Professor Adams Bodomo delivers a lecture on Mother Tongue for National Development

Strategies for the Promotion of Mother Tongues for National Development

Vengvengnaa Bonglakyɛre Bɔdɔmɔ [Adams Bodomo]

University of Vienna, Austria/University of Ghana, Legon, Ghana




In this article, I propose some strategies for the promotion of Ghana’s mother tongues and their associated cultures. I first do a retrospective account of what has been done in historical and in contemporary times before identifying what various stakeholders can do to further sustain, develop, and revitalize these mother tongues and their associated cultures.


A aatekele nyɛ poɔ N boɔrɔ ka N manne la yɛlɛ mine te nang na de nyɔge ne, a toɔ e ka a te Gaana kɔkɔrɛɛ do saa. N piili la a yɛlɛ mannoo a kaa nyɛ lɛnɛɛ noba yaga nang song kɔ a kɔnɔre nyɛ lɛɛ a wa ta zenɛ. N nang wa e a a lɛ baare, N paa wuli la lɛnɛɛ te zaa kpɛleng nang na toɔ song zɛle a te Gaana kɔkɔrɛɛ ane a te saakonnong ka a do saa.

Introduction and Conceptual Groundings:

Let me begin my talk by expressing how honoured I feel to be asked to address the important issue – Mother Tongue for National Development -  as the theme for this symposium commemorating United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)’s Mother Language Day by the School of Languages (SoL) at Legon here in conjunction with the Ghana Commission for UNESCO. I wish to congratulate the authorities at Legon (Vice Chancellor, Provost of the College of Humanities, Dean of the School of Languages, Head of the Department of Linguistics, etc.), and the UNESCO Commission in Ghana for making this event possible.

This year’s commemoration has taken an added significance because of the much-discussed United Nations (UN) Secretary General’s document titled, Our Common Agenda. In the Secretary General’s declaration on the 75th Anniversary of the UN, the following 12 points are noted:

  • We will leave no one behind
  • We will protect our planet
  • We will promote peace and prevent conflict
  • We will abide by international law and ensure justice
  • We will place women and girls at the center
  • We will build trust
  • We will improve digital cooperation
  • We will upgrade the United Nations
  • We will ensure sustainable financing
  • We will boost partnerships
  • We will listen to and work with youth
  • We will be prepared (Ref: https://www.un.org/en/common-agenda: accessed, February 11, 2023)

Already beginning with the first tenet, we will leave no one behind, we see a basic tenet of democracy, which is inclusion. I want to argue in my presentation that emphasising the study of the Mother Tongue throughout the world, from Bangladesh (where the initiative started) to Ghana, is one of the best ways to implement the Secretary General’s inclusive agenda.

A second significance that motivates our focus on mother tongue is that the UN has designated the period 2022 to 2032 as the Decade of Indigenous Languages. As contained in a website dedicated to this project (ref: https://en.unesco.org/idil2022-2032), these are the objectives of the project:

“The International Decade aims at ensuring indigenous peoples’ right to preserve, revitalize and promote their languages, and mainstreaming linguistic diversity and multilingualism aspects into the sustainable development efforts. It offers a unique opportunity to collaborate in the areas of policy development and stimulate a global dialogue in a true spirit of multi-stakeholder engagement, and take [steps] necessary for the usage, preservation, revitalization and promotion of indigenous languages around the world.” (last accessed February 11, 2023)

Most of these indigenous languages are mother tongues, and deserve attention whether or not they belong to majority populations or minority and marginalised populations!

Of course, the term mother tongue or mother language itself needs to be deconstructed. So, what is a mother tongue? Most people seem to know what exactly it is, but scholars have difficulties pinning down the conceptualization.

The term 'mother tongue' means "...the language which a person has grown up speaking from early childhood".  Now in my 'mother tongue' or L1 (first language, as linguists refer to it), Dagaare, we use the term, tengɛ kɔkɔre. In other African languages like Akan and Hausa, it may translate as krom kasa or harshen garina, respectively. The listener may want to supply terms in his or her own languages.

