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Sociolingüística internacional

Overview of the Sociolinguistic Situation in Africa, by Marcel Diki-Kidiri


Vernacular. These belong to the populations that are divided by state borders. They are not carrier languages and few of them have a specific status in at least one state. They include:

- Soninke (Mali, Mauritania, Senegal: specific status)
- Ewe-mina (Ghana, Benin, Togo: specific status)
- Songhay (Mali, Burkina-Faso, Benin, Niger: specific status)
- Moore (Ivory Coast, Mali, Ghana, Burkina-Faso: specific status)
- The Creole complex (Reunion, Maurice, Seychelles: specific status)
- Tamasheq (Algeria, Mali, Niger: specific status)
- Gbáyá (Central African Republic, Cameroon)
- Saar-ngambáy (Central African Republic, Chad)

3.2. Intranational languages

Carrier Languages. These are largely widespread over the entire or important region of a state and have specific status. They include:

- Sangho (Central African Republic)
- Malagasy (Madagascar)
- Amharic (Ethiopia)
- Shona (Zimbabwe)
- Setswana (Botswana)
- Ciluba (DRC)
- Ashanti-Fante (Ghana)
- Somali (Somalia)

Local languages. These are generally vernacular but certain local languages are limited carrier languages. In some countries, some of them they have specific status (e.g. Kabyè in Togo). Still, their usage goes no further – not even a little – than the limits of the groups that use them as native languages. This is the case of the majority of African languages. Below are some examples:

- Kabyè (Togo: specific status)
- Xhosa (South Africa)
- Zulu (South Africa)
- Fanagalo (South Africa)
- Twi (Ghana)
- Bété (Ivory Coast)
- Ibo (Nigeria)

The carrier languages (international and intranational), that are the usually imposed on the population as the means of communication in expansion, are the emphasis of this broad classification. Adding the vernacular languages to the specific status, we obtain a group of languages that can be classified as "major languages", as we will refer to them throughout this document. They are all codified and have been the focus of scientific descriptions and take on a wide range of modern functions through which they have received specific status. However, it cannot be said that they are all used equally in written works. The overall volume of works (books, newspapers, and others) published in these languages varies greatly from one language to the next, and, in general, do not meet the linguistic needs of the population. There is still a lot of linguistic distribution work to be done.

4. The linguistic pyramid

When we consider the group of languages spoken in a single African country, we generally find a pyramid type situation that is as follows: one or two official languages, generally European, occupy the upper portion of the pyramid. These are usually spoken by an educated minority representing 4-20% of the population, in whose hands is over 80% of the political, economic, administrative, religious, and informational power linked to education and knowledge of the modern world.

Below these are the major African languages, essentially made up of carrier languages and vernacular languages with a large geographical distribution, being significantly important inside the country’s territory, whatever its extension outside its territory may be. These major languages are generally spoken by the majority of the population (and sometimes the entire population). They have the advantage of being rooted in local culture, despite being sufficiently open to the expression of modern city life: The majority are not generally used to express and transmit advanced knowledge and state of the art technology. This is not because of an intrinsic incapacity but rather of a lack of use: the knowledge and technology in question are usually imported from abroad and are not produced internally. The major African languages are still considered to be the best means of disseminating information if it is to reach the maximum possible audience. This is why linguistic distribution pays special attention to these languages.

At the base of the pyramid, the vernacular languages are to be found. These are not usually spoken outside the native speakers’ communities. They are very well adapted to the expression of traditional cultures and are in fact viewed as the expression of an ethnic identity susceptible to enter into conflict with a certain national identity that covers the entire state’s territory. Therefore, these languages carry and preserve the cultural foundations of today’s African society, modern as it may be. But, because of their great number, and at times their strong link with local values, these languages only receive the knowledgeable attention of linguists who are sensitive to their protection as world heritage.

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