Papers on Language and Culture: An African Perspective


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Important literatures on Africa and non-European societies lack the voices of the natives and are dominated by European views of the phenomena under study. The proposal for Afrocentric research methodology is based on the thesis that Eurocentric research criteria of objectivity, reliability and validity are inadequate and incorrect, especially for research involving human experiences Reviere Approaches to African studies and development removed African experiences from their contexts of actual social, cultural, political, philosophical, and economic analyses. Afrocentric methodology should consider relevant research questions reasonably and in actual fact, especially those that are anchored on popular assumptions about race, culture and African social and intellectual capacities.

Eurocentric approaches do not conform to people-centred research envisaged in the cannons of Afrocentrism. Data on African cultural studies should be examined from the perspective of Africans as subjects and human agents rather than as objects within European theories. Implementation of Afrocentric methodology thus implies that the researcher and the researched have an interactive role in the production of theoretical and applied knowledge. Role of the researcher and the researched The Afrocentric method suggests cultural and social immersion as opposed to pure scientific detachment in attempts to study, understand and represent phenomena.

Conversely, Eurocentric methodologies in African studies since the colonial times proceeded from viewing Africa as objects rather than subjects of study. The researcher must have familiarity with the history, language, philosophy, and myths of the people being studied Mkabela , Owusu This calls for the researcher to empathize and identify with the research subjects to appreciate how they see things and construct reality. Although most foreign Africanists attempt participant observation, the fieldwork duration is not sufficient for them to fully grasp the intricacies of African worldview.

The researcher does not necessarily have to be indigenous to understand indigenous knowledge systems cf. Mkabela While it is true that the indigenous African researcher may be privileged with tools of language, closeness to the experiences of indigenous communities and perspectives, they do not necessarily have privileged analytical skills.

Trained native researchers can make contributions to correcting the errors that result from linguistic and psychological gaps that separate researchers and the researched. The Afrocentric methodology entails close connection between the purpose of research and the comprehensive discourse that emerges from within actual contexts.

LINGUISTIC HEGEMONY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE IN NIGERIA

Therefore, the inclusion of the personal experience of the researcher on his or her final ethnographic presentation is important. However, the researcher is not the final authority, but a co- producer of the cultural knowledge, with the researched. This perspective is important in attempts to salvage indigenous African realities and cultures from misrepresentations found in existing ethnological, ethnographic and historical texts. African experiences are best articulated by those directly involved. This approach encourages researchers to look at African cultures and history from their own centres or locations.

In this way, African life and living can be validated, regenerated, created and perpetuated- whole, unhindered, informed by African perspective or point of view Bekerie The notion of experts on Africa still privileges the work of non-Africans, tending to deny local intellectuals space in debates about their own cultural ecologies. This is enhanced by the location of the most vibrant African studies centres outside Africa. Ironically, some African scholars get the impression that location of African studies centres on the African continent is inappropriate.


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While it is true that some foreign Africanists contribute tremendously to the quality of scholarship on African phenomena, it is also true that some create knowledge hegemony that prevent the voices of local intellectuals from being heard. This dominance is reflected in the authorship and editorship of many academic publications on Africa, which are located outside Africa. Arguably, gate-keeping in prestigious periodicals and journals suppresses publication of alternative views to widely accepted hypotheses about Africa and Africans.

Scientific ethnocentrism creeps into African scholarship as Eurocentric views on African cultures and development are perpetuated by both local and foreign researchers.

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This type of ethnocentrism may propagate obsolete theoretical frameworks such as functionalism and modernisation to support the view of African social and cultural structure as unproductive and uneconomic. Arguably, the scientific ethnocentrism in the study of African cultures and economy may still propagate of westernisation de-culturation and Europeanization as most appropriate frameworks of African cultural and socio-economic analyses and development. Afrocentrism and representation of African experiences Asante , and Reviere link Afrocentric methodology to a theory of Afrocentrism.

