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Sep 9, 2009

The mother tongue, a Cinderella Story

Written by The Administrator

Walusimbi.Hollman.Muranga L to R: Dr. Livingstone Walusimbi, Professor
at Makerere University’s Institute of Languages;
John Hollman, Director of SIL Africa Area;
and Dr. Manuel Muranga (Uganda)
"Our languages are like Cinderella of the folktale: She was beautiful yet mistreated by her stepmother, her own mother having died. She was left to do menial jobs in the home and in the cowshed. We too are treating these beauties that are our mother tongues the way the stepmother treated Cinderella, thinking some biased thoughts and speaking some harsh words against her stepdaughter in step-motherly spirit, not even remotely imagining that this despised, ash-covered girl of great but unacknowledged charm could one day be discovered by no less a nobleman than the crown prince of the land; promoted out of the cinders by the powers that (shall ultimately) be! By those powers that eventually do bring vindication and salvation, we initially mean, in Cinderella’s case, the fairy old lady who suddenly appears from nowhere yet somewhere, waves her magic wand around Cinderella and, all of a sudden, Cinderella is transformed from a badly dressed girl into the loveliest, best-dressed, most charming girl ever seen at a prince’s ball. She becomes the prince’s dancing partner and, eventually, queen, she who had been so badly treated by her stepmother and stepsisters.”

–From the inaugural lecture: What about our mother tongues? Linguistic patriotism and non-patriotism in Uganda and Africa: some observations, reflections and recommendations, by Manuel John Kamugisha Muranga, Professor in the Institute of Languages, Makerere University (Uganda), on 12th August 2009.

Also from this lecture:

My position is clear right from the beginning: I am a multilingualist, and not a monolingualist. I have had the benefit of a career in several languages, with between good and very good working knowledge in seven of them, four of them East African…and three European…. From the long study of and reflection on multi-ethnic, multilingual and multicultural political states, it has become clear to me that a lot can be done if we take seriously one of the universals of language…: “There are no ‘primitive’ languages—all languages are equally complex and equally capable of expressing any idea. The vocabulary of any language can be expanded to include new words for new concepts” (from Fromkin, Rodman and Hyams, Introduction to Language, 2007).

Mother-tongue-based linguistic patriotism, which is an important factor in the quest for patriotism in general in a multilingual country or nation, would mean that we must encourage in every child the love of his/her mother tongue.”

Dr. Muranga’s conclusion:

By neglecting our mother tongues and treating them the way a badly brought up stepchild treats his stepmother, or vice versa, we are hurting ourselves as a people at a variety of levels: the spiritual, the emotional, the intellectual and educational, the political and the economical—indeed existentially. ‘Olulimi lye ggwanga’ (‘Nation is language’), says the Luganda proverb. A linguistically weak nation can dissolve and disappear into a linguistically stronger one—unless the natives of the weaker one do something to prevent this. For a multilingual nation and continent such as Uganda and Africa are, such disappearance would constitute a great impoverishment since [Uganda’s] 43 languages are still living and dynamic, and could be used to bring out some of the best of human intellectual, artistic, communicational and even industrial and economic creativity. In Uganda we need to salute particularly the Baganda for being the most conscientiously patriotic people in Uganda, and to urge other Ugandan language groups to take up the challenge.”


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