One of the methods that the tutors of the course ‘Researching Africa in the 21st century’ of the Master program of African Studies propose to their students to apply is that of Critical Discourse Analysis. A critical analysis can bring the researcher to an insight that would probably not have arrived by a mere intuitive reading of a text. My choice to let loose on is an article by the Ghanaian author, sociologist and public speaker Kwesie Kwaa Prah (1942-), ‘The language of development and the development of language in contemporary Africa’, published in Applied linguistics review (2012) 3:2, 295-313. Prah is director of the Centre for Advanced Studies on African Society (CASAS). He is an active proponent of bringing race issues to light and challenging government actions concerning education systems and social reforms. A Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) can be performed by doing a close reading of a text and try to analyse how the author has proceeded with ‘packaging’and reveiling his message. Which words, metaphores and style did he use to convey his meaning?

The overall directive of Prah’s article is an appeal for a larger recognition of African multilinguism, its importance for the mutual understanding of African people towards each other, and a wider allowance for applying more and different languages in the African education systems. His discourse strategy ultimately leads to a plea for harmonization and standardization of African languages. Prah is aiming to convince his readers. Not surprisingly,  the abstract and the introduction both start with the word ‘arguably’.

To start with the external properties of the text it is noted that the article counts close to 8140 words, including one lengthy footnote, references and a bionote. The most frequently used nouns are ‘languages’ (113), ‘African’ (102), ‘Africans’ (13), ‘Africa’ (40), ‘development’ (57), and ‘education’ (26). By these mere facts in can be concluded that the title of the article is in accordance with the content. Other nouns that play an important role in the text are ‘cultural’ (20), ‘colonial’ (18), ‘literacy’ (16), ‘multilingualism’ (13), ‘linguistic’ (13), ‘societies’ (13), ‘world’ (13), ‘human’ (12), ‘harmonisation’ (10) and in lesser sense: ‘economy’ (9).

About the internal properties of the content the following can be said. On the first page it is striking that the first three lines of the abstract are almost the identical to those of the introduction. The striking detail is that Prah reinforces the charge in the introduction by slightly changing certain words. While for instance the abstract shows the words in a furthermore identical line ‘Many would claim’, the introduction reads ‘Many would agree’. The intro is alco charged with adjectives like ‘ostensible’, ‘putative’, ‘fashionable’, ‘over-weighted’, and ‘technicist’ (pages 295-296), an illustrative style that Prah continues throughout the essay. Prah makes use of methaphores like ‘we end up not making out the wood from the trees’, a phrase that follows up on the words ‘brick and mortar monuments’ (page 296). By choosing words that are associated with objects like trees and bricks, the story becomes vivid in the reader’s mind, presumably with the author’s purpose to have the message ‘stick’ in people’s memory.

Prah’s article is carried by the core message that is conceptualized on page 297:

“What for our purposes here needs emphasis is that, simply put, ultimately, development should mean the steady improvement and optimization of the quality of   life for increasingly broader sections of the population; that the existential options and the ability for people who coose freely their life-routes and circumstances are steadily augmented.”

In the rest of the article Prah reveals his vision in five paragraphs:

– The fulcrum of language. In this section it is noted that Prah makes use of repetition. Where on page 298 he speaks of the importance of African multilingualism and how radios has given voice to people, on page 299 he repeats that Africans today are overwhelmingly multilingual. Again, via the method of renewed confrontation with the same words, the message becomes clearer. Prah contradicts the idea that African society is a prime example of the Tower of Babel. The central, critical word in this paragraph seems to be the ‘polyglot’, a person who moves in many cultural worlds (page 300).

– Classification and the number’s game: page 301 is almost entirely dedicated to sum up the countless African languages and their classifications. This enumeration is done to illustrate its multitude, but at the same time Prah argues that this multitude is a politically assigned notion (which stems from the colonial time), that has little to do with linguistic/cultural meaning.

– Language, the missing link in African development. Prah’s argument is that without the use of African languages, there is no chance for African development. Culture and knowledge are being reproduced by language. Therefore the naturally spoken languages bear much importance. African languages should be used for education.

– The rationality of harmonization and standardization. Here Prah explains that order needs to be introduced into the disorder of the multitude of languages. His institute of CASAS developed guidelines for harmonization which is, what he calls, an orthography of language (page 309).

– In the concluding remarks Prah stresses that CASAS has identified 15 to 17 ‘core languages’ that are spoken as first, second and third languages by about 85% of the African population and that they have been ‘successfully harmonized’, which is a step in the right direction. Several monolingual dictionaries have been produced.

As a close reader of this discourse I’m not sure if I’m convinced by its directive. My question to Prah would be: how do you visualize to what extent Africans would embrace the idea of harmonization of their local language – of which they are probably proud – with a language that they perceive as another(’s) language?