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Languages in every day life (and in classrooms)

On January 25, classes at FATMES began with lectures on mission history. Together with 14 students we sit at a distance and partly disguised with mask in the big library room. We arrange ourselves. One of the students had contracted Corona last year, so everyone was warned and accordingly cautious. His course was relatively mild, but he reports heart and lung problems that he would not wish on anyone. Back to the lesson …

Throughout history, there have often been disputes over the appropriate liturgy in the newly established congregations of the “new world.” The Church preferred Latin as the official language of the Church, even in Asian countries. Local missionaries, on the other hand, advocated the
use of local languages. This observation led us to ask why the French language dominates in Malian communities, especially in urban centers.
Missionaries could not have been the causal factor. Missionaries have made great efforts over the decades to learn one of the national languages. French was the source language for them, but not the target language they preferred in their dialogue with the people to be reached with the gospel.

Many sermons are preached by Malian pastors in French and subsequently translated into the majority lingua franca, Bamanan.
Some reasons were listed by the students for this phenomenon:

a. The services of the urban congregations are often attended by West African foreign citizens who do not speak any of the Malian national languages. Therefore, French is the only common means of communication.

b. Pastors are largely trained in francophone institutes. When they preach sermons, some feel more confident in using biblical and theological terminology when they use French. So it would be precisely the task of theological education to offer linguistic concepts of contextualization. This has
probably been done inadequately so far.

c. French is still the lingua franca used in public life if one wants to avoid language-political conflicts. If church services were held only in Bamanan, Dogon, Bobo and Peulh might feel left out. They all speak Bamanan in some way, but not in such a way that it would become “their language”. Therefore, they prefer to resort to “foreign French.”
d. For many, the use of French is also an expression of a certain intellectual level. French testifies to cosmopolitanism and international linguistic ability, values that the many national languages of Mali cannot exhibit. Despite all the more or less understandable reasons listed, the following remains true: French is the language of the former colonizer. It is a foreign language. It is not the language of the heart. In the Malian context, it lacks the final profundity when it comes to culturally appropriate communication. On the other hand, despite all cultural reservations, the French language offers the chance to connect and provide access to education that national languages lack. A look at society proves that those who have attended francophone schools and universities manage to contribute to the development of their country, as entrepreneurs and multipliers, while not losing sight of the cultural characteristics and needs of their contemporaries.
All attempts to develop school material in Bamanan in such a way that it could approach French in the long term have so far been rather fragmentary. If this is to change, it is not the task of foreign experts to change this. Malians themselves must prove that they have pedagogical concepts and the necessary political will. The intellectual abilities are there.

originally German text: