Linguistic Commodification and Africa’s Linguistic Identities: Creating a Nexus!

  • Leonard Muaka


Linguistically, Africa is a rich continent with a heteroglossic map that represents the diversity of its people yet perceptually the continent is viewed and views itself as poor. This perception negates the critical pragmatic roles that the more than 2000 languages play for African people. Historical and political events in Africa and beyond, have aided this perception and rendered African languages to be viewed as liabilities rather than as assets. This chapter focuses on the East African linguistic landscape by examining language as a commodity, a cultural marker, and a resource in the twenty-first century. The main argument is that lingua franca such as Swahili and youth varieties such as Sheng can serve as economic vehicles without compromising their roles as cultural reservoirs.


Language commodification Language policy Identity Language ideology Prestige 


  1. Blommaert, J. (1999). State ideology and language in Tanzania. Köln: Köppe.Google Scholar
  2. Bodomo, A. (1996). On language and development in Sub Saharan Africa: The case of Ghana. Nordic Journal of African Studies, 5(2), 31–53.Google Scholar
  3. Bokamba, E. (2011). Ukolonia in African language policies and practices. In E. G. Bokamba, R. K. Shosted, & B. T. Ayalew (Eds.), Selected languages and linguistics today (pp. 146–167). Cascadilla Proceedings Project, Somerville, MA.Google Scholar
  4. Bourdieu, P. (1991). Language and symbolic power. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  5. Bunyi, G. (2001). Language and educational inequality in primary classrooms in Kenya. In M. Heller & M. Martin-Jones (Eds.), Voices of authority: Education and linguistic difference. Westport, CT: Ablex.Google Scholar
  6. Coulmas, F. (1992). Language and economy. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  7. Djité, P. G. (2008). The sociolinguistics of development in Africa. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Gramley, S. (2012). The history of English: An introduction. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  9. Heller, M. (2003). Globalization, the new economy, and the commodification of language and identity. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 7(4), 473–492. Scholar
  10. Heller, M. (2010). The commodification of language. Annual Review of Anthropology, 39, 101–114 (Online).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Kamwangamalu, N. M. (2008). Language policy, vernacular education and language economics in postcolonial Africa. In P. Tan & R. Rubdy (Eds.), Language as commodity global structures, local marketplaces (pp. 171–187). London: Continuum.Google Scholar
  12. Kamwangamalu, N. M. (2016). Language policy and economics: The language question in Africa. London: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  13. Kanana, F. (2013). Examining African languages as tools for national development: The case of Kiswahili. Journal of Pan African Studies, 6(6), 41–68.Google Scholar
  14. Laitin, D. D. (1992). Language repertoires and state construction in Africa. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Makoni, S. (2003). Black linguistics language, society, and politics in Africa and the Americas. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  16. Mazrui, A., & Mazrui, A. M. (1998). The power of Babel: Language & governance in the African experience. Oxford, UK: J. Currey.Google Scholar
  17. Muaka, L. (2009). The dynamics of language use among rural and urban Kenyan youths (PhD dissertation). University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.Google Scholar
  18. Muaka, L. (2015). The role of English in Rwanda’s changing linguistic landscape. In M. Michieka & Y. Elhindi (Eds.), The changing roles of English in Eastern Africa (pp. 114–129). Champaign: Underground Publisher.Google Scholar
  19. Muaka, L. (2018a). The impact of youth language on linguistic landscapes in Kenya. In E. Hurst-Harash & F. K. Erstus (Eds.), African youth languages (pp. 123–146). Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave.Google Scholar
  20. Muaka, L. (2018b). Mchango wa sajili ya Kitalii Kisemantiki na Kiuchumi. A paper presented at CHAUKIDU International Conference, Zanzibar, Tanzania.Google Scholar
  21. Muaka, L., & Lisanza, E. (Eds.). (2019). Language in contemporary African cultures and societies. Lanham: Lexington Books.Google Scholar
  22. Myers-Scotton, C. (1993). Elite closure as a powerful language strategy: The african case. International Journal of the Sociology of Language,103, 149–163.Google Scholar
  23. Okombo, O. (2001). Language policy: The forgotten parameter in African development and governance strategies. Nairobi: School of Journalism, University of Nairobi.Google Scholar
  24. Roy-Campbell, Z. M. (2003). Promoting African languages as conveyors of knowledge in educational institutions. In S. Makoni, G. Smitherman, A. Ball, & A. Spears (Eds.), Black linguistics: Language, society and politics in African and the Americas. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  25. Skapinker, M. (2016). Mind your language (FT weekend supplement—Life & Arts) (Why English? Confronting the hydra) (Language policy and economics: The language question in Africa) (The linguistic landscape of Post-apartheid South Africa: Politics and discourse) (Book review). The Financial Times.Google Scholar
  26. Tan, P., & Rubdy, R. (2008). Language as commodity: Global structures, local marketplaces. London: Continuum.Google Scholar
  27. Thiong’o, N. (1986). Decolonising the mind: The politics of language in African literature. Nairobi: East African Educational Publishers Ltd.Google Scholar
  28. Wolff, E. (2016). Language and development in Africa: Perceptions, ideologies and challenges. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Leonard Muaka
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of World Languages and CulturesHoward UniversityWashingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations