On Pan-African Languages

In this discussion, Dr. Souleymane Bachir Diagne advocates for multiple Pan-African languages. While he includes the colonial languages along with Swahili in his formulation, he also suggests Manding and Fula.

His recommendation of Manding, which I would broaden to include the Mandé languages generally, is a logical one. These languages possess a high degree of mutual intelligibility.

His recommendation of Fula surprised me, though perhaps it should not have. When I was in grad school, a colleague of mine, Rama who was from Senegal, told me that she considered Fula to be an ideal candidate as a Pan-African language. Consider that it is enjoys a wide geographic dispersion (see the map below).


I consider Dr. Diagne’s suggestion that the colonial languages are acceptable vehicles of Pan-Africanism problematic for reasons that may be obvious. If they are not, you can read my thoughts on this here: http://libjournals.unca.edu/moja/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/MOJA21-v2i1-Rashid.pdf. I do accept that such languages are a part of our social milieu, however I also recognize that the impacts of languages extend beyond their utility and includes the political, economic, and conceptual. I contend that we leave the fetters of colonialism on our social systems and our minds by remaining wedded to these languages.

These criticisms notwithstanding, it is a worthwhile dialog.

Pan-African Forums – The Question of Language (23 Feb 2021) https://youtu.be/_BdKKOxYkdQ

Language resources


Abibitumi: http://abibitumi.com

LearnAkan.com: https://www.learnakan.com/

Textbooks from the National African Language Resource Center: https://nalrc.indiana.edu/resources/books-media/lets-speak.html

Video Lessons: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-vyAPawT20CKpp9H-xjFlg?fbclid=IwAR079pHmTkHwrogp1k6rfyhwO46RpcAXel3vR7Se5YsK7lW_DgO396zfBgk

Various resources: https://lmc.uiowa.edu/resources/twi-language-and-culture-resources



Textbooks from the National African Language Resource Center: https://nalrc.indiana.edu/resources/books-media/lets-speak.html



Various resources: https://lmc.uiowa.edu/resources/ewe-language-and-culture-resources



Fulani-English/English-Fulani Dictionary and Phrasebook: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0781813840/ref=ox_sc_act_title_1?smid=A1JKVWH22E85VP&psc=1

Pulaar-English Dictionary: https://www.amazon.com/Pulaar-English-English-Pulaar-Standard-Dictionary-Hippocrene/dp/0781804795/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1532305251&sr=8-1&keywords=pulaar

Textbooks from the National African Language Resource Center: https://nalrc.indiana.edu/resources/books-media/lets-speak.html

A free Fula textbook: https://www.livelingua.com/fsi/Fsi-FulaBasicCourse-StudentText.pdf

A free Pular textbook: http://www.ibamba.net/pular/manual.pdf



Teach Yourself Hausa: http://www.teachyourselfhausa.com/

Textbooks from the National African Language Resource Center: https://nalrc.indiana.edu/resources/books-media/lets-speak.html

English-Hausa Dictionary: https://yalebooks.yale.edu/book/9780300047028/english-hausa-dictionary?fbclid=IwAR29l1Yo2Ph0kj9_wqI9PXsQ342GmEYzATLW9TaPlJCTpC6RUG1ygRS2Ir4

Hausa-English Dictionary: https://yalebooks.yale.edu/book/9780300122466/hausa-english-dictionary?fbclid=IwAR2TlgJZvIMoR8EfzRH6gQgXUsZBJkyYDq3yc0h9Ka5WSUdqc3bIUK5SuvE

Hippocrene Hausa-English Dictionary: https://books.google.com/books?id=sJZkAAAAMAAJ&dq&fbclid=IwAR2EL0RM1xkuq6TFLbZm-GHNgiErv_WYhPy1bbhxeWR9nueE1ddAk2zyXwU

Various resources: https://lmc.uiowa.edu/resources/hausa-language-and-culture-resources



An Igbo phrasebook: https://wikitravel.org/en/Igbo_phrasebook?fbclid=IwAR0MHHBL3Vm2oPOk4OsVmb37swXj3Yi2gKCyjgKE8aRN6XLtTXXzUwnwUrQ

The Guide on Igbo Culture and Language: https://www.igboguide.org/

Textbooks from the National African Language Resource Center: https://nalrc.indiana.edu/resources/books-media/lets-speak.html

Various resources: http://www.omniglot.com/writing/igbo.htm?fbclid=IwAR36vUepU2488lBWsNHCDi6MU6PyGPvp_j2q_0kQyeD1p1k7VtETJKNy1Kw



