The Lingual Legacy of Colonialism in Africa: Examining the Impact of Colonial Rule on African Languages

The Lingual Legacy of Colonialism in Africa: Examining the Impact of Colonial Rule on African Languages

Even though the lingual legacy of Africa is not often seen through the lens of Colonialism by Western scholars, it’s safe to say that the colonial rules have had a significant impact on African languages. The most damaging element to non-European cultures has been brought by the denial and oppression of cultural and spiritual practices. If one adds the forced linguistic culture of the colonists to the equation, we receive complex struggles that have been faced by the African continent. While certain dialects and pronunciation practices have only diminished, the addition of foreign words and grammar changes had an obvious negative influence. 

Examining the Impact of Colonial Rule on African Languages 

– Older Model of Coloniality. 

The perfect example here is the loss of African indigenous languages that have been destroyed by the imposed languages and elimination of native speakers. According to the records, around 1,250 different languages were spoken before the Colonial Rule took place. The main issue and negative impact have been the mental and physical disconnection between the speakers and a lack of cultural and traditional practices. Since most legal translation services have been done either in English or French, based on the territory, indigenous people had no legal right to ask for help since they could not use their native language and did not know the oppressor’s language well enough to have a voice. 

– Elimination of Cultural Practices. 

Since the majority of African languages were based on tribal practices, oral interpretation, and body movement, there was little to no written evidence that colonists had to address. It has made it easier for them to impose newly brought written practices. As a way to address their challenges, they have focused on the elimination of culture and prohibition of self-expression by making specific dances and cultural gatherings illegal. It’s what has contributed to the extinction of certain African languages. 

– Establishment of African Literature. 

If there was at least one positive aspect of colonialism in Africa, it is the emergence of immortal African literature where authors could reach a wider audience. Learning English or French, they could write in another language and talk of their woes by expressing their native culture and speaking for the mute. While it’s all covered in blood, sweat, and tears, it has shown the inner strength and genuine love of the African people as the world could hear the voices of the unheard. 

– Transition of Intercultural Practices.  

The most challenging linguistic aspect that has been faced by indigenous people in Africa is the mental gap between the loss of people’s native culture and the newly imposed practices. Since neither has been mastered well, it has contributed to the emergence of intercultural paradigms. These have been reflected in new dialects that often pose challenges for interpreters. Still, it’s possible to approach the best translation service and identify the origin of the culture based on the use of specific words and the formation of the sentences. It is one of the reasons why the African content has so many variations of English or French!  

Battlefields and Educational Fields 

One of the worst aspects of colonisation is the lack of education of any kind where traditional and native languages could have been used. It is what the colonists have tried to eliminate. Since there were only oral and cultural practices that were shared by the older generation, the young people in Africa became the victims of Western culture. They basically had no access to their native languages in a written form, as their education had been limited to colonial or post-colonial languages. As African cultural practices are going through the stage of revival and rebirth, the educational systems and schools are slowly bringing the native languages back. Once educational practices are brought into the equation, it poses the only way to learn!


Olivia Evans is a trained linguist who loves to travel the world as she makes education accessible for all. As an educator and cultural consultant, she loves Africa and the African culture. Follow Olivia to discover the origin of life and learn something new as you travel along.