African languages, writ small
ByJeanne-Marie Jackson
Pages 4

There are too many African languages, spread –across too much territory, to make Europe a viable model. Too often, less-studied languages from Africa and elsewhere make their way into major intellectual movements only as disciplinary polemics. But learning African languages does not need to mean doing work that is about why the people should look to African languages, any more than scholars who work on Goethe feel the need to constantly signal that they write about German. African languages are not often accessible through organized group courses at well-known universities. A range of inexpensive and individualized programs that encourage students and young scholars to self-design their learning is far more in tune with Africanists’ needs than is plugging for scarce tenure-track lines in dozens of languages, with just a few students each. Claiming far-reaching knowledge of African writing, when the people think like a comparatist, is inevitably doomed.