The Lost Languages of Africa | 1

(5th May 2020)


The continent of Africa is regularly heralded as perhaps the most magically unique place in the world, and with good reason. Beloved for its breath-taking natural landscapes, its rich cultural diversity, political intricacies and ancient heritage, it’s a popular tourist destination, attractive market opportunity and a fascinating case study.

African languages are about as diverse as the people themselves. There are estimated to be about 2000 different languages in the whole 30.37 million square km. Some of these, such as Swahili and Amharic, are commonly used throughout the continent and worldwide – but there are hundreds of other languages that most people (particularly those outside of Africa) would never even have heard of.

But before delving into what’s currently happening with African languages, it’s important to discuss what makes the study of languages so prevalent. Why should anyone care what languages are spoken and why?

Personal Identity

First of all, let’s get personal about it – it’s who you are. Language has the power to define a person wholly, to tell a story that’s so much more detailed than what’s on the surface, than what meets the eye.

An individual’s mother tongue is part of their heritage. For those living in countries with immigrant parents, a native language that you’re born with is a piece of your culture that will never leave you. Even if you’re not fully fluent and just remotely familiar with a mother tongue, it shines a light into your background – where your family originated from and where you’re descended from.

Language is a powerful medium, charged with emotion behind every word. Linguists will agree that studying the root of words and phrases is immensely fascinating and can unravel a story into someone’s past. In everyday life, just hearing a language that’s known to you can conjure up an emotional journey, of familiarisation, of comfort and a feeling of home.

Broaden the Horizon

On a practical level, languages are a matter of convenience. They’re the gateway to getting tasks completed and objectives met, and it boils down to understanding. By communicating in a mutually familiar language, individuals can explain things miles better and get things resolved with ease.

These small successful interactions on a local setting, made possible by good language skills, enable people to do business globally, broadening the horizon and widening the economy. It means that companies can communicate with people overseas and get their message understood satisfactorily.

So, language benefits people not only personally, but facilitates commercial success on an international stage. All that, just from speaking the same tongue!

To be continued next week.

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.