This theoretical formulation draws on shared African values expressed in local languages and popular discourse. The values characterise some common denominators of African worldview. Reviere equates this to the research exercise itself, in harmony with the researcher, as a tool in the pursuit of justice, truth and the final purpose of helping to create a fairer and just society. Nommo refers to the creative force of words—the productive word—as creation of knowledge that augments positive human relations.

Thus, knowledge production on Africa can be embedded in the interpretation of local concepts and data elicitation processes they imply. This indicates the need for conceptual overhaul with regard to the methodologies that over-rely on non-African research categories and related conceptual terminologies that guide data collection and interpretation. Kiswahili, a native lingua franca in East and Central Africa as other African languages present further conceptual resources that can enrich the Afrocentric methodology.

Reviere identifies five research criteria form five Swahili words; Ukweli, Kujitoa, ujamaa and haki, and uvumilivu. We use the first four to elaborate on some Afrocentric principles that research and processes of production of knowledge on African realities can consider. This depends of the level at which individuals are immersed in cultures and social events under study. These skills can increase grasp of experiences of the research subjects and support the search and elicitation of the truth. Being grounded in local experiences helps correct errors related to confusion about ideal and real culture in African ethnography.

Cultural analysis is intrinsically incomplete and essentially contestable Geertz as these are based on interpretation of the researchers. Arguably, what researchers on Africa observe, reflect upon and report about remains inherently incomplete. This is due to the limitations to knowing people, especially by outsiders. More specifically, researchers in foreign cultural ecologies may lack the qualities and skills necessary for elicitation and representation of the truth. Sangree , for example, confessed that he was unable to verify some of his ethnographic data among the Tiriki of Western Kenya, as key informants and opinion leaders confirmed that the versions of some of his accounts were not true, but they would not tell him the truth, anyway.

Similarly, Evans-Pritchard in his research among the Nuer of Sudan acknowledged, readers of African ethnography by foreign researchers should be ware of the probability of erroneous and misleading results. However, he held that the quality of such work should be appraised by the obstacles the researcher has overcome and the hardships he or she has endured Evans-Pritchard 9. Despite the acknowledgement or even denial of the possibility of flawed and misleading results in classical ethnographies of Africa, courses in African studies, anthropology and ethnology at home and abroad still uncritically use these classics as foundational books about peoples and cultures of Africa.

Many classic ethnographies of Africa paid lip service to the ideal of objectivity and the pursuit of truth Owusu It should be noted that the process of searching the truth in cultural studies combines personal interpretation of the researcher, informants, and their shared subjective experiences; that is, intersubjectivity that will be discussed in the next section. Reporting the truth for construction of culture theory and knowledge requires acknowledgement of the fact that the process of cultural interpretation is subjective.

Both native and outsider researchers bring their own subjectivities to the data collection and interpretation process thereby contributing to the deviation from the truth c.

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While objectivity in the science of culture and social realities of Africa is impossible for ethnologists and ethnographers to sustain, they should be judged on the fairness and honesty of their work Reviere Kujitoa is the Kiswahili expression of the Afrocentric value of altruistic engagement in a socially beneficial activity.

With regard to knowledge production on people, this calls for consideration of how knowledge is ordered and used rather than concentration on detachment and objectivity as applied in natural sciences. Eurocentric concept of objective, dispassionate, and value-free research is operationally invalid in the study of people and their cultures. With this kind of emphasis, what passed as objectivity in classical African ethnography may turn out to be European subjectivity Asante A critical view of African ethnography should draw on the understanding that results of social and cultural studies are not necessarily actual truths.

To Reviere , the Afrocentric idea of kujitoa may improve the quality of ethnographic data because it involves reflexivity, and self- criticism or self-reflection. The principles of ujamaa and haki entail safeguarding community and justice. The community interacts on the basic values of family and incorporation new members. The value of ujamaa and haki gives an individual the chance to become a person through the people or community. This is the foundation of sharing that is strengthened by hospitality and generosity.