So when I use the term 'mother tongue' while speaking English, I am talking of the term tengɛ kɔkɔre and there is little ambiguity in this term.

Now, one of the reasons someone might object to the term 'mother tongue' or L1 is to say that children in the urban centres of Africa grow up speaking many languages, making the term 'mother tongue' or L1 problematic. Yes, it is problematic and one must unpack it. But here are the issues. 

First, it is not impossible to have two or more L1s or mother tongues in a multilingual set-up. A 'mother tongue' doesn't always mean mother's tongue. So we can't just throw away the term. In linguistics, unpacking a term doesn't always mean throwing it away unless and until we have a better term. The above clarifications are crucial because these concepts are often the basis of quite a bit of confusion in academic linguistic discussions.

Second, and as a rural African, as someone who grew up in a rural area of Africa, I sometimes get unsettled at how some linguists or other social scientists try to impose what happens in the cities of Africa on all of Africa. One may argue, for example, that a Ghanaian child in the urban centre like  Nima, a suburb of Accra, may grow up speaking Ga, Hausa, Twi, and Ewe at the same time, so which is their mother tongue? The fact that this happens in the cities doesn't mean that it happens throughout Africa. In very many rural areas of Africa (though there is an increasing number of villages along main highways and near cities which may also be multilingual (Sagna and Hantgan 2021)), the term tengɛ kɔkɔre (mother tongue) refers to a specific language and is unmistakable.  My tengɛ kɔkɔre (mother tongue) is Dagaare/Dagara, no matter what  happens in Nima or Yaba or Sandaga or....where people mash up all kinds of languages, end up with mixed systems and pidgins and don't know who they are, seemingly, in terms of clear linguistic identities.

To complicate the matter further, some Africans in the diaspora growing up in places like America, England, France, Germany, etc, as part of their pan-African nationalism, feel ashamed calling their most proficient languages like English and French their mother tongues or L1, and therefore want to throw away the terms altogether. Well, here is some news for them: you can't avoid the fact that English or some other non-African language is your mother tongue because that is what it is. You may deny all you can but you are stuck with it. That is why linguists propose the term 'heritage language'. For children in the African diaspora, your heritage language(s) is (are) your African language(s), probably spoken by your parents to you at home. But English is your mother tongue/L1. Or French, German, Portuguese! If one is a linguist in this kind of diaspora situation of mixed, blurred identity please do NOT impose your own situation on other Africans who have a clear linguistic identity.

Indeed, in my contemporary works, I now also use the term Language of Identity, which is closest to the authentically African terms tengɛ kɔkɔre, krom kasa, marshen garina, etc.

And what does the term “Indigenous African Language” mean?

This is also the right place to address the issue of what an indigenous African language is, since we use the term throughout the presentation and since it is one of the foundation stones of linguistic pan-Africanism. I am often surprised why some linguists question the term "indigenous African languages". The term 'indigenous' is a denotation that simply refers to an entity that originates and occurs naturally in a particular locus, an entity which is native to a particular locality. Any negative connotations of the term ‘indigenous’ result from a poor understanding of this denotation, and cannot be a reason why we should abandon the term, as Legere (2021) seems to suggest. So we can, indeed, have indigenous European languages such as English, French, and German, just as we have indigenous African languages such as Akan, Hausa, and Zulu. Is the questioning of the term yet another attempt to prevent Africans from fighting against linguistic imperialism? Indigenous African languages are not hard to recognize from an anti-colonialist perspective: they are those that the former European or other colonialists tried to suppress - and these colonialists then imposed their own languages on the people who speak these indigenous languages. English, French, and Portuguese are not indigenous languages of Africa, but from Akan to Zulu, we see many indigenous languages of Africa. Any language spoken in Africa by communities of people whose original homeland is not traced outside Africa is an indigenous African language. Is this attempt to problematize the term indigenous African language a way of trying to place the former colonial languages like English, French, and Portuguese on an equal footing as real African languages - that English, French, Portuguese, Akan, Dagaare, Swahili and Zulu are all African languages? If so this attempt will fail because there is hardly any logical basis for it! English, French, and Portuguese may be languages in Africa but they are not African languages. Africa has its own languages and these are languages indigenous to Africa!

Having pinned down these various notions and the background motivations for such a study, I outline, in the next sub-sections, theoretical and methodological groundings for this study.

Theoretical framework

I argue that the best way to address the concept of the evolution of strategies to promote the study of mother tongues in Africa by linguists is to embrace the theoretical notion of linguistic pan-Africanism and manage our linguistic resources in such a way that we can mitigate injustice and inequality on the basis of language. Linguistic pan-Africanism is therefore a notion that encourages the management of Africa's linguistic resources towards better and more efficient communication and cultural development on the African continent.  The following are theoretical tenets of linguistic pan-Africanism:

Tenets of linguistic pan-Africanism

The theory of linguistic pan-Africanism (Bodomo 2022) has the following underpinnings:

The primacy of indigenous African languages: The most important aspect of the theory of linguistic pan-Africanism is that all the indigenous languages of Africa are important tools for the socio-economic and socio-cultural development of Africa.

Mother tongue education: Each of these indigenous languages is a mother tongue or language of the cultural identity of individuals and various communities in Africa. So indigenous mother tongue education (the need to ensure that all African children can speak, read, and write in, at least, one of their mother tongues or languages of identity) is an essential feature of the theoretical model of linguistic pan-Africanism outlined here.

Linguistic human rights: linguistic pan-Africanism recognizes that language rights are an essential part of the broader notion of human rights (Grin 2005). The important maxim of right of language and right to language (Mazrui 2000, Mazrui and Mazrui 1998) is crucial in this model. As Ndhlovu (2008: 138) explains: “[The right of language] is a collective right whose violation automatically affects entire speaking communities. This means that language policies that deliberately seek to suppress some languages would be in violation of the right of language. The right to language is…more of an individual’s right to use one or more languages of choice.” Mazrui and Mazrui (1998: 115) explain the right to language as “the right to use the language one is most proficient in, as well as the right of access to the languages of empowerment and socio-economic advancement.”

Linguistic diversity as a global future: Language is an important aspect of our global future. There is therefore a clear link between language preservation and environmental protection. What, for instance, would be the point of preserving all kinds of plant and animal species in a community when we lose the indigenous languages for naming and relating to these plant and animal species? If climatic and environmental sustenance are important global future issues, then language and its preservation are a crucial part of this global future.

The theory of linguistic pan-Africanism also proposes the development of some regional lingua franca and possibly a continental lingua franca for ease of communication among Africans, as shown in the diagram below.

Figure 1: Linguistic pan-Africanism

Linguistic pan-Africanism, if well implemented, guarantees an inclusive approach to the languages of Africa. Seeing linguistic rights as human rights is a good way to inclusive language planning, which can be the linguist’s contribution to sustaining peace and security in West Africa and also minimizing the incidence of insecurity that may be due to people feeling excluded because their languages are not used.


The methods used in gathering materials were mainly through database and internet search to gather information about leading ideas on the study of mother tongues and indigenous languages; this is, the activities that various people, including activists and scholars of language, are undertaking to promote indigenous languages to ensure that all people have the right to use their community languages. Among the internet sites visited was the UN page on the Secretary General’s report titled Our Common Agenda and the project website on the Decade of Indigenous Languages, which is at https://en.unesco.org/idil2022-2032. While the term indigenous languages is not clearly defined at this website, in previous work (Bodomo 2022) and as mentioned above, I have defined it as follows: “The term, indigenous language,…. is a language whose speakers consider the current location they find themselves in as their traditional homeland and with no known traditional homeland in any other part of the world. Kozinets (1998) in his work on netnography has described how important the internet is in gathering information and in reaching out to key stakeholders in a particular area of study for research materials. This paper has found the internet as a major resource to gauge what is happening in the area of promoting indigenous languages for the advancement of linguistic human rights.

History of Linguistic Studies on the Mother tongue:

Much of African history often begins with the arrival of Western actors and other foreigners. As an illustration of starting the history of Africa with the arrival of White people, most people like me who attended Primary and Secondary School in Ghana in the 1970s and 80s often had our books on the history of Ghana beginning with information that the Portuguese arrived at Elmina in 1492. Even in the history of the study and promotion of Africa’s own indigenous languages we still have this kind of discourse showing that promoting our own languages begins with the arrival of European missionaries. In Bemile (2000), we read the following: “The first attempts to promote literacy in Ghanaian languages were made by European missionaries, and their Ghanaian church members, whose policy it was to learn and teach Ghanaian languages.” (Bemile 2000: 204). One wonders then how these languages survived until the arrival of the missionaries! This is an important issue to raise if we are to take accurate stock of the efforts in the past to preserve, sustain, revitalize, and promote our languages and cultures over several hundreds of years since the era of the great Kingdoms and empires such as the Asante Kingdom and the Mabia (“Mole Dagomba”) empires in the 11th Century, founded and led by Emperor Naa Gbewaa and his successors.

Two main questions guide us in our further discussion: what were the original/past efforts to promote mother tongues in Ghana?  And what strategies can stakeholders develop to promote and sustain our mother tongues/languages and the cultures associated with them?

Past and Present Efforts for the Promotion of Ghanaian languages

Efforts to preserve and promote Ghanaian languages long before contact with foreigners took the form of several activities involving oral literature (orature) and oral literacy (oracy). Literacy must, therefore, not be seen as only written literacy (writeracy). It is when we look at issues in this more nuanced analysis of literacy that we can now point to numerous activities that sustained and promoted Ghanaian and other African languages long before the arrival of European missionaries and colonizers. Most of my examples are drawn from my own mother tongue, Dagaare[1]. Traditional values that recognise the need to teach, preserve, revitalize, and promote Ghanaian languages include the following:

  • Communicating with the ancestors: In Dagaare (and other Ghanaian cultures) one can normally only make sacrifices and pour libation to the ancestors in Dagaare. Any attempt to speak foreign languages or even mix Dagaare with foreign language words and phrases during a libation process and during sacrifice to the kpenne (ie ancestors) is often frowned upon by the elders.
  • Cultural pressure on Dagaare expatriate parents: It has become common knowledge that Dagaaba who live away from Dagao in places like southern Ghana and even outside of Ghana who are not able to impart knowledge of the Dagaare language and its culture to their children get ridiculed and blamed. This kind cultural pressure is a way of ensuring language development in young Dagaaba. Even for Dagaaba at home who are unable to encourage their offspring to be all round in Dagaare culture there are cultural pressures to discourage such situations. An example is the dance song titled: ka neɛ bie’ng ba bɔng bawaa tenee paalong bie naa, translated approximately as ‘if anybody’s child doesn’t know how to dance, that child is not a child of our community’.
  • A developed griot institution: Griots are praise singers and custodians of oral history who are well-versed in proverbial use of the language. These people are admired and held in high esteem. Artists such as dirge singers have a place of choice in Dagaare arts.

For want of time, I have just listed three main activities but there are certainly more that can be added on to this. In the next section, we will look at the efforts that have led to the creation of contemporary resources for learning and teaching Dagaare and other languages in the formal educational sector. As a case study, I will focus on listing primary resources for the promotion of Dagaare language, linguistics, literature, and culture in general, but many of the issues raised also relate to other Ghanaian mother tongues.

Formal efforts to study and promote the Mother Tongue: A Case Study with Dagaare

Many mother tongues in Ghana feature on higher education curricula. This is already progress compared to the 1970s and earlier. Dagaare is one of about 10 to 20 languages that feature on these curricula in higher educational institutions in Ghana, like the University of Ghana, Legon and University of Education, Winneba.

