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We must appreciate our languages—Professor Mtenje

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Professor Al Mtenje has called on people in the country to appreciate “our languages and cultures” as a resource, observing that no country develops using a foreign language.

Mtenje, who is one of the most senior Professors at the University of Malawi (Unima), said this on Friday at Chancellor College in Zomba during the launch of a book titled The Phonology of Chichewa.

The book has been published by Oxford University Press. Mtenje has co-authored the book with Professor Laura Downing, who failed to attend the launch due to academic commitments.

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Downing is a Professor of African Languages at Gothenburg University in Sweden.

“As Africans we need to realise that our languages and cultures are very important and that in this world no country has developed whilst using a foreign language. We must learn to appreciate our cultures and languages as a resource,” Mtenje said.

Mtenje, who has received several academic awards and honours for scholastic excellence, said other languages were useful for international communication but “our languages are equally important.”

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He added that the African Union, in its 2063 Agenda, realises the importance of local languages as tools for national development.

The importance of local languages during the colourful launch attended by among others, Professors, Deans of Faculty and Heads of Department was further cemented by a poem recital by Phindu Banda.

Phindu, using her name, recited a poem talking about the meaning and the beauty of her name. And she impressed the audience.

She went on to say that she struggled with her name growing up in a more English generation.

She added that this name should not have been hers and later allowed friends to manipulate it for it to seem more English.

But she was wrong, this was an important name given to her by her grandfather, who schooled her on the importance of the name.

On the book, The Phonology of Chichewa, Mtenje said it was about the sound structure of Chichewa, adding that it presents a descriptive and analytical account of the sound system of Chichewa.

He said the book examines in detail tone, consonant and vowel sequences of the language and the phological (sound) processes and rules which apply to them in various linguistic contexts especially, when syllables, grammatical elements and words are combined to form larger structures.

But what knowledge gap does the book fill?

“A number of Masters and Doctoral dissertations, journal articles, book chapters etc. on Chichewa Phonology are available but they address isolated aspects of language.

“None of them offers a comprehensive description and analysis of all the key areas of the Phonology of the language under one publication. Consequently, our understanding of the structure of the language was fragmented,” Mtenje said.

He said the book was a “one-stop academic shop” with all major descriptive and theoretical aspects of Chichewa phonology covered in one publication.

Mtenje said that the style adopted is suitable to theoretical and descriptive linguists, including students of Bantu linguistics, languages and aspects of communication at undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

Unima Vice Chancellor Professor, John Saka, hailed Mtenje and Downing for the book, saying it was a key output of the long-term partnership between two academics from Malawi and Sweden.

He said the book is expected to contribute to the growth of linguistics and other language-related academic programmes and research in Malawi and Africa.

The book is available on the Oxford University Press website and can be bought online.

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