From this perspective, an Afrocentric methodology is characterised by attempts to foster reciprocal relations between the researchers and participants. African cultures cherish collective values, particularly a shared sense of responsibility. The collective ethic recognises that survival derives from group harmony and all actions are within a cooperative context, which seeks to maintain the harmony and balance of an interrelated and essentially egalitarian system.

Methodologically, cultural studies can draw on these cannons and transform them into collaborative and co-operative research for the community and individuals. Participation of local communities in the research and collectively validating the outcome would guide the research toward emic representation. As pointed out by Owusu , and Spradley , research that begins with the desire for theory formation is not people-centred; and this contradicts the cannons of ujamaa and haki. This approach not only fails to address the felt-needs of the researched but also imposes theoretical frameworks on data interpretation, thereby de- contextualising experiences and distorting indigenous knowledge structure.

Current images of Africa in local and Western scholarship show a contradiction of the Afrocentric ethic of sharing and participation. Essentially, researchers have conducted their surveys, interviews and observation and returned to their African studies centres abroad to analyse and write their findings.

The concepts they use reveal their provenance: the mindset of anthropologists, sociologists and other scholars acting as gatekeepers for western theoretical hegemony. Conversely, Afrocentric methodology highlights the need for participatory knowledge production where more culture-bound and experience-near concepts of reality are given space for expression. Intersubjectivity is therefore one of the closest methodological tool for remedying distorted and misrepresented African social and cultural images.

In the first place, it is the process through which people from birth develop their own consciousness and subjectivity. Children, for instance, acquire their subjectivity as part of a process that shape shared consciousness through interaction with adults. As such, intersubjectivity precedes subjectivity, and creates it.

From the psychoanalytic tradition, intersubjectivity entails the process of cognitive and emotional communication between the analysed subject and the analyser van der Geest The sociological school of thought refer to intersubjectivity in relation to epistemological issues. For example, the concept relates to how people are able to communicate without drifting into disorderly relativism in spite of pervasive subjectivity in social worlds cf Tankink and Vysma Alternatively, it refers to question of how one person can represent the experience of another person in its authentic manner.

Jackson These issues of relativism and empathy are crucial in interpretation of social, cultural and experiential data. Intersubjectivity is therefore an important methodological tool in anthropology in general, and for improvement of representation of African realities in contemporary academic and practical development scholarship. Intersubjectivity is relevant to quests for amelioration of studies on representation in various ways. First, it points to the fact that the reality we present is as it appears to us. This means that we can not fully represent reality as it is.

This is because every experience of the world is a human experience and involves a process of meaning production van der Geest This further means that presentation of reality can not be separated from human experience. Subjectivity of anthropological researchers facilitates their understanding of the perspectives of the research subjects. The researchers know what they attempt to represent through their subjective experiences of everyday reality ibid, p.

Good enough representation of reality entails reciprocal process of inquiry, where the researcher is ready and willing to learn from and understand from interpretation of subjective reality of the researched , the emic perspective of reality. This is the hallmark of intersubjectivity, which entails patience, interaction, openness, dialogue, presence and participation. These aspects of intersubjectivity coincide with the tenets of the earlier discussed Afrocentric methodology. More specifically, the abovementioned aspects of intersubjectivity translate into tools of a participatory method of cultural studies that can salvage the representation of African realities of the world as perceived by the Africans.

The next level is reflection, to make sense of the experience drawing on the subjectivity of the researcher and the research subjects. De Quincey Intersubjectivity entails participation, which includes interaction; a process where social categories sometimes become inflexible and overwhelming, sometimes fluid and contestable.

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Intersubjectivity and participation yield shared reality and categories which may be fluid and open for new interpretation. When people in general social settings , and researcher and the researched interact, certain subjective situations become available, which are either taken on or rejected by either parties.


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  • Inter-subjectivity stresses the relational aspect of becoming a subject. This implies that the researcher does not attempt to appear as an invisible anonymous voice of authority, but as a real historical individual with concrete specific desires and interests. Some of the researchers did armchair studies of Africa, drawing on secondary literature that had been exported to the centres of African studies outside the continent.

    Conversely, quality of data on African reality will always require the researcher to become immersed in the situation and the phenomenon examined. In such research, the researcher empathizes and identifies with the people being studied in order to understand how they see things. Conclusions Existing representation and images of Africa rely on Eurocentric ethnography and sociology of Africa.

    This scholarship depicts the constraints of colonialism and the difficulties of studying and translating African realities to the western world. Unfamiliarity with local languages and worldview, particularly among Western and other foreign researchers account for mistranslation of African realties since colonial times. While past western ethnographic theories, data and accounts provide useful foundation for African studies, contemporary native and foreign scholars should be critical as they incorporate them in the comparative science of culture.

    The proposition of an Afrocentric methodology can contribute to efforts to remedy issues of mistranslation and misrepresentation in African studies. Cannons of Afrocentrism, such as relational co-production of knowledge, quest for justice, truth and harmony underpin the Afrocentric methodology. These principles may bring non-African and African experts as well as all segments of local communities into cooperative research endeavours to generate ethnographic records and validate the results. As such, production of truth about Africa and other non-western fields of scholarship may be less a function of world power structure.

    The Afrocentric methodology further calls for mastery of local languages by western ethnographers and other foreign social scientists conducting research in Africa. The dominance of Western perspectives in African studies can also be controlled through collaborative research in which competent native research associates and informants are enlisted in social, cultural and development projects. A large proportion of the non-African experts of African studies in institutions, both at home and abroad may fail the test of good enough grasp of local vernaculars, daily life experiences and indigenous worldview.

    Research funding in African studies need to consider developing the capacities of native African scholars to ameliorate the emic perspectives in the presentation of African realities and experiences from African perspectives. In addition, the Afrocetnric approach can form the intellectual and humanistic basis for open and informed intellectual dialogue between foreign and native Africanists.

    In such an exchange, foreign Africanists should be open to critique of their interpretation and translation of African cultures. This dialogue should be anchored on the awareness and application of intersubjectivity as a tool of social science cultural research. Afrocentricity and intersubjectivity are important methodological tools that can improve the quality of data collection and interpretation. These approaches make us aware of the fact that current images and representations of Africa hardly capture the exact reality and experiences from the African perspective.

    The strength of these methodologies is to be found in their discretion and awareness of the incompleteness of attempts to present reality of people characterised by socio-cultural and ecological diversity and dynamism. What social scientists observe, experience, and reflect upon is and remains inherently incomplete. References Asante, M.

    The Afrocentric idea. Asante, M. Kemet, Afrocentricity, and Knowledge.

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    Bekerie, A. The four corners of a circle; Afrocentricity as a model of synthesis. Journal of Black Studies. Bishop, R. Policies must not degrade other languages by placing them on a level of lower importance. Policies for language teaching must encompass and include cultural values from the societies from which the languages are derived as well as being taught. In other words, when making policies regarding language teaching, one must consider the cultural ideologies of all and every student, the teacher, as well as the culture in which the target language is being taught.

    The American Council on The Teaching of Foreign Languages has expounded on the importance of combining the teaching of culture into the language curriculum to enhance understanding and acceptance of differences between people, cultures and ideologies Standards One example where as policy makers did not recognize the importance of culture is outlined by Kim , in which the Korean government had consulted American ESL instructional guidelines which stated that for students to become competent in English they must speak English outside of the classroom.

    The government on reviewing this policy requested that all Korean English language students use English outside of the classrooms to further enhance their language competency. What they failed to consider is that while in America, English is taught as a second language and speaking English was quite acceptable in all locations, that in Korea, English is taught as a foreign language and the vast majority of the Korean population do not converse with each other in English.

    Korean students speaking English outside of the classroom context were seen as show-offs. In a collectivistic culture, as is Korea, such displays of uniqueness are seen as a vice to be suppressed, not as a virtue Kim Thus policy makers must not rely on the cultural views and policies of others, but incorporate the cultural views of the students as well as considering the culture where the teaching is taking place.

    Language teachers need to be informed about various teaching interaction-based methodologies, manipulate them and develop their own teaching methods compatible with the educational context to foster interaction between students Kim When creating policies, one must consider the cultural meanings of teaching materials used. The materials may have a far broader meaning or encompass far more or less than what one has considered.

    An example of this is when the school I worked for decided that I introduce a discussion topic on holidays with one of my classes. The school did not enlighten me as to the cultural significance of holidays or what the Chinese equivalent of the word entails. This problem, as described by Yule , is that people have pre-existing schemata or knowledge structure in their memory of what constitutes certain ideas; e. The culturally based schemata that the students had for holidays were considerably different than that of my own.

    Their ideology of a holiday was any day that was special, possibly where one did not have to go to school, a weekend, a birthday, or any other major happening. When I asked the students what their favourite holiday was, I received many replies, all of which were not what I was looking for. I proceeded to tell them that Christmas was a holiday. This however, was a bad example as Christmas is not a holiday in Taiwan. Finally, as this paper has shown, language and culture are intertwined to such an extent whereas one cannot survive without the other. It is impossible for one to teach language without teaching culture.

    The implications for language teaching and policy making are therefore vast and far reaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Brooks N Culture in the classroom. In JM Valdes ed Culture bound: bridging the cultural gap in language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp — Melbourne: Oxford University Press. Englebert Character or Culture? An EFL Journal, 24 2 , Hui Du False alarm or real warning? Implications for China of teaching English. Journal of Educational Enquiry, Vol.

    Information for foreigners n. Kim J. Murray DM The great walls of China. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, vol 11, no 4, pp — Spence JT Achievement American style: the rewards and cost of individualism. American Psychologist, vol 40, no 12, pp — Valdes JM Culture bound: bridging the cultural gap in language teaching. I am asking these questions because I want to show you the best way to boost the pleasure of watching live sports. The new bingo sites connected with real free bingo offers many top quality games. Yes a wonderful and interesting article.

    I am a Dutch second language teacher and anthroplogist. And it would be excellent idea to integrate cultural awereness more into language training. Many thanks for the inspiring insights in this article. I am currently doing my Phd research study at the Tech. There we have to learn English at school; amidst a myriad of local languages, the two most widely used are Luganda and Swahili in my study area.

    I would like to receive and use this and other similar examples from Asia as research, teaching and training materials, in order to bring awareness for the need for appropriate language policy implications in Africa, beginning with Uganda. Therefore, I kindly request for more information in this regard. From a teachers standpoint, I might agree with some of the previous methods comments, but from a researchers standpoint doing a doctorate study on 2nd language in Korea, I like what you wrote.

    It will help me. Thank you. Your article has really peaked my interest.

    Issues of culture and stuttering: A South African Perspective

    I opted in for your RSS feed as well. Thanks for your knowledge despite the fact that it was not properly punctuated and some errors in writing. I born and grown up in a society which is not my families type in culture and language. I learn their language and culture but not my families original culture as they were displaced from their original birth place. I cannot speak their language but my father and mother do. A telling example of cultural differences is your use of the word learnt, a normal usage in the UK, but far less frequently in the US and Canada.

    It was the one clue which left me with the impression you were not a native born American, our colloquialisms can be very illustrative. Thanks a lot. My other question is what is the relationship between language, culture and society? Your article is a good one. As a masters student of language arts education in Nigeria, I found it so helpful. There is content and the message is clear. Thaks alot. I -as a second of English -found easy to digest.. It is helpful for me asI am doing research on language and culture at JNU.

    Regards, Manisha Pal.

    Papers on Language and Culture: An African Perspective Papers on Language and Culture: An African Perspective
    Papers on Language and Culture: An African Perspective Papers on Language and Culture: An African Perspective
    Papers on Language and Culture: An African Perspective Papers on Language and Culture: An African Perspective
    Papers on Language and Culture: An African Perspective Papers on Language and Culture: An African Perspective
    Papers on Language and Culture: An African Perspective Papers on Language and Culture: An African Perspective

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