Science and African Languages

I’ve just come across a fascinating report about the impact of African languages on scientific progress on the continent.

Africans have a rich cultural heritage and a wealth of traditional knowledge on topics ranging from agricultureand forestry to medicines and medical practices — all of which could make valuable contributions to modern science.

For example, traditional knowledge of drought-resistant crop varieties could prove crucial in helping small farmers across the continent adapt to climate change.

Much of this type of knowledge is embedded in the diverse local languages and cultures found in Africa.

Yet despite centuries of scientific undertakings on the continent, there is still no vernacular word for ‘science’. In Southern Africa, science remains a minority, English-language based, pursuit that reinforces the domination of English at the expense of local languages such as Ndebele, Swahili and many others.

This marginalisation of African languages and practices means much local knowledge is lost. Many innovations by farmers and rural communities are excluded from modern science and technology (S&T) because there are no local terms or expressions to capture them. (Read more.)

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