Language, Identity and Society in Africa (PG)

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Term 1
Module code
FHEQ Level

Module overview

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 perspectives on 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:

  • LO1 demonstrate a good understanding of the multilingual nature of many African societies
  • LO2 show understanding of the implications of multilingualism in Africa for discourses about identity
  • LO3 show familiarity with different discourses about identity of both individuals and groups of people from different African settings
  • LO4 demonstrate understanding of different academic perspectives on language and language use through the study of different sociolinguistic situations and processes in Africa
  • LO5 demonstrate skills in searching for, locating and assessing information from different sources, and in presenting this information in different ways
  • LO6 demonstrate experience with, and increased confidence in, developing their own analyses for novel language data
  • LO7 demonstrate knowledge and understanding of African languages and societies and use this for developing their own research questions and hypotheses

Explain how the learning outcomes fit with the programme(s) for which the module will be available:

The MA African Studies programme aims include 1. To provide broad-based postgraduate study of aspects of African society and culture and 2. To provide the student with the means to further develop their knowledge of specific aspects of African society and culture.

The module contributes to these programme aims by focussing on language and to provide students with the skills to use language as an entry point for understanding of different African societies and cultures.

The MA Linguistics programme aims include 1. to provide students with sufficient knowledge of the discipline of linguistics and research methodology in the study of language, both from a theoretical and practical viewpoint and 2. to provide students with sufficient transferable skills to enable them to function in other professional environments related to language.

The module contributes to these programme aims by focussing on language in Africa and to provide students with the skills to use African linguistic ecologies for understanding of language and society more generally.




The module is taught over 10 weeks with a one-hour lecture and a one-hour seminar each 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, orature 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


  • Assignment 1: Essay (1000 words) due in Term 1 (40% of overall mark)
  • Assignment 2: Essay (3000 words) due in Term 2 (60% of overall mark)


Suggested reading

  • Batibo, Herman, 2005, Language decline and death in Africa : causes, consequences and challenges, Clevedon : Multilingual Matters.
  • Prah, Kwesi Kwaa, ed., 2002, Rehabilitating African languages: language use, language policy and literacy in Africa: selected case studies, Cape Town, South Africa: Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society (CASAS).
  • Makoni, Sinfree and Koen Stroeken, eds., 2002, Ageing in Africa: sociolinguistic and anthropological approaches, Aldershot, Hampshire: Ashgate.
  • Mesthrie, Rajend, ed., 1995, Language and Social History: Studies in South African Linguistics, Cape Town: David Philip.


Professor Lutz Marten


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules