Alagi Yorro Jallow
Fatoumatta: There is grave concern about the rapidly shrinking wealth of local languages and dialects globally. The alarming number of Africans, especially children, in the diaspora who cannot speak their mother tongue is a cause for concern. African parents are allowing our traditions and values to fade away and not only in dialects. Every African value, custom, culture, and tradition is fading away as the English language has gained more prominence in both official and private circles in many nations today.
Today 2 February, is International MotherLanguageDay! Let us celebrate the power of mother languages to build peace and sustainability. This situation prompted the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to dedicate a special day to preserve dialects. UNESCO has factored in the use of indigenous mother languages in its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The idea is to ensure local languages are used when teaching children to gain a solid foundation in the vernacular before embracing the orthodox languages of instruction.
Fatoumatta: Historically, many of the best scientists were born and raised in non-English-speaking countries in Europe and Asia, such as Germany, Russia, Japan, and Korea. So, there is not a shred of evidence to suggest that English is essential for scientific progress. Only a small, deracinated, and anglicized elite of Africans are pushing the myth that English is essential to be useful in science and math. In the coming decade, the African government’s main challenge will be to educate the young working-age population and help them get jobs.
The easiest and fastest way to educate African people would be to create good-quality and explicit educational materials in African languages. I am considering that the scarcity of such materials, developing more in African languages by leveraging multimedia technologies, is a much more doable project than making hundreds of millions of Africans even minimally competent in a foreign language like English. Unfortunately, the African educational system has embarked on this quixotic quest, which is bound to fail. If Africans continue along this misguided path, there will be a massive underclass of ignorant, Pidgin-English speakers who will be in a severe dilemma by not entirely speaking English or the vernacular.
This will be a recipe for disaster. The so-called demographic divide will become a demographic noose if Africa ends up with a class of young, inarticulate, Pidgin-English blabbering, incompetents in society. Instead of providing confidence and skills, the current education system is geared to ruin a person’s ability to learn and prosper by throwing students into a foreign-language pit from which they cannot recover. Africa’sAfrica’s geopolitical interest lies in promoting an African cultural sphere. Just as a multi-polar world is in Africa’sAfrica’s interest, a multi-lingual world is also in Africa’sAfrica’s long-term geopolitical interest.
Fatoumatta: Suppose Africans choose English over their languages to project a worldview overseas. In that case, Africa will remain an impersonator of the Anglophone group and never be original again, so it is not in Africa’sAfrica’s long-term interest to have English as the dominant language. Ensuring the use of multiple languages in the world plays to African people’s strength in multiple language learning, diasporic relations, and establishing trade and one-to-one relationships with leaders and more buried people-to-people contacts. These advantageous factors would help Africa nations gain a competitive advantage over other nations, including China and the United States. In the coming years, as Africa grows, the Gulf countries will become more dependent on Africa as the market for their energy exports. Similarly, Africa and the ASEAN members in the east will be looking towards Africa for leadership as an alternative to a rising Chinese narrative and grow into the space left by the relative reduction of America’sAmerica’s share of the world’s GDP.
This means that even as Africa leads economically, it will also have to take the opportunity to promote its worldviews to the people in other countries rather than having a framework set by an Anglophone group. Africa will also find support from numerous European countries, such as France and Germany, to make sure that the world reduces English use. However, the colonized Africa mind-et does not yet have the confidence to imagine African languages dominating over English.
Fatoumatta: Languages go extinct when they fall out of use, and few people remain who can speak them. This takes place when the act of transferring these languages from one generation to another weakens or no longer takes place because the people have turned to the use of a foreign or non-native language. Given how our local languages are going now, if this issue is not addressed seriously, the next five generations will not speak the indigenous Gambian languages. An older adult who dies is like a lost library because we cannot get other people to preserve the culture. How many children can chant eulogies in their mother tongue?
Certain factors, such as migration, urbanization, Westernization, and globalization, are responsible for the erosion of our local languages. Any people who cannot sustain their identity and roots are not a proud nation. Sadly, one can only find pockets of young people in urban cities who speak their local languages and dialects fluently.
Fatoumatta: While the English language is our second language, just like many other countries, Russia, China, and Iran have made conscious efforts and deliberately evolved their cultures to sustain their native languages. South Africa now has nine official languages, and most South Africans speak more than one of these languages. This is the result of deliberate efforts to maintain a national identity.
To be continued.