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A language industry is Africa's future


In the 9th and 10th centuries the Abbasid caliphate set up in Bagdad its capital a house of wisdom where Greek secular books and writings were translated into Arabic. When Europe embarked on its renaissance in the 14th century, the Arabic translations of Greek writings formed the engine of the European rebirth. Recently, technological work on automatic mechanical translation of languages has gotten to the stage at which two people speaking two different languages can converse in actual time.

These two examples demonstrate the fundamental role of language in human development. If ever the development of a people was ever tied to the development of their languages, it is here in Africa with African peoples and African languages. Yet Africa is one continent in which language development is not even recognised as sine qua non of human progress, growth and development. At the same time the development of African peoples and African countries through foreign languages has reached its peak. All further and future development of African peoples and African countries must take place in African languages.

When I say that future development of Africa and Africans will be not in foreign languages but in African languages I need to call attention to the peculiar stage that European languages have reached. These are the stage of moral neutrality, a stage in which language no longer carries a moral measurement when it is spoken. Translated to an African language the English statement “Greed is good” does not come off the tongue as smoothly as a natural statement. Without a moral compass carried by our languages, development is impossible. The second example of the stage that European languages have reached is the level of universal cynicism. For now African languages are still innocent of this crippling aspect of western language usage. Cynicism destroys hope and we need hope if Africa is to develop. These two examples demonstrate the fundamental role of language in human development. It is also relevant here to add “p.c.” That is politically correct forms of speaking which really means not speaking the truth at all times!

It is for this reason that I call for the establishment of a language industry as an important aspect of African development.

Such an initiative would look at such areas as translation, interpretation, language learning, language teaching and technology and language growth. Other areas would be the research and development of dialects of African languages as sources of neologism for African languages dictionary making. As an aspect of this initiative, the issue of translations between African languages as well as foreign languages can take off.

The development of orthography for African languages that need it can take place in the context of this industrial development. Publishing business will flourish anew in the context of the language industry.

How do we carry forward this idea?

Kole Omotoṣo
Guest Editor


Professor Kole Omotoṣo

Independent Scholar and writer
Researcher: Africa Diaspora Research Group
Visiting professorship at the Adekunle Ajasin University, Ondo State, Nigeria, for three months, ending in October 2013

Read more about the author and his view on being a futurist.


Professor Kole Omotoṣo
Postal Address: PostNet Suite #18, Private Bag x 1015, Lyttleton, 0140
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Giving the Convocation Lecture 2012 "Technology and Human Behaviour" at the Federal University of Technology at Akure, Ondo State South Western Nigeria.


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