Perth, Thursday (May 18, 2023) – Scholars argue that language is a part of culture. Through it, one can express cultural beliefs and values. Therefore, to teach someone your language is to teach them your culture as well.
Today, languages such as English, French, and Arabic are some of the major foreign languages taught and spoken in most African countries.
In some countries like Kenya, teachers force young schoolchildren to wear an animal bone around their necks during a lesson or break time as a punishment for uttering a non-English word in class.
And with cultural globalization – the process through which the culture of one country or society is spread to other countries – storms taking over the whole world, several African observers have expressed fears of extinction of African languages and cultures.
One man, who envisages a possible total annihilation of one of the Sub-Saharan African languages – The Dinka – if nothing is done right now to avert the lingual catastrophe, has embarked on writing folktales in Dinka.
“One of the greatest tools of influence is language. Today, Pop culture is killing other languages,” says Manyang Deng.
A Nilotic language spoken in South Sudan, with over 4.5 million speakers, according to Indiana University and the University of Cambridge, Dinka is an oral culture and became codified through the Arabic and Latin scripts during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
However, this was the work of outsiders, mostly missionaries, who translated the Bible in an attempt to spread the gospel in the Dinka society.
During the civil wars in Sudan, especially the 21-year civil war (1983-2005), the Sudan Armed Forces – in its attempts to suppress the rebellion led by Dr John Garang de Mabior – bombed civilian areas, including villages and cattle camps, claiming about two million lives and displacing four million people.
Hundreds of thousands of Dinka people fled to neighboring countries such as Kenya, Uganda, and Egypt, where some of them later had opportunities to resettle in the West.
Deng happens to be one of them. He relocated to the US in the early 2000s. Later, he moved to Australia, where he got married and is now raising a young family.
“I am afraid, our children are getting lost because there are no written materials for Dinka language and culture,” the father of seven goes on to say.
Australia is a second home to tens of thousands of South Sudanese. The majority of them relocated to the continent in the 1990s and 2000s as children and adults; others were born there.
Though Australia is a multicultural country, that allows its citizens to practice their own cultures, Deng believes that the Australian-born Dinka are the ones at risk of disappearing into the pop culture wilderness. For good.
To help keep the culture alive, the father has written about eight books in the Dinka language. One of the books is Ɣɔn në roor de cuɔl akɔ̈l or Once Upon a Time in the Jungle of Sunset. Published in 2020, the folktale contains 39 traditional fictional stories.
“My children struggle to speak Dinka. What then happens tomorrow to their children – my grandchildren?” He wonders. “The books I am writing are a preservation of our language, for generations to come.”
Another interesting book under Deng’s belt is the one on the Dinka alphabet, which is said to be the first of its kind. Piööc de Akee ke Thoŋ de Jiëëŋ: Learning of the Dinka’s alphabets.
The uniqueness of the English grammar book is the fact that it comprehensively explores the 33 Dinka alphabets. The author adequately examines each letter to ensure meaningful understanding.
It is designed to help a learner to learn quickly and with ease and be able to speak the Dinka language fluently.
The South Sudan Transitional Constitution recognizes all languages. However, none is taught at any school today. English is the official language, followed by Arabic.
Deng believes that South Sudan, a culturally and ethnically diverse country, will be a better place tomorrow when the local languages, about 64, are incorporated into the school curricula.
“A better South Sudan is a South Sudan where a Dinka child will be willing to learn Madi, Nuer, Acholi, or Bari language in school,” he adds.
Some African cultures and languages that did not have a Deng and have died natural deaths include Mesmes and Weyto in Ethiopia, Kore in Kenya, Nyang’i and Singa in Uganda, Baygo and Torona in Sudan, Ngbee in DR Congo, and Horo and Muskum in Chad.
By Tearz Ayuen/Africa World Books