Many scholars and other stakeholders have contributed to the provision of resources for the study, preservation, and development of the language. I will group them together as grammars, dictionaries, readers and proficiency course books, language guides and online websites, books on history and society, and a standard orthography. These do not include unpublished and semi-published theses written on the language and its culture.

Grammars and dictionaries:

Phonology of Dagaare (Kennedy), Phonologie Transformationnelle du Dagara (Delplanque), Description Phonologique de la Langue Dagara (Girault), Phonie et Graphie Tonale du Dagaare (Nakuma),Yelbie Gangere [Dagaare Word Classes] (Cletus Yabang), Structure of Dagaare (Adams Bodomo), Dagaare Grammar (Dakubu), Dagaare – English Dictionary (Durand), A Dagaare – Cantonese – English Lexicon (Bodomo), A Dictionary and Grammatical Sketch of Dagaare (Ali, Grimm, and Bodomo), etc

Readers and Proficiency Books:

Te Koɔbo Yɛlɛ (Zakpaa), Dagaare Sinsolong (Zakpaa), Dagara Folktales (Kyoore), Naa Konga: A Collection of Dagaaba Folktales (Kuuwaabong), Yɛ Gorogoro Yaa: Dagaare Folktales in Parallel Texts (Ali and Bodomo), Ka Te Yele Dagaare (Bodomo), Zanne Fo Kɔkɔre (Saeed Faruk), etc.

Others Language and Culture Resources – Language Guides, Internet Lexicons and Discussion Fora:

Language Guide – Dagaare (Bureau of Ghana Languages), Dagaare Yong (Bodomo, Mwinlaaru and Babuna), Dagara Heritage Preservation (Joseph Ziem)

History and Society:

Social Organization, Myth of Bagre (Goody), Wa and its People (Douga)

All these various efforts, especially, works on phonology led to the creation of a standard Dagaare orthography, led by a Dagaare Committee under the aegis of the Catholic Church based in Jirapa, as follows:

Dagaare is a two-tone language, but tone is not marked in the standard orthography. Here is the Standard Dagaare alphabet, which has 31 graphemes, comprising 24 monographs (representing 19 consonants and 7 vowels), 6 diagraphs and 1 triagraph:

A, a                      as in             báná lá wààná   ‘It is they who are coming’

B, b                      as in             báá                    ‘dog’

D, d                      as in             dúní                   ‘knee’

E, e                      as in             kpéré                  ‘to cut up’;

                            also as in     féntéré               ‘ring’

ε, ε                       as in             gέrέ                   ‘going’

F, f                       as in             fànfánè              ‘soap’

G, g                      as in             gánè                  ‘book’

GB, gb                 as in             gbέrè                  ‘leg’

GY, gy                 as in             gyìlé                   ‘xylophones’

H, h                      as in             húólì                  ‘to mock at someone’

I, i                        as in             bìbììrí                ‘children’

K, k                      as in             kànnè                 ‘to read’

KP, kp                  as in             kpááré               ‘occiput’

KY, ky                 as in             kpέngé               ‘to walk’

L, l                       as in             láá                     ‘bowl’

M, m                    as in             má                      ‘mother’

N, n                      as in             néὲ                     ‘person’

NG, ng                 as in             bòngó                ‘donkey’

NY, ny                 as in             nyέ                     ‘to see’

NGM, ngm          as in             ngméǹ                ‘God’

O, o                      as in             zòró                   ‘running’;

                            also as in     tólóng                ‘heat’

ͻ, ͻ                       as in             sͻ́wͻ́lͻ́                ‘kind of dish’

P, p                       as in             pὲnnè                 ‘to rest’

R, r                      as in             pùrì                    ‘to burst’

S, s                       as in             sénsέ                  ‘cakes’

T, t                       as in             tùòrì                   ‘to meet’

U, u                      as in             dùndúló             ‘worms’

V, v                      as in             vóóróng             ‘breath’, ‘life’

W, w                    as in             wááó                  ‘snake’

Y, y                      as in             yánngáá             ‘grandchild’

Z, z                      as in             zàgá                   ‘pen’        


These graphemes must be constantly discussed towards a more and more improved writing system. It would be important to note that issues of writing system go beyond just mere orthography. We have to make decisions, for instance, as to how we combine words (e.g. issues of compounding) and how words are structured in the sentence (issues of spacing between different word classes). In this sense, we would need insights from the morphology and syntax of the language.

