Togolese Academics Fight for Linguistic Heritage

    31 July, 2013


    From VOA Learning English, this is the Education Report.

    Experts estimate that by the end of the century, half of the 6,000 languages spoke on our planet will have disappeared. In west Africa, academics in Togo are trying to protect the small country's rich cultural and language heritage.

    At the University of Lome, Professor N'bueke Adovi Goeh-Akue shows a visitor some video groups of Gen cultural ritual. The Professor is a cultural heritage specialist, he is also himself a Gen, one of many ethnic groups in Togo.

    He is making films of Gen cultural customs with financial help from the United States. He says the Gen have an important place in Togo's history and culture. Gen rituals show how its people see their world; the interaction between the living and the dead, the seen and the unseen."

    The Gen believe in numerous voodoo deities. But today Professor Goeh-Akue says fewer and fewer Gen children go through voodoo initiation ceremonies. He says that increasingly the new generation does not recognize the importance of these cultural traditions.

    He says formal education and the spread of Christianity have reduced their influence. Many young people think traditional practices are uncivilized. And while the Gen language is widely spoken in the capital Lome, The Professor says it is not taught in schools.

    Gen is one of about 39 languages spoke in Togo. A specialist in the UNESCO endangered language program says, by the end of the century, more than half of Africa's languages will be gone.

    The specialist Anahit Minasyan says a language needs speakers, preferably people who speak as their mother-tongue or first language. But she says a language at least needs people who can speak it as their second language.

    If they are tiny, she says , a language is extinct. She says languages can die as a result of an increasingly globalized world.

    "People switch to a language or they raise their children in a language which they think will provide for a better economic opportunity in the future."

    Ms. Minasyan says in Africa, for example, people often switch to larger African languages — not necessarily to English or French, instead, people might switch to Hausa or Swahili or Wolof, these are more speakers and provide more economic opportunities than their mother tongues.

    Socio-linguist Komlan Essizewa says that today many young urban Togolese switch among several languages, these include the Mina language spoken in cities.

    "As a linguist, we have to be very worried about it. Because today, even when people move back to their village, they don't use the language of the village as it is."

    And that's the Education Report, I'm Bob Doughty.