SOAS University of London

African Languages, Cultures and Literatures Section

Language in Africa

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 1
Taught in:
Full Year



Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the module students will have a good understanding of the structure and function of different African languages, and language in general. They will be familiar with the sociolinguistic situation is different African countries, and have a good understanding of different aspects and dynamics characterizing the language situation in Africa. They will also be able to relate the study of African languages to wider discourses about history, culture and society in Africa.


Total of 22 weeks teaching with a 2 hour weekly lecture plus 1 hour weekly tutorial.

Scope and syllabus

This is an introduction to thinking about the human property/institution of language within a specifically African context. Although the module necessarily operates within a conceptual and terminological framework proper to General Linguistics, no previous acquaintance with any branch of that subject is assumed on the part of the student.

Following a general introduction to the phenomenon of language generally and a survey of the range of languages found in Africa, the module is organised as a response to the questions, ‘Who is interested in language in Africa, and why?’ The four groups identified as those having such an interest – government, linguists, historians and language-users – respectively furnish a framework for considering four sets of topics which will include:

  1. language planning, writing and education
  2. African languages as a database for investigating universal and real linguistic features
  3. the place of language in history
  4. the role of language in expressing personal, social and political identities.

Class discussion follows and constitutes an integral part of each lecture.

Method of assessment

One three-hour written paper (70%) taken in May/June and two essays (30%) due on day 1, term 2 and day 1, term 3.

Suggested reading

The module is based on the following books (as well as additional reading announced during the module).

  • Webb, Vic and Kembo-Sure, eds., 2000, African Voices. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Heine, Bernd and Derek Nurse, eds., 2000, African Languages. An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Suggested Readings:

  • Batibo, Herman, 2005, Language Decline and Death in Africa: Causes, Consequences and Challenges. UK/USA/Canada: Multilingual Matters Ltd
  • Githiora, Chege, 2018, Sheng: Rise of a Kenyan Swahili Vernacular. Oxford: James Currey.
  • Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Languages in African Literature. Nairobi/London: EAEP/James Currey


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules