African Languages, Development and the State

By Richard Fardon; Graham Furniss | Go to book overview

Preface

The chapters in this collection record a workshop held at the School of Oriental and African Studies, in April 1991, under the joint auspices of the Centre of African Studies of the University of London (CAS) and EIDOS (European Inter-University Development Opportunities Study-Group; a network of European anthropologists concerned with theoretical issues in development policy). CAS undertook the invitation of African language policy planners to the meeting, while Mark Hobart on behalf of EIDOS kindly assumed responsibility for organizing EIDOS participation. As a result of drawing on these two networks, the workshop was an occasion for a dialogue between the theoretical and policy orientations of European and African commentators. This outcome was by design contrary to a common pattern for ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ views to be segregated from one another which is unfortunate on several grounds, not least because it produces the impression that major divisions of opinion exist between European or American and African commentators. The London meeting revealed just how far from the truth this impression is: language policy within Africa is not monolithic, neither do European anthropologists share a single perspective on it. The patterns of agreement and disagreement which emerged from the meeting (more of the former than the latter) cannot be simplified into a mold of African versus European or policy versus practice.

Language policy in Africa has been dominated by nineteenth century European ideals of the coincidence of a singular people, nation and state united by culture and language. There is a growing feeling in many African countries that this ideal is not only unattainable as a goal in Africa but even undesirable. This awareness coincides with developments in Europe which may serve to undermine the monolingual ideal there also.

The key to the change in language policy has involved a reassessment of what ‘language’ should be assumed to be for the purposes of planning. Critical examination of the discourse of earlier language planning is,

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