54Lights with Kondwani Mwase
54Lights with Kondwani Mwase

Episode 72 · 2 months ago

A Matter of Language

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Language and meaning dissected, this week's bite-sized conversation is a crude attempt to explore a "universal" lingua franca for the continent. Complex, controversial and even confusing are some terms that come to mind when we wade into the fray. 

You'll hear from our guest Dr. Josephine Dzahene-Quarshie , professor of linguistics in Ghana, who's devoted to this concept and construct. An interesting and different way of thinking given the widespread use and documentation of the language of Kiswahili. 

WHAT NEXT?

I invite all listeners to join us in this debate. Should or should we not try to march towards this concept...or is the proposed dream by Professor Dzahene-Quarshie a worthwhile topic. Contact us to voice your opinion.

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ABOUT 54Lights

54Lights is committed to illuminating the African experience...one story (beat) at a time. 54Bites features our extended conversations with fans, foes and friends of the show.

From our sound stage and auditory office to your hearts and ears across the globe. The following has been crafted with care for your listening ears. I'm your host, skinned one in today, and this is fifty four bites our reflections on episodes passed and projections on those yet to come. Last week I had an illuminating conversation with January yerksa about activism in the indigenous community. Among other things, we spoke about the connective tissue between the black community and the indigenous one, a thread I called ally ship, and though we're still hold to that term, my guest did inspire me to broaden my vocabulary to include the...

...concept of solidarity instead of ally ship. It got me thinking about language and a common space from which we can all connect, a common set of speaking terms. I followed that rabbit hole into the conversation with my next guest, who's campaigning for a Common Pan African language here. In part is that conversation, but I want to take a few minutes, if you can, introduce yourself and just explain a little bit about the work that you do, because I believe you are a professor in Ghana. Yes, my name is just fine. Associate professor of quis Swahili at the universtity of Ghana. I am also currently the Ghanian Director of the confucious institute at the the see of Dana.

I've been teaching kids to a really for over twenty years. I came across kids to a really when I was preparing to enter the university. I saw it as one of the courses on offer and I was quite excited about its being an African language, which it's quite developed, and so I applied to read a Master's in linguistics at the University of Dana and I was looking for a scholarship. So I got shortlisted. I attended the interview. It was quite interesting. Lo and behold, a couple of weeks after the interview I got a message that my dean was looking for me and she gave me the news that, as part of faculty development at the University of Ghana, the university has decided fundsor me two fer are my education in Kissuwahili. saw...

...that I could come back and join the faculty at the Kiswahili Section. So I took the offer. This is how far I've gotten. So when did you first start to get romanced by the language, like was it before your studies? Like were you introduced to the language before that? Before I mean, I was curious, I wanted to know about it and indeed I fell in love with it when I started learning it. And then also the cost is quite broad. When you talk about Kisuahili, I think generally people just think language, but I keep saying that more than just a language, it's actually an academic discipline because there are various aspects of the study of Kissuwahili. It comes with the history and civilization of the Swahili people, the literature,...

...then we come to the linguistics aspect, the cultural aspects. So it's it's quite a broad academic discipline. How widespread is Kiswahili, both as a language but also, as you say, like, as an academic discipline? Is it quite widespread throughout the continent? I will say that in recent times, in the past seven to ten years, it's catching on. The South African countries are becoming more and more interested in Kiswahili because of this community that is coming up. You know, we have the east African Community and then we have the east and southern and so it's catching up in southern and Africa. Several universities are trying to come up with Kiswahili programs and I know also that...

...some countries are also trying to get Kisswahili into the basic school carry column. Oh, that's great. Thank you for the history in the background. I do want to go back to that article that I read about, I think, a position that you had supported. It was a BBC article. I forget when it was published, but in short, it was an argument that said what really should become the Lingua Franca in the continent, and I think, or I believe, you were a supporter of that. So I'd love to discuss that. Why do you think that that might be something of interest? The first thing I would like to say is the fact that if we compare Kisswahili to most African languages, I would say that Kissa really has had an advantage, or its privileged, to be one of the most widespread, number one, number two, one of the most developed in terms of the...

...documentation of history, documentation of literature, publications. Kissuahili can boast of four centuries of literature and I'm not too sure of any other African language that can actually do that. Kisswahili has been standardized Saint Nineteen thirty. So the Risks Standard Kiss Swahili, which is learned everywhere. I believe that if Africa has to choose one of its numerous Lingua Franca, because Swahili is not the only we have houser, we have some other wolof and all those languages, which are also Lingua Franca in parts of Africa. But qui Swahili has made such progress that I believe if we all join hands to push it a step further,...

