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Kishani, Bongasu Tanla. On the Interface of Philosophy and Language in Africa: Some Practical and Theoretical Considerations
2001, Cambridge University Press
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Added by: Sara Peppe and Björn Freter
Publisher’s Note:

The relation between philosophy and language in Africa seems to favor the languages of written expression to the detriment of the languages of "oraural" expression. Concretely, this has meant not only the exclusive use of Arabic and European languages in the philosophies in Africa, but also the assumption that philosophy is only possible in, with, and through written languages. This article argues that change is long overdue, and that African languages should play significant roles in both the exploration of the past and in contemporary and future philosophical inquiries in Africa. In other words, the real problem is not so much to determine how far philosophy is compatible or incompatible with specific languages and with language as a whole, or vice versa, as to discern what role African languages should play within the framework of the past, contemporary, and future philosophies in Africa. For if colonial experiences obliged Africans to confront this predicament without success, the contention here is that Africans cannot continue to philosophize sine die in European languages and according to European models of philosophy as if African languages cannot provide and play the same roles. Today more than before, both the lettered and "oraural" traditions of Africa invite Africans to practice self-reliance in such matters.

Comment: Kishani’s paper On the Interface of Philosophy and Language in Africa: Some Practical and Theoretical Considerations argues that African languages should play a vital role in the African philosophical inquiries. The crucial point of the article is to examine and establish the role African languages should play in past, present and future African philosophies. The article argues that Africans cannot keep doing philosophy relying on European languages and models as if African languages would be unable to play the same role. Indeed, the article explains that Africans should be self-sufficient in philosophising in their languages and with their models relying on their lettered and “oraural” traditions.

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Lodhi, Abdulaziz Y.. The Language Situation in Africa Today
1993, Nordic Journal of African Studies. 2 (1): 79–86.
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Added by: Sara Peppe and Björn Freter
Abstract: The African continent and the nearby islands constitute one-fourth of the land surface of the earth. Approximately 460 million people live in Africa which is about 11% of the world's population. Of the estimated 6,200 languages and dialects in the world, 2,582 languages and 1,382 dialects are found in Africa. Some languages in Africa are spoken by more than 20 or 30 million people, e.g. Hausa-Fulani, Oromo/Galla and Swahili. Arabic is the most widely spread language on the continent and it is the mothertongue of more than 110 million Africans, whereas in Asia there are only half as many native speakers of Arabic. More than 50 languages are spoken by more than one million speakers each; and a couple of hundred languages are spoken by small groups of a few thousand, or a few hundred people. These small languages are disappearing at a fast rate. Altogether only 146 vernaculars are used as "operative languages" in different situations, and 82 of them are classified by linguists as "highest priority languages", i.e. they are used as "local languages" in different contexts by various authorities, aid organisations and non- governmental organisations (NGOs) in their projects and campaigns. Of the latter, 41 languages are widely used as "lingua franca" for inter-ethnic, regional and/or international communication. All African languages compete with metropolitan/colonial languages, as well as with pidgin and creoles. However, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) has recommended 50 languages to be supported along with Arabic and Swahili as the only native African working languages. The lingua francas in Africa are of two types: Type A is spread by Africans, e.g. Amharic, Hausa, Swahili and Wolof; while Type B is spread through foreign influence, e.g. Lingala and Swahili during the colonial period. Most lingua francas have both Type A and B features, and the common denominator for them all is that they have been, and many of them are today, languages which were used by soldiers and warrior groups and African conquerors, languages which were later employed by European colonialists in their African armies.

Comment: This article provides an outlook on the languages of Africa, highlighting that the African continent is multi-lingual since there is a huge number of languages and dialects. Plus, the paper clarifies that together with the autochthonous languages, colonialism introduced European languages, increasing the number of languages used. The importance of this article is that it elucidates the impact of the acquis of languages in Africa on politics, education and development. This is linked with the issue of African languages in African philosophy too.

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Rettovà, Alena. The role of African languages in African philosophy
2002, Rue Descartes. 36 (2): 129-150.
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Added by: Sara Peppe and Björn Freter
Introduction: Since the beginning of the development of the corpus of African philosophical writing, African philosophy has been written exclusively in European languages. African philosophers write in English, in French, in Portuguese, in German, in Latin, and if we may include the non-African authors who made substantial contributions to African philosophy and the languages into which the major works of African philosophy were translated, we would arrive at a large number of European (and possibly even Asian) languages, but very few, if any, African ones. There are authors among African philosophers who stress the importance of a renaissance of the traditional thought systems, some go as far as to claim that the usage of African languages may have far-reaching consequences on the philosophical conclusions at which we arrive. In spite of this, the same authors often acknowledge certain shortcomings of African languages to express philosophical ideas. In any way, they all continue writing in European languages. The reasons for this state of affairs are obvious. Historical conditions such as colonialism, economic and political dependency, contribute to the fact of the international weakness of regional languages, this being the case not only of African languages. English and French, but especially English, have a large international public, books in English get sold, get read, etc. African languages were ignored or even suppressed during the colonial era, so that speaking a European language became a matter of high prestige, whereas African languages were looked down upon. Even if that changed, economic underdevelopment leads to cultural underdevelopment, propagating African languages is only possible if there are the means to do it. But even then, there is the large number of African languages: which are we to choose? On the grounds of these reasons, African languages are underdeveloped, lack the vocabulary to express realities of modern life.

Comment: This article explores the theme of African philosophy that is generally expressed in European languages. Some African philosophers want to propose a renaissance of the traditional body of thought, even if some acknowledge that African languages face issues in expressing some philosophical ideas. African philosophers are continuing to write in European languages due to some historical conditions (e.g., colonialism) that are responsible for the weakness of regional languages on the international scene. One of the main issues is that neither efforts have been made yet to develop a corpus of African philosophical terminology nor Western philosophical books have been translated into African languages. The major questions of the article focus on whether it is possible to write philosophy in African languages and analyse the role of African languages in the development of African thought. The author considers the usage of African languages in African philosophy, the use of African languages in the four major branches of African philosophy and finally, she considers African languages that serve as a tool for African philosophy.

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