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Multilingualism in Africa: marginalisation and empowerment

Multilingualism in Africa: Marginalisation and Empowerment - Plenary by Professor Dr. Birgit Brock-Utne at the 11th Language & Development Conference, 2015

Professor Dr. Birgit Brock-Utne, University of Oslo

Professor Dr. Birgit Brock-Utne, University of Oslo

So why EMI? And, finally for the day, a speaker who feel strongly that EMI Is not appropriate for Africa – and nor is it good for English. Professor Dr. Birgit Brock-Utne expressively articulated many concepts of which I’d been not very articulately aware when working in East Africa: that Africa is not ‘English-speaking’ or ‘French-speaking’ (the extent to which it is has much to do with missionary work), that English is only to a limited extent a medium of instruction and policies are often complex and the idea of L1 and L2 in Africa doesn’t make much sense. Three quarters of economic activity in Africa requires African languages.

I was fascinated by the discussion of two North Namibian languages which are basically the same but are transliterated in different ways because of the influence of Finnish and German missionaries. The sheer scale of Africa means ignoring its diversity is a big mistake – although I was surprised that twelve to fifteen African languages would be enough for communication across Africa to take place. But Africa also presents many examples of how not to impose English and how it’s owned by the ‘English knowing caste’ and the need to increase the status of national languages.

Post by: Andy Keedwell
The writer is the Senior Academic Manager English Partnerships for British Council in East India

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