Community language

The term "community language" has been used since the 1970s in two different senses: one similar to an LWC/lingua franca on a community level that came out of a UNESCO-sponsored effort in Africa, and another that emerged from discussions about how to term languages of immigrant communities in Australia. Either one could apply to many African languages, the first in Africa and the second in the diaspora.

Community languages in Africa

A 1985 UNESCO survey of African languages in education and literacy used the term "community language," indicating that this was adopted in a 1979 conference in Dar es Salaam on national languages and teacher training. In a section entitled "The Community Language Principle," the survey report gave this definition:

  • "Within every multilingual African country, no matter how heavily so, there are generally a few languages each of which is the dominant and general means of communication in a district or province or similar large area. Even the city areas, notoriously of mixed ethnicity, each has its own language for the purpose - Wolof in Senegal, Soso in Conakry, Kiswahili in Nairobi and Mombasa, and so on - the languages of the streets and of the markets, as they are often called. Such languages, which serve the purposes of general communication over fairly wide areas within countries, are what are referred to as the community languages of Africa." (UNESCO, 1985)

Nigerian linguist Ayo Bamgbose later defined community languages as: "languages that are used for inter-ethnic communication."

Community languages in context of majority languages

The British organisation, National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum (NALDIC) cites several related definitions that center on languages of minority communities (excerpts only provided here):

  • "This term has been used in Australia since about 1975 to denote languages other than English and Aboriginal languages employed within the Australian community." (Michael Clyne)
  • "Community Languages are languages spoken by members of minority groups or communities within a majority language context. Some of these are languages which have been used for hundreds of years in Britain, others are of more recent origin." (The National Centre for Languages (CiLT))
  • "This term, ... is adopted in preference to other terms such as ‘minority’ or ‘immigrant’ languages, or ‘mother tongues’. ... The term ‘community language’ avoids many of the negative connotations which these other terms have attracted, and draws attention to the fact that languages are used in a range of shared social and cultural contexts. The term has been criticised for implying that all speakers of these languages have shared values, including shared linguistic values, whereas in fact those making provision to teach these languages often have to address issues arising from contested varieties and language standardisation, particularly in relation to the development of literacies." (Jo Arthur and Joanna McPake)


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