African Languages, Development and the State

By Richard Fardon; Graham Furniss | Go to book overview

6

Using existing structures

Three phases of mother tongue literacy among Chumburung speakers in Ghana

Gillian F. Hansford

DEVELOPMENT

Whilst development usually entails improving things like agricultural skills, or health care, it is noteworthy that at the conference that gave rise to the papers in this volume, participants focussed rather on the development of languages, as part of national development. Bamgbose, in this volume, states that emphasis should be on ‘a full realization of the human potential and a maximum utilization of the nation’s resources for the benefit of all’. He backs up his argument by quoting from Schumacher, Nyerere of Tanzania and a UNESCO report. Of his five excellent summary points, the last is ‘mass participation and grassroots involvement in order to ensure widespread and genuine development’. Participation is actually increased by ‘the use of the many languages available in the country’. Elugbe adds, ‘The development of a society is the development of individuals within it.’ However, he says not only is there, in the case of Nigeria, ‘no single document directed solely at the language problem’ but Nigerian governments ‘see the cost but do not see the benefits. They look for immediate results.’ It has been estimated that only 5 per cent of the population of Nigeria are able to use English. Igué and N’Ouéni describe a similar situation for French in Bénin: ‘schooling in French has undergone a great decline’.

The widespread use of a language is seen by people for whom it is not their mother tongue as an imposition. This is true whether it be English, or an African language such as Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba, which are mother tongues of many people, or Krio which is the mother tongue of a minority. Whilst Asad’s distinction (1986) between strong and weak languages, referred to by Pardon and Furniss, is useful, we should not necessarily deduce that the speakers of the strong language view the encouragement of the use of their own language as a strategy to acquire supremacy. For it might be merely expedient in order to communicate with the largest number of people. However, if a language is used over

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