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The Lost Languages of Africa | 2

(12th May 2020)

Isabelle Kubwimana (Youth Think Tank Researcher)

Critically Endangered

Heading back to Africa, with so many languages spoken up and down the continent, it’s facing a battle with language endangerment. Many of the languages, hundreds of them in fact, are at critical risk of being lost forever, and it’s a situation that’s sadly getting worse not better.

When speakers cease to use a certain language, replacing it with something else perhaps more commonly used, it puts the language under great threat. The number of people left speaking that language inevitably gets reduced, and it’s finally a matter of whether or not it’s passed to the next generation or not – if not, then that’s it. Game over.

Many African languages are already dead. Bongomek, for example, that was originally spoken in Western Kenya, is no longer spoken anywhere. Other languages, such as El Molo, Watwa, Hansa and Okiek are barely spoken by anyone and under grave risk of extinction.

Once a language is no longer used by anyone, the culture, the heritage, all that is important and revered about that spoken word, also becomes obsolete. Society has changed all across the world and modernised itself quite dramatically, and it is perhaps people’s desire to seek out the mainstream, the trendy and the ‘normal’ that has pushed the traditional out of the window. Africans have inevitably chosen to use languages that are easier to access and more readily available.

Innovative Solutions

That becomes a large part of the problem that exists in the great African continent: there’s no easier way for people.

Consider an African person, whose native language is Yoruba, a language spoken in Nigeria but not commonly known outside of that region and certainly not outside of the continent. If they are to shop with a company for example that doesn’t know their language, least of all use it within their business – how would that potential customer react? Not being able to access their website in a familiar language, not understanding the company’s offering since it’s in a foreign tongue, and certainly not being able to comfortably interact with them – it’s not going to result in a positive experience, and certainly not a sale.

Translation tools have become increasing popular and sophisticated, yes, but there’s still one problem they do not solve: customer effort. The higher the amount of work required by someone to actually fully and seamlessly communicate with another party, the less inclined they’ll be to even bother.

Conclusion

Native language is all about familiarity and comfort and ease – not a struggle. If something feels too much like hard work and an upward climb they’ll never accomplish, then no more effort will go in and they’ll give up.

This is what is sadly happening to this increasing pool of endangered languages. With more effort being exerted into actually using them and doing so without friction, they risk becoming forgotten and lost forever.

André F. Nisin is a French entrepreneur and businessman.

After studying at La Sorbonne, King’s College London and Trinity College Dublin, he worked in the software industry for several years. In 2018, he founded Gusoma Technology and Gusoma Publishing Companies.

Tune into André Fouda Nisin’s daily webinar to hear him discuss more about the importance of language and how we can change the narrative.