By Alieu SK Manjang
There is a piercing discussion among the Arabists in Black African countries about the disastrous consequences that resulted from the adoption of French and English as the languages of education and work in these countries. These officialization of European languages in African education system is specifically held responsible for the identity crisis, deepening alienation, the deterioration of education system, and submission to Western cultures that continue to destroy traditional African values. The formalization of English and French in work and education is also charged for the widening of knowledge and skill gaps between those who learned these languages compared to those who did not learn them, and for maximizing the opportunities for employment and appointments to leadership positions in favor of those who learn these languages relative to those who did not master them. The trend of blind loyalty to English and French people, as well as glorifying their languages and raising their values over African languages on the part of those who learned these European languages in educational institutions that devote efforts to sustaining their use in the public domains in Africa are also described by African Arabists as the results of formalization of Western languages in the continent.
In the midst of highlighting the cultural, educational, political and economic consequences of the officialization of the colonial languages in African countries, the commandments tend to favor the replacement of these languages with the Arabic language as a way out of the dire consequences created by the adoption and officialization of these European languages in African countries. But the questions that arise strongly are: to what extent will the adoption of the Arabic language instead of these European languages will contribute to the recovery of African countries from the cultural, educational and political crises as a result of their adoption of European languages? Will the adoption of the Arabic language contribute to the creation of social harmony and peaceful coexistence among the peoples of one country, which might be characterized by the diversity of beliefs and religions? What is the instrumental value of the Arabic language in advancing education in the African countries compared to European languages? Will the fear of marginalization of minorities by the deification of one of the national languages be subdued in an African country with the adoption of the Arabic language as official language?
Despite the realistic acknowledgment of the sufferings that inflicted upon Black African countries as a result of the adoption and formalization of Western languages, the presence of these above questions makes one to doubt that the adoption of the Arabic language is the effective solution to the crises that resulted in linking education and work in Africa with the formalization of various European languages. However, it can be argued that the African Arabist who calls for the adoption and officialization of the Arabic language instead of the national languages, are suffering from the same psychological and social problems which are born of learning the Arabic language in schools, which in turn has strengthened their fascination with the Arabic language instead of their native languages. Like the proponents of the continued use of the European languages, the African Arabists are also victims of taking pride in a language other than the national languages in their native countries.
Thus, the case of African Arabists is similar to the case of those who feel inferior as a result of immersion in French and English linguistic culture. The Arabic language is considered a foreign language in black African countries, as is the case with other European languages, and the adoption of Arabic in the education system would only create the parallel problems that are created by teaching children in Western languages in terms of bias towards Arabic language and Arab culture, and in terms of making the educational process and attainment more complicated, as well as glorifying the language and those who master it, and preferring it to the national languages as a means of learning and knowledge acquisition.
Although we accept the relative value of the Arabic language in teaching the Islamic religion; however, knowing and teaching the religion does not necessarily mean abandoning our mother tongues or excluding them in the equation of formalization of languages. The importance of this matter is evident in view of the state of the Arabic language in some Muslim countries, in which language policies embody the adoption of national languages alongside the Arabic language in the teaching and dissemination of religion. Hence, one cannot conclude that the adoption of Indian, Pakistan, Malaysian, Turkish, and Bangladesh Muslims their native languages as languages of education, along with the Arabic language in teaching religion, has prevented them to correctly understanding the Islam, or that it has negatively affected their mastery of the Arabic language compared to African Muslims.
In order to create the conditions for the abandonment of European languages, we must be tolerant to accept the social and cultural realities that naturally exist in our countries, and to acknowledge the prevalence and relative strength of existing languages in or order to adopt what can be adopted based on logic and facts, rather than suggesting the undue apprehension on the grounds of tribalism if a particular nationallanguage is formalised. It is worth noting that there no country that settled on the officialization of one of the national languages without being a multilinguistic country before such formalization. Additionally, a close examination of the concept of the mother tongue in the literature, as the first language that a person uses at home in the childhood stage and the person still understands it before school, presents an opportunity for the formalization of one or two of the national languages in our countries. According to this definition of mother tongue, a person who learns and speaks more than one language at home at equal level before starting school his or her mother tongue becomes the languages (two or three) he learns, speaks and equally understands before going to school.
In light of this definition of the mother tongue, which the research results agreed on its educational and national value if it is used in education and work, it can be argued that a person in a country like The Gambia can have more than one mother tongue, as a person is born in some rural and urban societies to speaks more than one language at home. This reality presents an opportunity to choose the national language which is most used among all age groups and at the state level as the language of education and work alongside Arabic or English. Alternatively, it is possible to consider the model of Ethiopia in terms of using the national language that is predominately used in a particular region as the first language of education, along with English as the second language.
In the presence of these alternatives, it is important that we calm our nerves and nurture them to accept the presented facts of our societies in terms of the relative strength of our different national languages and gradually officialize what can be finalized, instead of calling for the officialization of another foreign language, which has been taught in schools for more than twenty years, and the people who learned it continue to feel less confident in speaking it, writing it, or showing creativity in it. This contrasts the use of national languages the mastery of which enables a person fluently and confidently speak it without a need to have it written. What would be the state of knowledge of this person if these languages are the languages of work and education in his or her country?