African Languages, Development and the State

By Richard Fardon; Graham Furniss | Go to book overview

Part III

East Africa

In addition to their regional concern with East Africa, the three papers in this Part share a focus on speakers’ attitudes towards the languages that they speak, and more specifically on how attitudes towards a speaker’s own language are inflected by the relationships held to prevail between that language and other languages of which the speaker is aware. These relational attitudes are elements of wide-ranging, and changing political and ideological, discourses about difference. In varied ways, each of the papers embeds its discussion of the evaluation of language difference in the broader contexts of ethnic, religious or political circumstance.

Schlee’s paper valuably contrasts with the following pair, more centrally concerned with Swahili, insofar as one of the two languages he discusses, Rendille, has generally not been subjected to the politicization of language purity, although he notes that some missionary activity encourages such a development. Oromo, by contrast, a language with many times more speakers than Rendille, has become a political cause (albeit more so for Ethiopian Oromo than the Kenyan Oromo speakers among whom Schlee researched). Oromo and Rendille are perceived by their neighbours as non-Islamic languages (compare Parkin below on Swahili, Arabic and Kenyan vernaculars), yet both use some Islamic legal terms in order, Schlee suggests, to suggest an ‘international’ comparability between Muslim custom and their own. In the remainder of his paper he looks at loanwords exchanged between neighbouring languages (especially Rendille, Oromo and Samburu) by virtue of mutual political influence, as parts of youth cultures, or through the copying of ritual or customary practices. In conclusion he remarks upon the conventional character of different ways of classifying the languages in his area and, where sources allow, advocates the study of suppressed loanwords as a means of relating language change to past inter-ethnic relations.

Blommaert’s account of discourse about Swahili in Tanzania goes

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