African Languages, Development and the State

By Richard Fardon; Graham Furniss | Go to book overview

2

Pride and prejudice in multilingualism and development

Ayo Bamgbose

The title of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice is perhaps not inappropriate as a caption for a discussion of the myths that surround multilingualism and its role in national integration and development. There is a simple equation such that prejudice in multilingualism corresponds to pride in monolingualism and vice versa.

The role of language as a means of communication and social interaction, a medium of education, and a vehicle for cultural expression is fairly well-known. In any nation state, language is also often regarded as a symbol of nationality. This, in turn, is based on the equally well-known function of language as a solidarity marker. A speech community has its ‘in-group’ language that marks it off from other speech communities. This same speech community may have an ‘out-group’ language that it shares with a wider group. Alternatively, the solidarity function of a language may be restricted to special purposes, such as religion. In all these cases, language marks a person as belonging to a group which may vary from a village community or a religious sect, to an ethnic group or the entire nation.


MYTHS ABOUT LANGUAGE AND NATIONAL INTEGRATION

The perceived solidarity function of language has led to the development of two complementary myths: the first is that having several languages in a country (multilingualism) always divides: the other is that having only one language (monolingualism) always unites, hence, national integration is believed to be possible only through one national or official language.

Since most African countries are multilingual, the myth of linguistic divisiveness is often associated with African languages. Hence, it has been suggested that ‘differences between indigenous languages keep the people apart, perpetrate ethnic hostilities, weaken national loyalties and

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