Textbook from the National African Language Resource Center: https://nalrc.indiana.edu/resources/books-media/lets-speak.html



The Swahili Institute of Chicago: http://swahiliinstitute.org/

A free textbook from Kansas University: http://www2.ku.edu/~kiswahili/pdfs/all.pdf?fbclid=IwAR2ptAPg3yhurmaJkN4L84kP_dcOQYUZ9DzRtxApcnIy4OMzvVcg2vXPJBI

Textbooks from the National African Language Resource Center: https://nalrc.indiana.edu/resources/books-media/lets-speak.html

Various resources: https://lmc.uiowa.edu/resources/swahili-language-and-culture-resources



Various resources: https://lmc.uiowa.edu/resources/mandinka-language-and-culture-resources


mdw nTr (Medu Netcher)

Abibitumi: http://abibitumi.com

The Kemetic Institute of Chicago: http://www.ki-chicago.org/

Sebat Rkhty Amen’s school: http://www.meduneter.com/

Mfundishi Jhwtyms’s mdw nTr classes: http://www.mfundishijhutymsmdwntchr.com

Middle Egyptian by James Allen: https://www.cambridge.org/hk/academic/subjects/languages-linguistics/arabic-and-middle-eastern-language-and-linguistics/middle-egyptian-introduction-language-and-culture-hieroglyphs-3rd-edition?format=PB&isbn=9781107663282



Abibitumi: http://abibitumi.com

Textbooks from the National African Language Resource Center: https://nalrc.indiana.edu/resources/books-media/lets-speak.html

Various resources: https://lmc.uiowa.edu/resources/wolof-language-and-culture-resources

Video lessons: https://www.youtube.com/user/Moustaphasarr?fbclid=IwAR3Sqq0N4VWvJCqA3mb_lSVCPWZTTbR7NNLbgviEjCqaFPkcl-P4zOAHlVA



Abibitumi: http://abibitumi.com

A free textbook from the University of Texas at Austin: http://www.coerll.utexas.edu/yemi/index.php?fbclid=IwAR0aL7UAS3N3Mzh0viMJvY0s7xPjbAa37d3aQkyxWoMVgzieMzDuo51eyb8

A pronunciation guide: https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Yoruba/Pronunciation?fbclid=IwAR0KtmJvprYAMB0nTHrYLxAxP3pIxdjjCV4E4G4o_-oim1AmCSG5m7F9TUQ

Textbooks from the National African Language Resource Center: https://nalrc.indiana.edu/resources/books-media/lets-speak.html

Various resources: https://lmc.uiowa.edu/resources/yoruba-language-and-culture-resources


Lugha zetu

One day, when we get serious about our languages, we will discover that by getting the oppressors’ languages out of our mouths we will also be working to remove their worldview from our minds, and that our ancestral languages are a true path to Sankɔfa/Re-Africanization.

Ten reasons to learn Kiswahili

Many Africans in America express an interest in learning a language from their ancestors. In some cases this may be a daunting challenge, however Kiswahili remains one of the most accessible African languages.

  1. It is the most widely spoken African language in the world (based on both primary and secondary speakers). Thus it is the best example of a Pan-African language.
  2. It has enjoyed a rich history of writing for centuries, from an Arabic based script (Ajami) to Latin script. As such, Kiswahili has a broad body of literature.
  3. It reflects the cosmopolitanism of the Swahili Coast with its loan words from Gujarati, Farsi, Arabic, other Bantu languages, and so on.
  4. Its diffusion as a commercial language, and later as an administrative language of the colonial powers also enabled it to function as a common language for those struggling for independence. Thus, Kiswahili has been a language of liberatory struggle.
  5. It became the default African language of the Black Power Movement in the United States as numerous institutions, organizations, individuals, and slogans were derived from Swahili. Thus Kiswahili words and phrases such as imani, nia, uhuru sasa, and simba may already be familiar to you.
  6. It forms the basis of the Pan-African holiday of Kwanzaa, created by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966.
  7. Unlike most African languages, it is non-tonal with a simple five vowel system, making it less difficult for some learners to vocalize.
  8. There are numerous free resources available to learn the language.
  9. There are many beautiful and profound proverbs that have been developed in the Swahili culture.
  10. It is a conceptually or philosophically rich language, containing complex and important ideas such as ujamaa (socialism or cooperative economics), kujitegemea (self-reliance), umoja (unity), ukweli (truth), utu (humanity), and so on.

This list was adapted from a list created by @SemaKiswahili

Thoughts on constructed languages, interlanguages, and sankɔfa

My interest in constructed languages has been related to two queries. 1) Might we utilize a constructed language based off of African-languages to optimize language learning? 2) Can we use a mutually intelligible constructed language for intercommunication within the African world?

With respect to the first query, Afrihili or Guosa may be an examples of this. Though you have a great deal of advocacy for learning African languages in the US, few actually attain a high level of fluency. Part of the reason for this is the complexity of living languages.

My primary African language, Swahili, is a beautiful language, but none could claim that it is a grammatically simple language with its noun class system, affixes, and nature of agreement between nouns, verbs, and adjectives. In contrast, my third African language (of which I am still a rudimentary speaker), Twi, is one where I feel somewhat comfortable with grammar, but do have some difficulty with vowels, particularly tonal variation–a feature absent in the colonial language that I speak primarily.

If we look at the research pertaining to other constructed languages, particularly Esperanto, the time frames for acquisition are comparatively short. Attobrah’s creation of Afrihili, though imperfect, is an interesting model, one that could be augmented to optimize learnability.

However Dr. Edward Powe has stated that constructed languages have no natural base from which to spread. These languages spread from a speech community whose activities–economic, political, migratory–impact its diffusion. Consider the diffusion of Swahili, Twi, Hausa, or Wolof.

There is also the problem of constructed languages not fulfilling the desire present within many African Diasporan language learnings, that is connecting to specific African cultural communities–often to whom one has ancestry.

My interest in Swahili was informed by its role in Pan-African & Black Nationalist movements. My study of mdw nTr was related to it being a repository of ancient African deep thought. I learned Twi because I wanted to learn a language from West Africa, one to which I may have had an ancestral connection. This desire has also pertained to other languages of groups to which, based on my studies, I possess genetic ancestry. Thus for all of the reasons stated, I consider the prospect of constructed languages satisfying the desire for sankɔfa among African people to be exceedingly limited.

Therefore, I consider the second query to be fundamentally different. That is, “Can we use a mutually intelligible constructed language for intercommunication within the African world?” This question was quite interesting to me for a while, particularly with respect to the possibility of such a language facilitating communication among Africans who speak the colonial languages: Dutch, English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish.

To this end, I was intrigued by both Interlingua and Lingua Franca Nova. However of late I have become much more interested in Papiamentu, given that it has many of the things that I like about the latter, with some degree of intelligibility for Spanish and Portuguese speakers. I wondered if, such a language could be used as a textual medium, one enabling us to communicate in literary form with other segments of the African world.

I am reminded of Ama Mazama’s translations of some African-centered works into French as being demonstrative of a need for deeper and broader engagement with communities fluent in French, Spanish, and Portuguese. The idea is that by using some interlanguage, one might find a much simplified means of communication short of learning what would otherwise be a complex language. Again, this was a consideration born of practicality, whereas ideally we would be centered in using African languages, most logically Swahili for such a task. But again, the issue of learnability must be addressed.

I do not consider learnability to be an insurmountable challenge. I look at what Native Hawaiians have done to revive their language. They have created a network of schools to create primary speakers of their ancestral tongue. Similarly, I think that we have to consider building supplementary schools focused explicitly on this problem–after-school programs, Saturday schools, rites-of-passage programs, study/conversation groups, and so forth including independent African-centered schools. My point is that if we are serious about solving the language problem, the solution will have to be institutionally-based.

Being on the path: Meditations on Living and Re-Africanization

I am convinced that when we are on the path, when we are doing the things that we are supposed to be doing, we are consistently presented with reminders of the correctness of the direction in which we are moving. I received three such reminders in the last two days.

Reminder one: Today while working at my wife’s community training farm, a six year old boy asked me, “How do Africans fight?” I found his question intriguing, not only that he asked it of me, but that he posed this question at all. I am not entirely sure why he posed this question to me. Maybe he overheard me talking to his mother about teaching Capoeira at his school years ago, and understood what I was talking about. Maybe he presumed that as an African man I should know something about this. I did start to build on his existing knowledge base of Kiswahili, so maybe he figured that I might know something about fighting too. In any event, I deeply appreciated his question, a question that I did not think to pose until I was a young adult.

I told him that there are different ways that Africans have approached fighting and that I could show him some. I asked him if he wanted to know something related to kicking, punching, or stick-fighting. He said punching, so I showed him something. If he’s serious, I may teach him some basic elements of the arts whenever we see one another in-between farm work.

Reminder two: Similarly, a brother who attends my Capoeira class with his daughter told me that he intends for her to be a fighting arts practitioner, and wants for her focus to be specifically on Capoeira, given that it is an African art. I was intrigued by this. He has studied multiple arts, and sees Capoeira as not merely a matter of technical application, that is the process of fending off violent attackers, but also as a matter of affirming one’s cultural identity. In this way, Capoeira can be understood as a combat art that also embodies the kinesthetic dynamics of several African cultures, thus it is the embodiment of a distinctly African philosophy of movement. It also represents the sprit and tactics of African resistance in the Americas.

Reminder three: A brother who attended the mdw nTr conference in October told me that he had been so inspired, that he intended to teach his then unborn daughter mdw nTr. Today I saw him and his young daughter. He told me, consistent with his earlier statement, that he speaks to her in mdw nTr and proceeded to speak do so. I also spoke to her in mdw nTr. My wife claims that she perked up when she heard the mdw nTr, but I can’t confirm this.

That this would happen the day after African Languages Day was most inspiring for me. While I do study African languages regularly, I have struggled to find time to study of late. However, yesterday my studies were inspired. While riding the train I read about and practiced (silently) two African languages. African Languages Day gave me the opportunity to affirm something that I know I am capable of, using our languages on a regular basis to communicate complex ideas. To my understanding, the greatest challenge that we face is one of transmission, that is of creating new speakers of these languages in our communities in the African Diaspora. Solving this problem is one to which I will continue to devote my time and energy, as we cannot truly communicate about an African worldview if such a discourse is mediated in an alien language and from a culture characterized by fundamental alienation.

Our people once they know that they are an African people, they subsequently want and desire to ground themselves in African things, to understand their reality from the paradigms of their ancestors, to reclaim our languages, to practice our fighting arts, and to—in all areas of life—be African. This is more than just a matter of identity, but is one of solving the paradigmatic problem implicit in liberatory struggles—that is one of decolonzing the minds of the people as a means of enabling them to win the physical struggle which is for land, their lives, and the future.

Afrihili reflections

Language is a domain of struggle. The dominance of the colonial languages establishes conceptual and political vectors that reinforces the dominance of Europeans. Liberating our consciousness also requires the decolonization of our worldview. Languages are tools in this endeavor.

One of the most immediate challenges that I see with respect to the reclamation of African languages in the Diaspora, is the question of learnability. Language is a domain of struggle. The dominance of the colonial languages establishes conceptual and political vectors that reinforces the dominance of Europeans. Liberating our consciousness also requires the decolonization of our worldview. Languages are tools in this endeavor.

This is one of the reasons why Attobrah’s Afrihili is an interesting case. He sought to construct an Esperanto-like African language to serve the ends of Pan-African communication. Afrihili utilized words from various African languages, along with a relatively simple grammar.

Here I elaborate on Afrihili and its potential significance: http://www.quora.com/Can-a-language-like-Es…/…/Kamau-Rashid….

In the 1967, a Ghanaian engineer named K.A. Kumi Attobrah created an artificial Pan-African language named El-Afrihili. His language drew upon a range of African languages from throughout the continent.

As someone who has some knowledge of several African languages, there are a number of things within the language that are immediately recognizable. Examples include the word “zuri” (from Swahili) for “nice, “papa” (from Twi) for good, “sabo” (from Hausa) for “new”, and so on.

There are a few articles that have been written about it (here: http://lingweenie.org/conlang/afrihili/ and ” 2014 ” April Fiat Lingua). Also, Attobrah’s manual for the language can be found in a few libraries.

Sadly, Attobrah’s project did not catch on. However, Swahili, due to its flexibility and diffusion, is the best candidate for a Pan-African language.

The question remains, as to whether Attobrah’s work should be revived and perhaps augmented for Africans today.


Language is a domain of struggle. The dominance of the colonial languages establishes conceptual and political vectors that reinforces the dominance of Europeans. Liberating our consciousness also requires the decolonization of our worldview. Languages are tools in this endeavor.

Language and worldview

“My position is not that language is merely facilitative of worldview, but that language is constitutive of worldview. Inherent within it are inevitable epistemological and ontological vectors. Those struggling to reclaim or safeguard their cultures should be mindful of this.”

From the forthcoming article, “Decolonizing the African Tongue: Language and the contested terrain of African consciousness”