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Is Africa preserving indigenous languages? South African researcher points out 2 catalysts

South African researcher, Prof Abiodun Salawu, is changing how the continent views indigenous language media with studies of Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria and the Rainbow Nation.

File image of the map of Africa

Is it true that African youth are losing connection with their indigenous cultures because they have lost touch with their native tongue?

Researchers have pondered this question and a South African professor, in particular, has studied it in relation to the use of African languages in media.

Prof Abiodun Salawu is leading groundbreaking work at North-West University while urging practitioners to embrace indigenous languages in print, digital, electronic and social media as well as other sectors.


In the conduct of politics within African nations, Prof Salawu notes that African language media were increasingly replacing political parties in stimulating and organising the participation of the masses in the political system.

He explained that the use of native languages in media had always been associated with Christian missionary activities, the missionaries felt that the best way to impart their religion was to communicate with locals in indigenous languages.

The yardstick for the use of indigenous language in evangelism by the missionaries was the same idea that has now sprouted into the use of local language press as a tool for democratic mobilisation. He also identified the pitfalls of local language media in ethnic politics.


Salawu stressed the need for indigenous language media practitioners to integrate online and social media into their practice in this era of the fourth industrial revolution, to sustain the gains already made.

Urging major stakeholders to engage in formulating policies that will strengthen African language media, he noted that colonially inherited official national languages are killing indigenous African languages.

The researcher notes that it's because the colonially inherited languages are the languages of education, power, and economic freedom. The trend results in the youth losing the cultural and social benefits of a deep understanding of their indigenous languages.

Prof Salawu has analysed the involvement of African language media on the continent, specifically in Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria and South Africa. His work highlights how the media is involved in nationalist struggle and post-independence politics.

He shared the insights during the inaugural Indigenous Languages and Media Seminar held in Johannesburg.


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