African Languages, Development and the State

By Richard Fardon; Graham Furniss | Go to book overview

11

Minority language, ethnicity and the state in two African situations

The Nkoya of Zambia and the Kalanga of Botswana

Wim van Binsbergen

INTRODUCTION1

Language differences often provide an anchorage for ethnic identity. Ethnic self-articulation tends to have a linguistic component: propagation of the language spoken by a national minority in the face of lack of recognition of that language in a nation state’s language policy covering such domains as formal education, the judiciary, contacts between the state and its citizens in general, political discourse, freedom of expression and the media. Language policy—even if appealing to ‘objective’ considerations of linguistic analysis, constitutional equity and socio-economic development—is often formulated and implemented in a political and ideological context partly defined by ethnic parameters. In the present paper I shall briefly trace, and contrast, the ethnic aspects of the language situation in two contemporary African communities: the Nkoya of central western Zambia, and the Kalanga of north-eastern Botswana. The choice of these two cases is inspired by more systematic considerations than personal preference alone: while my own current anthropological and historical research happens to concentrate on these two communities, their choice here is strategic. In terms of their linguistic, ethnic and political situations within their respective nation states, Nkoya and Kalanga are in some respects comparable, yet they display striking differences with regard to the role language has played in their respective processes of ethnicization in the twentieth century. Thus, the comparison may have heuristic value in highlighting some of the crucial variables that inform the interplay between language, ethnicity, the state and development, even though I take it for granted that a two case comparison can never in itself yield viable generalizations.

Comparative empirical data concerning the two languages, and the ethnic groups of the same names which focus on these languages, are compiled in an elaborate matrix (Appendix) which has the disadvantages of being condensed and schematic but the advantage of accommodating

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