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BY Bridget Boakye, 5:06am February 16, 2018,

Why African languages are crossing over to the western world

When African American actress Kerry Washington tweeted a birthday message to Nigerian American actress Uzo Aduba in Igbo, social media erupted.

Aduba similarly responded in Igbo, saying, “Heh! My sister, you speak Igbo? That’s very good. Thanks for the birthday wish.”

Washington, who is married to Nigerian-American former NFL player Nnamdi Asomugha, has been vocal about her interest in Nigerian culture. In 2015, she told InStyle, “Nnamdi’s parents are Nigerian immigrants. His father passed when he was young. When you marry into the Igbo culture, you get a new name. My name is Ogechi. I wear it on a necklace my mother-in-law gave me.”

She joins a long line of Americans who are eager and willing to connect with African culture, through people, food, music, and increasingly language.

Writer, Evan Fleischer, made a strong case for Americans learning African languages in his article Americans can and should be learning African languages in 2015. He cited a few reasons which still ring true today. 

  1. Social Benefits, that is, connecting with more Africans both at home and in Africa

          a.  Notable population of African language speakers in the U.S. – “There is a small, statistical base of speakers                      in the country—according to the 2011 US census, 884,660 individuals aged five years or older already speak                        a language originating in Africa. But we could have so much more”.

          b.  Diversity of African languages and peoples across the continent – “The most useful, indigenous African                            languages for Americans to learn are Yoruba (primarily spoken in Nigeria), Xhosa (South Africa), Swahili                      (Kenya, Tanzania, and much of East Africa), and Amharic (mainly Ethiopia). Four languages out of                                  approximately 2,000 on a continent of 1.1 billion—but together, they share 210 million speakers.”

2.  Economic Benefits -open business lines in Africa to more Americans 

“The U.S. is the second biggest investor in African economies behind France. The Financial Times reports that, “the US was the top source country by number of [African] projects last year, with 67 US companies launching or announcing 97 projects—a 47% rise on the previous year’s tally.” The US was the third-ranked country for capital investment in Africa in 2014, with roughly $8 billion invested by US companies last year alone. So, economically and sociologically, there are huge impetus for acquiring African languages.”

It is clear that Fleischer’s argument for African languages is beginning to take root both culturally and academically. 

African languages are increasingly offered at institutions throughout the country. Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania have full-bodied African languages programs. Apps like Duolingo also facilitate the learning of various African languages virtually.

In fact, as Africans continue to integrate themselves into the social fabric in America, through marriage and various social partnerships, it is likely that friends and family looking to connect will learn some of the languages, just as Kerry Washington is proving possible.

Last Edited by:Ismail Akwei Updated: September 15, 2018


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