25 Mar 2014

Gambia to drop English as national language

The president of Gambia is looking to shift the country’s official language from English, calling it a “colonial relic”.

Yahya Jammeh said that “we no longer subscribe to the belief that for you to be a government you should speak English language” but did not explain which language the small West African country would use instead.

Gambia’s 1.7 million people speak several African languages including Wolof, the most-widely-spoken language of Senegal, its direct neighbour, Mandingo and Fula.

Most Gambians are multilingual and typically speak a tribal language alongside English.

Last year, Gambia unexpectedly withdrew from the Commonwealth 48 years after joining, describing the 54-member group as “neo-colonial”.

Around 50,000 British tourists visit Gambia every year but the country has been strongly criticised by the UK and human rights groups for human rights abuses.

Speaking during the swearing-in ceremony of Gambia’s new chief justice, Jammeh, who came to power in a military coup two decades ago, said in English and apparently without irony: “We are going to speak our own language.”

English is the language of education in Gambia but Jammeh said: “The British did not care about education, that means they were not practising good governance. All they did was loot and loot and loot.”

Since coming to power Jammeh has proved an unpredictable president, announcing in 2007 he had found a herbal remedy that can cure Aids, a claim that was, naturally enough, lambasted by experts.

Gambia’s main languages

Mandingo – spoken by 38% of the population

Fula – spoken by 21% of the population

Wolof – spoken by 18% of the population



 
 

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