Edited by James Essegbey, Brent Henderson and Fiona Mc Laughlin
[Culture and Language Use 17] 2015
► pp. 1–15
Unintended consequences of methodological and practical responses to language endangerment in Africa
The nature and processes of language endangerment in Africa continue to be debated and contested (see e.g. Luepke 2009). There is however a consensus among linguists on language documentation as a strategy for safeguarding Africa’s linguistic diversity. Nevertheless, Africanist linguists are divided on how far linguists involved in language documentation should be language activists or get involved in language support work (Ladefoged 1992) and on how to train African students for the task of documenting African languages (Newman 2003). In this paper I examine some of the practices that are associated with language documentation whose principal goal is the creation of a multi-purpose record for posterity. I argue that some of these practices, despite the good intentions, in the end do not promote the preservation of linguistic diversity. I demonstrate that practices of orthography development, standardisation, literacy and development of pedagogical materials in endangered languages of Africa will in the end kill the variation and multilingual practices that are prevalent on the continent. African language documentarians are faced with questions of editing oral material for use in school books for example. Some consequences of some of these practices are explored. I advocate that Africanists should pay more attention to the multimodal modes of representation and in particular take advantage of the oral nature of the socio-cultural communities of practice and develop methods that promote diversity rather than kill it.