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The Importance of Afrikan Languages and Worldview
By Obadele Kambon
By conservative estimates there are 1,800 documented languages in Afrika covering approximately 11,730,000 square miles. Within this space is much linguistic variation. However, the common thread which binds the languages of the Black people of Afrika is a common worldview. Worldview can be understood as the overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world. Worldview can also be defined as a collection of beliefs about life and the universe held by an individual or a group.
We find similar essential aspects built into Afrikan languages throughout Afrika, such as concepts of interdependence (Obi dan bi – Someone depends on another [Twi language of Ghana, West Afrika], respect for elders (Omode le ni aso to agba, sugbon, ko le ni akisa to agba – A child may have as many clothes as an elder but does not have as many rags (a symbol of experience and wisdom) [Yoruba language of Nigeria, West Afrika]) and reciprocity (Aimu t’owo re wa ko gba t’owo eni – One who doesn’t bring his/her hand (to give) doesn’t receive that which is in the hand of another [Yoruba language of Nigeria, West Afrika])
Language and culture comprise all of the values that we use to view and interpret the world, our place in the world and ourselves. Both language and culture spring forth from the worldview which has given birth to them.
An example of the values and beliefs of worldview built into language is how we find a perception of the world in English language in which everything Black is associated with badness. Black Monday, Black cat, Blackballed, Blacklisted, Black people, etc. This is not a universal concept, but one that is intimately linked with a european worldview which is encapsulated in european languages. It is also a concept that has vast implications for Afrikan (Black) people, how Afrikan (Black) people view the world and ourselves.
It is essential for Afrikan (Black) people throughout the world to reclaim and cherish our Afrikan tongues because, as stated by renown Kenyan author According to Ngugi wa Thiong’o (Decolonizing the Mind, 1981) “language is never simply a neutral instrument to convey meaning, but rather a culturally subjective system reflecting peoples' worldview. Language symbolizes the common beliefs and psychological make-up of the community from which it springs.” Thus language imposes a worldview upon those who speak it that has a profound conscious and subconscious impact on what we think, how we think, when we think and why we think.
Afrikan languages are also important for Afrikan people because, as stated by educator Dr. Carter G. Woodson, "Who prescribes the diameter of your knowledge circumscribes the circumference of your activity." There is no more effective way to do this than to cut a people off from their language and thus from knowledge of their own healing systems, spiritual systems, philosophical tradition and themselves. As an Akan proverb states, Nea ne epa da wo nsa no, na woye n’akoa “You are the slave of the one whose handcuffs are on your wrists.” Afrikan languages and the Afrikan worldview from which they spring offer possibilities to break out of the conceptual incarceration of european languages and for liberation. This is necessary for Afrikan (Black) people throughout the world.
Obadele Kambon is the founder and lead instructor of Abibitumi Kasa Afrikan Language Institute (AKALI). AKALI Twi and Yoruba language classes are currently offered at Betty Shabazz International Charter School and Malcolm X College. He also teaches students throughout the nation via online conference software at AKALI’s website http://www.abibitum ikasa.com . He has earned Master of Arts Degrees in both Linguistics and African Languages and Literature and is currently pursuing a doctorate in African Languages and Literature. He can be contacted at (773) 696-5765 or via email at obadelekwame@ abibitumikasa. com