Wednesday, December 05, 2007

FAVL co-director Kate Parry's recent paper - Languages, Literacies, and Libraries: A View from Africa

Kate presented this at the recent IFLA conference in Durban, South Africa. the full paper is available here.
Africa is one of the most linguistically diverse regions of the world. This paper, based on experience in Nigeria and Uganda, explores the implications of that fact for the development of literacies and the role of libraries. Many people in these two countries speak at least three languages: their mother tongue, an African lingua franca, and English, the former colonial language. The three (or more) languages are used for different purposes and are associated with different social groups and ways of life. Accordingly, literacy cannot be seen as a single skill that applies to all of them. Rather, each language has its own literacy, and the problems of developing a reading culture are different in each case. Mother-tongue literacy is limited by the fact that most African languages have only a limited range of written material, while some have none at all. Lingua franca literacy has more scope, and therefore more potential for giving access to information to large numbers of people; but it is seen in some areas as a threat to the mother tongues, while it is itself often overshadowed by literacy in English. English literacy has greater social prestige as well as more written material to sustain it, but it suffers from the fact that English is an alien and often resented language, and the majority of African people have little chance of learning it well. The paper argues that libraries, especially ones targeted at rural communities, are particularly well suited to addressing these problems. They can cater to the demand to learn English by providing access to English materials that are linguistically appropriate and culturally accessible. They can likewise provide materials in the local lingua franca so that people who speak it can learn its written form. As for mother-tongue literacy, they can not only collect and provide access to whatever written material is available but also organise educative bilingual activities and encourage more mother-tongue writing. In these ways community libraries can complement formal education systems and can enable their members to move beyond the restrictions imposed by schools to become independent multilingual readers.

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