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

Languages and revolution

One of the most interesting aspects of the revitalization of African languages among African Americans has been that these languages have been used as vehicles of revolutionary political, economic, and cultural discourse prior to having become institutionalized as daily means of mundane communication. Examples abound, such as ujamaa, sankɔfa, aṣe (axe in Brazil), Htp (Hotep), asante, abibifahodie, mAat (Maat), kujichagulia, and so forth. While these terms have entered the African American lexicon, they have become islands of African cultural practice in that most often we lack even a rudimentary fluency in the languages in question.

While our use of African terminology (including greetings and the like) is a very positive development, we must go the necessary step further of institutionalizing these languages as tools of daily communication. Of the languages featured above (Kiswahili, Twi, Yoruba, and mdw nTr (Medu Netcher), Kiswahili’s existing status as an international language make it the most attractive as a Pan-African language; Twi and Yoruba (to say nothing of Igbo, Kikongo, Wolof, and so forth) are important as languages which facilitate cultural (re)connection or re-Africanization given the West and West-central African origins of most African Americans; and mdw nTr is best positioned to serve as our classical African language, providing an epistemological framework that will aid in the decolonization of both ourselves as well as the language(s) that we adopt.

It should be clarified that I am not arguing that these languages are destinations unto themselves, rather that they are vehicles that might facilitate our movement from where we presently are towards where we desire to be. As such, the movement beyond our present use of African languages towards greater fluency may facilitate a range of unanticipated developments. The Maori of New Zealand have found that the revitalization of their language has led to a renewed interest in their indigenous technologies among other things. We might “discover” models of governance that aid us in our organizational work and professional lives. We might reclaim models of economic organization wherein women controlled major sectors of economic activity as a means of ensuring their self-determination–which helps in the larger ujamaa project that we are engaged in. We might acquire paradigms of marriage that are beyond the relatively superficial bases that are normalized in the West, which often leads to the formation of unstable family units. We might put into practice methods of struggle that augments the depth of our vision and refines the intelligence of our methods. We might devise new ways of understanding ourselves, our community, and our movement through time and space. In short, the serious study of African languages could be nothing less than revolutionary.