SOAS University of London

About SOAS

Professor Herman Batibo

Professor Herman Batibo

Herman Batibo is an outstanding scholar of African languages and linguistics. Born and raised in Tanzania, Professor Batibo completed his undergraduate education at the University of Dar es Salaam before travelling to France in 1971 to study African (Bantu) linguistics at the University of La Sorbonne Nouvelle (Paris III), where he earned his PhD in 1977. His thesis was on the morphology and phonology of his first language, Sukuma. It remains an important reference work to the language, which is spoken by more than five million people in Tanzania.

Professor Batibo maintained his affiliation with the University of Dar es Salaam during and after his postgraduate studies in Paris, becoming Senior Lecturer in 1979, Associate Professor in 1982 and Professor of African Linguistics in 1990. He moved on to the University of Botswana in 1994, serving as Professor of African Linguistics and Head of the Department of African Languages and Literatures.

He is known for his academic work on the Bantu languages, most notably Swahili, and on language endangerment and language documentation in Africa. His other academic interests include foreign language teaching, particularly the study of French. He was awarded an Ordre des Palmes Académiques by the French government in 1984 for services to the promotion of the teaching of French in Tanzania.

Professor Batibo wrote his 2005 book Language Decline and Death in Africa: Causes, Consequences and Challenges, during a six-month sabbatical at SOAS. In it, he surveys endangered languages throughout the continent of Africa, which accounts for nearly a third of the languages of the world. He argues that minority languages are under greater pressure in Africa than perhaps any other part of the world, primarily by the more widely spoken African languages.

He has held a visiting professorship at SOAS as well as the universities of Bayreuth, Leiden, York, California at Los Angeles and the French National Research Centre (CNRS). He was President of the Standing Committee of the World Congress of African Linguistics (WOCAL) from 2000 to 2009.