Critical perspectives on language planning and policy in Africa: Accounting for the notion of multilingualism

Felix Banda


This paper draws on the notion of multilingualism as social practice (Heller 2007) to critique

postcolonial language planning and policies in Africa. Drawing on illustrations from

Ethnologue's(2009) languages of Africa, studies on language planning and policy in Africa, and recent

developments in harmonisation of cross-border language research (Prah 1998; Banda 2008), the paper

argues that there are distortions in the conceptualisation of multilingualism and what it entails in

Africa's socio-cultural contexts. In turn, the paper faults monolingual biases in the notions and models

used to describe and promote multilingualism in Africa, which mirror descriptions of the language

situation in Western socio-cultural contexts. The paper argues for cross-linguistic and cross-border

status and corpus planning to take advantage of multilingualism as a linguistic resource for socioeconomic

development in Africa. The paper concludes by highlighting the prospects for linguistic

repertoire-based multilingual models for language planning and policy in Africa.


: multilingualism, language policy, linguistic repertoire, urbanization, postcolonial

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