African Languages, Development and the State

By Richard Fardon; Graham Furniss | Go to book overview

Part I

West Africa

Bamgbose’s opening paper discusses the broad issues of national language policy in pluralist states. Moving from this wide-ranging perspective, the subsequent papers focus on increasingly more local contexts in West Africa—Fyle on an aspect of language policy in Sierra Leone, Igué and N’Ouéni on national policy and practice in the Republic of Bénin, Elugbe on experience of initiatives at the level of constituent states within the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and Hansford on NGO and church activity in a part of Ghana.

Bamgbose’s paper criticizes current thinking about language policy on two fronts: widespread myths about multilingualism, and present definitions of development. He notes that the overwhelming majority of contemporary nation states are multilingual and that the tyranny of ‘one’—one nation, one language, one people—has influenced the policy aspirations of states whose national reality has been quite different. It is an inescapable fact that national development must take place in the context of linguistic and ethnic heterogeneity. Multilingualism is, as Bamgbose indicates, not necessarily divisive, nor is it necessarily disadvantageous to the citizen. He makes the point, made also by other contributors, that participation in development entails language competence. Lingua francas and local languages are essential components of any sustainable development effort. Bamgbose goes further to criticize the prevailing narrow definition of ‘development’. In his view, material and technical development must be linked to social and cultural development, and in that context he places particular emphasis on self-reliance, ‘intellectual aid as a surer basis of development in preference to material aid’, the domestication of technology, and popular participation.

The paper by Fyle on Sierra Leone discusses the way in which Krio, a widely used lingua franca, impinges minimally on the formulation of state language policy which is predicated on national representation for

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