who defines it as follows:

   In a scientific and anthropological usage, the notion of culture
   encompasses all that is the result of human fabrication. It
   includes both tangible objects such as all material products of
   humanity and intangible creations of the human genius like
   religion, language, customary usages and everyday practices,
   especially those that enjoy institutional representation. … 
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