This is just a case study. It is clear that the same can be done for other Ghanaian mother tongues, where there is a good amount of materials produced. In the next section, we will focus on proposing strategies for ensuring a strong future for Ghanaian languages and the cultures associated with them.

Future strategies for the promotion and revitalization of the Mother Tongue: Stakeholder roles

One of the most important strategies is for all stakeholders to understand that each Ghanaian language is part of a larger linguistic grouping. The development of each language must be organically linked to the development other Ghanaian languages.  For example, we need the same writing technologies suited to the writing of these languages and if we could harmonize our orthographies we could, for instance, acquire the same writing technologies, including computer hardwares like keyboards and softwares like word processors that aid rapid literacy practices like reading, writing, and publishing educational materials.  For example, it would be important that a common Ghanaian orthography discusses the following graphemes: ɣ ɖ ŋ ɲ ɪ ʊ and work towards minimizing or avoiding them altogether.  I have been analyzing various orthographies of African languages and some of the best orthographies like the Akan, Hausa, and Swahili orthographies avoid most of these graphemes. If you are an orthography committee member and you truly want to promote literacy in your language, please desist from approving such difficult-to-write symbols as graphemes for your language. Phonemes are NOT graphemes! The most successful orthographies around the world observe important principles of simplicity and economy.

Another advantage of working together as Ghanaian language experts is that we could jointly develop new words for the expression of existing and new terminologies in science and technology. In producing new technical terms, we must take care to avoid being too much of language purists, such that we create terms that are not the most meaningful. I still remember in school in the 1980s when a speaker of Dagaare came to announce to us students that our vuudoge is spoilt. We didn’t understand anything until he used the word generator in the Dagaare way of speaking and writing it: gyenereeta! Obviously, gyenereeta is far more meaningful and transparent than vuudoge in this context. In a future Dagaare dictionary of science and technology terms we can of course use both of them gyenereeta and vuudoge as synonyms.

In fact, as an important strategy, I would like to propose the formation of a coordinating committee for Ghana Language Standards. This would comprise ideally, at least, two members of each of the language committees of the individual languages (e,g. Akan Language Committee, Ewe Language, Committee, Nzema Language Committee, Ga Language Committee, Dagbane Language Committee, Dagaare Language Committee, Gonja Language Committee, Gurune Language Committee, Sesaale Language Committee, Kasem Language Committee, Kusaal Language Committee, etc) to form the Coordinating Committee of Ghana Language Standards. This Coordinating Committee will meet periodically to make decisions on neologisms, i.e., new words and expressions in the various languages. In this way, Ghanaian languages could develop standards in an even manner. There is probably an important role for the Bureau of Ghanaian Languages here.

The role of academics: More Ghana language scholars:

More Ghanaians should be interested in the study of their language at Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary levels of the national educational system. If we all start studying different languages like English, French, Spanish, Russian, and Chinese and ignoring our language, we would not have enough experts to develop the language. It would be important for scholars to not only produce top-level academic publications in journals but also produce cutting-edge educational materials like writing children’s books, cataloguing nursery rythmes, producing short stories and folktales that are parallel-texted into Ghanaian languages and English.

The development of the mother tongue should not be left to only linguists and language scholars. Ghanaians who study science, technology, engineering and medicine (STEM) can contribute to the development of the Ghanaian mother tongue in very profound ways. Ghanaian scientists must collaborate to translate the most important STEM textbooks and readers into Ghanaian languages. It is for example, unacceptable that we have not been able to translate all the important technical terms associated with the COVID-19 pandemic to our rural folks who may not speak English fluently.

The role of Local and National government:

The national government is advised to define a clear national policy of education (and well implemented by the local government) that emphasises the study of Ghana’s and Africa’s own indigenous languages. I have constantly made proposals for such an educational policy called localised trilingualism, where the youth of Ghana can be taught to be proficient in their mother tongues or language of cultural identity, in a major lingua franca of the country or Africa, and in an international language like English or French. For, instance, illustrating with the case of the Dagaaba, the national and local governments must put resources to ensuring that every Dagaare child in school develops literacy in, at least, three languages: Dagaare, and two others (a major African language such as Akan, Hausa, or Swahili) and a major foreign language, such as English.

Governments in Africa must produce a barrage of incentives for the study and promotion of African languages! To make the study of African languages attractive, it is recommended that governments pay teachers and other specialists of African languages and cultures more than teachers and other specialists of foreign languages and cultures. Governments are advised to also make it mandatory for people to demonstrate competence in reading and writing, at least, one African language before they can join the civil service in Africa.

The Private Sector:

Beyond national and local governments, the private sector is advised to develop a certain kind of corporate social responsibility (CSR) that emphasizes cultural development. Traditional rulers must encourage their citizens to excel in their Ghanaian language and culture. Traditional festivals must emphasize competitions that let young citizens of their communities compete for excellence in various aspects of their language and culture. Private businesses ought to use parts of their CSR budgets to fund competitions and prizes for excellence in Ghanaian language and culture. Private individuals and faith groups can even think of setting up scholarship schemes and awards, fellowships, and professorial chairs to promote excellence in the study of Ghanaian languages and cultures. A society that doesn’t recognize its citizens who excel cannot sustain its progress and development.

The role of the Youth: Better Use of the Internet and IT resources:

The Youth are the future of any society and no language can survive without a huge amount of agency on the part of the youth. Our youth must be encouraged to make use of traditional media like radio and TV and social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp to create programmes that promote the use of the mother tongue. Young and established writers must be encouraged to write engaging literary works like poetry, novels, and drama/plays, and to produce films that cut across ages and educational backgrounds in Ghanaian languages. Literary prizes and awards must be set up to encourage the youth to evolve creative programmes that promote the mother tongue.


Distinguished listeners, dear colleagues, a lot more could be said on this topic, but I will stop here and give the opportunity to other speakers to feature properly within our crowded speaking schedule. In summary, however, I will like to draw attention to the fact that our ancestors and forebears have bequeathed to us very rich languages and the cultures associated with them. The mother tongue is an important tool for us to understand the world and express ourselves in it. Our ancestors used rather subtle and intricate ways to evolve, develop, promote, and pass on these languages to us. We owe it to them to continue to develop, promote, and sharpen these powerful tools. The mother tongue is our link to the past and our window to the world, to our future. We have a duty to pass it on to our offspring. We Ghanaians must collaborate among ourselves, and with other Africans at large to promote our languages and cultures. No politics and policies of inclusion, like the UN Secretary General’s Our Common Agenda or the UN Decade for Indigenous Languages 2022 to 2032, can be effective without the promotion of the mother tongue to aid in national development discourse.  We must never ever study foreign languages like English and French to the neglect of our own African languages. As the famous African writer, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, said: "If you know all the languages of the world but not your mother tongue, that is enslavement. Knowing your mother tongue and all other languages too is empowerment."[1]

Barka, Medaase, Akpe, Nagode, Asante sana!



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Bodomo, A. 2022. Linguistic Pan-Africanism as a Global Future: Reflections in the Language Question in Africa. Inaugural Lecture, Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences (GAAS), Accra, Ghana.

Bodomo A., Abubakari H. & Issah, S. 2020. Handbook of the Mabia Languages of West Africa. Galda Verlag, Berlin, Germany.

Bodomo, Adams. 1997. The structure of Dagaare. Stanford: CSLI. Bodomo, Adams. 2000. Dagaare (Languages of the World Materials No. 165). München, Germany: Lincom Europa.

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[1] This section and the next are based on Bodomo (2021), a  keynote presented at a Dagaare Language Conference, Wa, Ghana, September 2021.