SOAS University of London

African Languages, Cultures and Literatures Section

Language, Identity and Society in Africa

Module Not Running 2022/23
Year of study:
Year 2

This module discusses the question how language is related to the conceptions of identity and society in the African context. Language is one, possibly the most important, aspect in the construction, negotiation and communication of cultural, ethnic, historical and national identities – both of individuals and of social groups. For example, ethnic identities are often negotiated with reference to linguistic affiliation (which is sometimes even more important than linguistic competence and use), and many African states have designated national language(s).

On the individual level, speakers can define and express aspects of their identity by, for example, their choice of language, or variety of language they use in a communicative situation. Multilingualism is one of the key concepts in the African linguistic landscape, and the co-existence of different languages in many African contexts results in rich and complex patterns of language use and language structure, which are often tied to discourses about individual and social identities. In this module, we are looking at different examples of this relation, drawn mainly from (descriptions of) spoken language, but also from language use in literature and other media.

The module offers different perspectiveson the relation between language and identity, and on the dynamics of language use in Africa.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • demonstrate a good understanding of the multilingual nature of many African societies
  • show understanding of the implications of multilingualism in Africa for discourses about identity
  • show familiarity with different discourses about identity of both individuals and groups of people from different African settings
  • demonstrate understanding of different academic perspectives on language and language use through the study of different sociolinguistic situations and processes in Africa
  • demonstrate skills in searching for, locating and assessing information from different sources, and in presenting this information in different ways


Total of 10 weeks teaching with 1 hour classroom contact per week

Scope and syllabus

The module approaches language in Africa from a variety of perspectives. Topics to be discussed include:

  • Language choice and identity in individual contexts
  • Multilingual society and the media
  • Tradition, orality and history
  • Language and national identity
  • Minority and endangered languages in Africa
  • Language in the inner city
  • Language and development
  • African language diasporas

Method of assessment

  • 1 x Case study (1000 words) to be submitted on day 1, week 6, Term 1 (40%) 
  • 1 x Essay (2500 words) to be submitted on day to be submitted on day 1, week 2, Term 2 (60%)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules