Language, culture and human factor development
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On 22 August 1996, Zimbabwe celebrated the launching of the first monolingual Shona dictionary, Duramazwi ReChiShona. The dictionary was conceived, researched, compiled and published by indigenous speakers of Shona. We probably all know what a dictionary is. It is a book that gives a list of words in alphabetical order. It gives the meanings of these words in the same language. Most dictionaries also show how the words listed are pronounced. We consult dictionaries to understand the meanings of words. Available dictionaries of Shona and most African languages are bilingual. Bilingual dictionaries are helpful to those who want to learn a new language. The dictionary helps them understand what the words in their own languages mean in another language. The users of Shona/English dictionaries were, therefore, English speakers who wanted to learn Shona. Now, Duramazwi ReChiShona can be compared to The Oxford English Dictionary. Both are monolingual. Both are based on the idea of language defining itself in order to understand itself for its own good and self-advancement. This self-definition, to my mind, is what I understand to be the idea of the role of language in the development of culture and the African Human Factor (HF) as defined elsewhere in this volume. I start with this simple explanation of a dictionary to advance two propositions: a) that language, especially the ‘mother’ tongue, is the basis of all learning and cultural transmission of knowledge and (b) that those who do not value their languages and cultures do not respect themselves and cannot, therefore, expect others to respect them. We shall compare the experiences of African-Americans and Africans to illustrate the role of language for the transmission of knowledge and culture. We shall consider this in the context of colonialism and slavery. Language is, perhaps, the most important HF which distinguishes one cultural group from another. It is also the vehicle for transmitting centuries of a people’s achievements to future generations.