HC 232H: African Languages: History, Making Meaning, and Social Identity

Professor: Doris Payne

4.00 credits

  • CRN 22609: Monday & Wednesday, 1215-1345 @ REMOTE

Africa has nearly 2000 languages, distributed into six or more major language families. The legacy of colonial activity means that certain European languages and Arabic overlay all the indigenous African languages. Most native speakers of African languages are actually multilingual (i.e. are fluent in more than one language). This course first introduces the student to African language families and aspects of historical linguistics which scholars use to investigate ancient population movements, history, cultures, and intercultural mixing in situations where there may be little or no written records. The course will then look at selected modern multilingual African situations, including factors affecting individuals’ creative choices among language/language styles from their rich repertoires (e.g. among an international language, a language of wide communication, one’s home language, “urban youth” language, “criminal” codes, “respect” varieties, and so on), and how these choices create social identity. The course will introduce the student to selected salient features of many African languages such as ideophones, idioms, proverbs, insult patterns, and metaphorical processes using color, body-parts, gender, number, and space words to express human personality properties, time, respect, and other concepts.

Students will take an active role by orally presenting assigned readings, developing essays based on primary readings, and carrying out one analysis with an accompanying essay on the creative devices used in an oral literature text (e.g. a traditional folk-story from Maasai, Gbari, or other language). In the process, the student will learn how linguists approach study of the history and role of languages in society.