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Ancient library in Timbuktu

Preserving African Languages: The Role of Libraries

Submitted by Editor on 22 May 2024

By Saheed Sunday 

In a 2021 study by researchers at Australian National University, it was revealed that of the approximately 7,000 languages that are spoken across the world, about 1,500 of them face the risk of extinction by the end of the century. So to say, as it is elsewhere in the world, African languages are endangered by various factors including language contact, heavy migration, and historic factors such as globalisation and colonisation. And it is crucial to say that once a language is lost, it is almost impossible for it to be revived. As an African, therefore, with which means can we revitalise African languages? In this essay, there is going to be a single concentration on libraries as the ultimate tool through which African languages can be preserved.

To begin with, in the pursuit of the revitalization and preservation of African languages, libraries across the continent can play their roles through the acquisition of indigenous materials. Since the continent is losing most of its rich historical materials to foreign interference and globalisation, it is imperative to note that the best way to document this heritage is by acquiring collections that may include books, periodicals, etc., written in African languages. By virtue of making these collections both available and free to access, Africans around the world will be conscious of the continuum that exists wherein they can freely access their own culture. Hence, through this interaction, they will be subconsciously subjected to learning their languages and keeping in touch with its cultural underpinnings.

Similarly, libraries can preserve the lifespan of African languages through digitization. Since we have no control over the globalisation that was forced upon the world by civilization, the reasonable option is to make the best use of it. It is safe to say that information is better preserved in this century than in any other previous ones. Storing pieces of data on the cloud boosts lifelong preservation and fosters accessibility. Thus, libraries should weaponize themselves with digitization and aim at preserving the rare and valuable resources in African languages such as spoken folklores, dictionaries, and educational materials on the cloud. This will not only facilitate assurance; it will also encourage accessibility. 

Inside a library


Furthermore, libraries can also prove its ability to be the ultimate tool of the revitalization of African languages by arranging indigenous programmes. Therein, Africans are made to interact with one another, which will probe some sort of cultural interaction. By seeing other people display the beauty and aesthetics of their own languages, Africans who have lost touch with theirs will be propelled towards revisiting their own languages likewise. A literary event such as book readings in African autochthonous languages is a promising strategy for preservation. 

In addition to these, it is safe to say that even right now there are certain individuals who are fueled by the intention to promote their own languages, and resuscitate them from their dying positions. What most of these individuals need is simply incentives which will serve as motivation to keep them moving towards the actualization of their aim. By providing support for research initiatives which are aimed at preserving and studying the African languages, libraries can help in revitalising African languages in the continent.

In conclusion, in this discussion, we have been able to investigate libraries as the ultimate tool for the revitalization and preservation of African indigenous languages. Through the lens of motifs such as the acquisition of autochthonous materials, digitization, indigenous literary events, and provision of incentives towards research initiatives, the aim of the essay has been established. It is therefore safe to conclude that although the library is not the only way through which African languages can be preserved, following through the aforementioned points will definitely achieve the desired outcome.