Language and human rights discourses in Africa: Lessons from the African experience

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In this article, we investigate the question of who benefits from language minority research by analyzing the discourses of language rights and human rights jointly, because language rights are perforce part of human rights. We argue that some 'small' minority languages flourish and others fail unless speakers of these languages articulate their voices and needs. We also explore how human rights discourses relate to traditional practices. The interests of local communities and the involvement of linguists do not enhance the status of minority communities unless linguists traverse the gap between academic discourses on rights and vernacular discourses on similar topics. African linguists are themselves in a double bind: on the one hand, they seek to promote the interests of local communities and, on the other hand, they have to meet their professional obligations. They are not able to address the material needs of local communities because advocating language and human rights cannot resolve Africa's intractable problems. In addition, epistemologically, African scholarship is not sufficiently contextualized to be relevant to complex, labile, and polyvalent contexts. The defining epistemological trope contributing to the crises in African scholarship on rights and other sociolinguistic topics is 'theoretical extraversion': African linguists construe their professional work as a space to test Western constructs rather than to develop endogenous knowledge practices, a situation that is difficult to overcome.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Multicultural Discourses
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Communication
  • Linguistics and Language

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