Delegates to the ‘Rising Africa’ IPA seminar in Nairobi will hear about the work of Puku, a foundation rushing to generate children’s literature in some of the dying languages of the continent.

Publishing Perspectives

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

May, 2019

Endangered Languages and the ‘Hegemony of English’

There are only four people left alive who speak the N/uu language in South Africa, and they’re members of one family. The matriarch is Ouma Katrina, 86 years old. Her daughter is Lena du Plessis. Her granddaughter is Claudia Snyman. And little N/aungkusi Snyman is Ouma Katrina’s great-granddaughter.

You meet them in a 10-minute video.  (Watch video here.)

And in it, you’ll also hear from Elinor Sisulu, executive director of South Africa’s Puku Children’s Literature Foundation.

Sisulu will speak at the  International Publishers Association‘s (IPA)  “Africa Rising” seminar in Nairobi, hosted by the  Kenya Publishers Association.

There’s a panel on the second day of the June 14 and 15 conference titled “Lost Tongues: The Struggle to Preserve Indigenous African Languages.”

Moderated by Jalada Africa managing editor Wanjeri Gakuru, this may arrive as one of the most intriguing and compelling moments in the programming of the seminar, which has been led by IPA vice-president Bodour Al Qasimi, herself a publisher of children’s books at the United Arab Emirates’ Kalimat Group.

What Sisulu and her associates at the foundation are doing is creating children’s literature that captures some of the dying languages of Africa.

“It’s much easier to learn a language when you’re a child than later,” Sisulu tells Publishing Perspectives in an interview. Many indigenous languages today in Africa are threatened by the major commercially dominant tongues, much as many “smaller” languages in other parts of the world are vulnerable to the rise of English as the world’s rapidly globalized lingua franca.

“The endangered languages,” Sisulu tells us, “are those spoken by the bushmen. And the government of one of South Africa’s provinces, the Northern Cape, where most of the endangered-language speakers are, is concerned and working with us in developing a strategy to produce children’s books in those languages to ensure their survival.”

This type of work is reflected in many parts of the world today, of course. In 2014, the composer Paola Prestini’s Oceanic Verses used vanishing Mediterranean tongues such as Griko, an Italiote dialect spoken in southeastern Italy, in Donna Di Novelli’s libretto. And in the United States, the Gullah Geechee Corridor Commission is mandated to capture and preserve as much as possible of the creole language and artistic expressions of the federally designated coastal corridor that encompasses the sea islands from Pender County in North Carolina south to St. Johns County in Florida.

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