...that will be to the advantage of Africa. Then Africa can boost of one Lingua Franca for the whole continent. That's the dream. That's the dream. That's the dream. Now I appreciate you articulating it and it's one of those things where I'm I'm sitting there and I'm like why I'm so interested in in talking to you about that dream? That dream is one of those that feels like it speaks to Pan Africanism right creating like this common thread, common language that can connect more than it can separate all of us. Is that part of what you're thinking, part of what your dream is? Definitely when a people speak one language, there is no doubt that that will be unity. Speaking one language is one source of unifier, and we can actually look at the Tanzanian example. You know, there are about hundred and twenty two...

...languages spoken Tanzania, but almost every Tanzanian speaks and writes Pisuahili. And that was not so from about two hundred years ago, or even just a hundred years ago. That was not so. It took the efforts, especially of European missionaries to East Africa. They also contributed. I mean, if you want to go further back then we're looking at the Arabs who came to the coast and tried to trade with the people from the Interior. It was to trade that Kiswahili spread from the coast of East Africa into the interior of East Africa and by in the eighteenth century, when the European missionaries also arrived at...

Kisswahili had spread to quite a large area in east Africa. And they also felt that if you could speak Kiswahili then once mission would be made quite easy because whatever one went, it was possible to get an interpreter. So even if people did not speak Kiswahili could get someone could speak Kissuwahili and speak the local language, you know, and so the European missionaries became very interested in Kiswahili. And also, because the Arabs had stayed there for quite a long time already, there was some documentation of religious or Islamic poetry and compositions, documentation in the Arabic Straits that people, the Swahili scribes, were keeping at that time. And these are European missionaries, were able to get hold of...

...some of these documents, transcribe them and also preserve them because they needed the language for their missionary way. They got interested and so as far back as I think eighteen fifty or so, the first European missionary had actually written a grammar book of Kiss Swahili. Interesting, professor, this is remarkable. I'm not fully versed in this, but I'm gonna ask you this question about whether or not this is a good idea. And so this is this is why I'm asking about the good idea. So if we were to, let's say, follow through on that dream and we were to have this Lingua Franca of Kiswahili sort of proliferate throughout the continent. Is that better than things like English or French? Where do you see that and how do you see that being different or advantageous to maybe what's going on now, where, I would say Lingua Franca globally is English. Where do you learn when you hear the world...

...maybe it should be English. Maybe we should not do that. What's your reaction to that? As I keep saying, the world can boast over seven thousand languages, and so definitely spe just one language will not be enough. You understand exactly and so. And then also, our brains are made up in such a way that we can indeed learn several languages even at the same time. One of my colleagues, she speaks about six languages, and that's because of the environment in which she grew up. She grew up in the compound house, where people speak different languages, so she grew up speaking about five or six languages. So speaking more than one language. It's not America,...

...and the more languages one can speak, the better one can communicate with the people of the world. And so, for for Africa, so he is spoken by over a hundred million people. So then, if one can speaks to a really certainly it puts you at an advantage. You can communicate with more people than someone who does not speak any Swahili at all, and that is the idea. As many Lingua Francas that we can have, the better it is for us for communicating globally. The world has become a global village. English, yes, but unfortunately it's not every part of the world that English is so popular. So yes, you may speak English and you may be a to communicate with a lot of people, but you can also...

...run into into trouble depending on which the world you find yourself. If you find yourself in how Kong or China, you're English may not be very useful. You understand. Thank you for the clarification, because you are a linguist. First is this idea of the more of the marrier. Is what I'm interpreting from that. Thank you for for that clarity. I hope you enjoyed your bite. Now it occurs to me that this episode needs far more unpacking, debate and dialogue than the ten or so minutes I've afforded it. I mean, come on, the idea of a common African language, she just might need a few more voices in it. To be substantive. So if you've got an idea of how better to address this or opinion on what the...

...right approaches, I'd like instead to build the episode with collective voices. Please DM me at crowd fifty four on instagram and we'll build the follow up conversation together. Up Next my conversation with Rwandan Canadian Musician Casa, and unapologetically fun conversation that will have you up, bopping, moving and, of course, smiling. Until then, happy listening.

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