Encyclopedia of Language and Education

2008 Edition
| Editors: Nancy H. Hornberger

Language, Literacy and Knowledge Production in Africa

  • Kwesi Kwaa Prah
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-0-387-30424-3_33


This contribution assesses the state of language and literacy studies in Africa. It traces the extent and record of African scripts and debates issues of literacy development in African societies. It poses questions regarding the challenges ahead in literacy enhancement on the continent, and initiates the discussion with an examination of the question of numbers of African languages.

Early Developments

The issue of how many languages exist in Africa, is a complex consideration. Estimates vary very widely. They range from Lord Hailey's figure of 700 to Grimes's figure quoted by UNESCO of “about 2000” (Grimes, 2000; Hailey, 1938, p. 68). Gregersen wrote that, “the nearly 300 million people in Africa speak something over 1000 languages—with only about 40 spoken by more than a million people. Language communities with 1000 or fewer speakers are not rare, and at least 20 languages are reported with fewer than 100 speakers” (Gregersen, 1977, p. 200). Heine notes “the...


Knowledge Production African Society African National Congress African Language Core Language 
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© Springer Science+Business Media LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kwesi Kwaa Prah
    • 1
  1. 1.The Center for Advanced Studies of African SocietyCape TownSouth Africa