Bilingualism in Albert Schweitzer’s Works and is Relevance for Africa

  • Julius M. Gathogo Kenyatta University
Keywords: Bilingualism, reconstruction, renaissance, assimilation policy, acculturation, reformulation of language policy in Africa


Through the use of historico-analytical design and an extensive review of literature, the article sets out to demonstrate Albert Schweitzer’s bilingualism and how it stirs the language policy debate in twenty-first century Africa. Despite coming from a region of which 92 per cent of the population spoke German, Schweitzer was both a German and a French scholar. Why did he choose to settle in Gabon, a French-speaking colony, even though there were historical rivalries between Germany and France? Why did he choose to go to Africa as a missionary under the auspices of the Paris Missionary Society? And why did he communicate his theo-social and theo-philosophical discourses in both German and French? Was his bilingualism a product of colonial domination, assimilation, acculturation, and/or cultural diffusion? Did the 26 constituent territories that formed the German empire have a common language? Did Otto von Bismarck’s politics, which culminated in the German unification of 1871, affect Schweitzer’s use of language? Did the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71 do so? Was Alsace-Lorraine affected by the French assimilation policy? And can his bilingualism inform Africa in light of Jesse Mugambi’s recommendation regarding a reformulated language policy? Bilingualism undoubtedly has a number of cognitive benefits over monolingualism, as each of the languages has an influence on the function of the other. Equally undoubtedly, the choice of language is critical in any academic or social discourse, as it is the vehicle for communicating people’s cultures, fears, hopes, norms, etiquette, and aspirations. It is not out of conjecture that the renowned novelist, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, argues that a renaissance of African languages is an essential step in the restoration of African wholeness. Indeed, while language use is influenced by the environmental factors around us, it is vital to modify it depending on the situation and/or context.


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