WHY CAN’T I SPEAK MY MOTHER TONGUE?
African languages make up about one third of the world’s spoken languages, but those languages rarely travel outside of the continent and its islands.
Rusere is the VP of the African Students Association of Concordia. The association “provides a home away from home for many African students and anyone interested in African cultures,” she said.
She was born in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, and moved to Montreal about ten years ago with her family. She learned to speak Shona and English simultaneously in her hometown, and continues to speak her language with her mother and friends here in Montreal.
Her little brother, who was four years old when they moved to Canada, has lost his mother tongue, though.
“When you move away from home, if you’re not being exposed to the language, you can easily lose it,” Rusere said.
African languages are grouped in four distinguishable categories by shared linguistic characteristics: Afro-Asiatic, spoken in northern Africa, Nilo-Saharan, in central and eastern Africa, Niger-Congo, in central and southern Africa and Khoisan, in the western part of southern Africa. The Niger-Congo is the biggest lingustic group, encompassing more than 1,000 languages.
In Montreal, there are 2,995 people that speak a Niger-Congo language—almost a thousand more people than those who speak Hebrew. The latter, though, is far better represented in Montreal, with many schools and synagogues offering language classes.
ELA Jambo is the only language school in Quebec that teaches African languages, offering seven in total: Swahili, Wolof, Bambara, Lingala, Tshibula, Yemba and Kikongo.
The school opened in September 2012 and its mission is to promote African languages, with an eye on preserving the languages, said Guy-Serge Luboya, founder and director of ELA Jambo and Lingala professor.
“A language has to be spoken to be preserved,” he said.
Luboya founded the school after noting the number of Africans that don’t speak their mother tongue.