The Meaning of Development

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“Language is an emblem that switches an individual from misery to plenty, from backwardness to progress and from backwaters to the centre of life” (Hurskainen, 2002:22)


This section of the study discusses how language can facilitate development. The objective is to demonstrate that there is a close relationship between language and development and that meaningful development cannot take place where linguistic barriers exist. It is further argued in this section that the present situation in most African countries particularly Southern Africa, slows down development since the parties involved in the development process cannot interact effectively. Through language, one begins to understand the idiosyncrasies of a people and their culture. Stripped of their language, a people cannot reach their full cultural and intellectual self-actualization. Language is therefore an important tool that people can use in grappling with concepts and ideas in their quest to improve their conditions.
The questioning of the usage of African languages in social intercourse at all levels of activity in Africa has become a hotly debated issue. Throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, the use of European languages of the former colonial masters is increasingly coming under serious and close scrutiny in as far as they enhance or arrest the processes of education, literacy, mass communication and development in Africa. European languages in Africa have tended to be associated with the elite and have so far failed to reach the rural population and urban underclass in any structurally coherent or scientifically viable form.
An understanding of the role of African languages in development should begin with a definition of the concept of development that all parties concerned can agree on. Development in Africa can never be achieved without serious considerations of the role of African languages. The Dutch scholar Hilbert Kuik cited in Prah (1993:16) aptly expresses absence of serious considerations of the role of African languages in African development saying that when people speak of developing countries, they immediately think of economic backwardness.


The term “development” is an elusive term meaning different-things to different groups of social scientists. Economic development is defined as changes in the use of resources that result in potentially continuing growth of national income per head in a society with increasing or stable population (Machlup, 1967). On the other hand, Goutlet (1971:23) defines underdevelopment as “…a sense of personal and societal impotence in the face of disease and death, of confusion and ignorance as one gropes to understand change” Because the term may mean different things to different people, it is important at the outset that some working definition or core perspective on its meaning is provided. Without such a perspective and some agreed on measurement criteria, it would be difficult to meaningfully discuss the relationship between language and development in this section.
The notion of development, which currently for obvious reasons is an overriding concern for African societies, is closely tied up with culture. The general contemporary discourse on African development has tended to overemphasize concerns with Gross National Product, Gross Domestic Product and Per Capita figures at the expense of non-economic criteria. If culture is scientifically conceived as the basis of all social activity, encompassing the economic, political, historical and psychological dimensions of human existence, it is then understandable that development cannot be properly conceptualized on essentially economic indices alone. Development must be reflected in all areas of human activity and its manifestation in the economy must be reflected in the other facets of social life, language included. While development planning and implementation may have in a specific instance an economic thrust or point of focus, its ultimate destination and impact is certainly wider and affects all areas including the social and cultural life of a society (Prah, 1993:21). In any case, few will deny the fact that economic advancement in itself cannot be understood to constitute societal advancement if it is not translated into quality of life and overall culture of a society. In other words, economic progress in society must manifest itself or rather is supposed to manifest itself in the upliftment of the human condition. Kokora is perfectly justified in regarding the collective participation of the largest majority as a reliable indicator of development when he says:
A nation is considered to be developed when the vast majority of its inhabitants are offered the opportunity to take part in the development activities and also given the possibility of benefiting from the end products of the development process (Kokora cited in Silue, 2000:9).
The use of indigenous languages in Africa and elsewhere in the Third World must also be seen as a process, which empowers the masses, by giving them a voice in society and a window on to the wider world.
Development thinking in Africa in particular has been largely influenced by perspectives and models from Europe, which view development in the context of the catching up, trickle – down and modernization theories or westernization (Harrison, 1980; Verhelst, 1989; Makuvaza, 1998). These theories largely maintain that the underdeveloped nations display backwardness in comparison with the rich countries.
The poor countries need to go through the same stages of development as the rich ones. Implied in the theories is the view that the North has reached the zenith of development, hence Makuvaza argues that:
What can further be deduced from the perspective is that development is unachievable, systematically elusive and a mirage for the not-yet developed countries. Unachievable (sic) because, as the South struggles to catch up, the North continues to advance (Makuvaza, 1998:40).
Some popular beliefs about development and underdevelopment are in actual fact stereotypes and assumptions about Zimbabwean cultures, which originate in colonial history. These imperial myths are part of a wider process of keeping indigenous people and their cultures in acquiescent positions. They are generated to camouflage unfair social, economic and political practices (Chiwome and Gambahaya, 1998:100). These myths stemming from outside the African community are handed down to the people at the grassroots through state institutions. It is therefore useful and necessary to take a wider look at development and some of its key constructs, since it cannot be limited in scope to economic aspects of life.
It has often been pointed out that development is a loaded construct that connotes economic indices in the first instance, followed by conformity with “modernization” and its characteristics such as universalism, centralization, and emphasis on individual achievement, scientific knowledge and technological progress (Harlech – Jones, 2001:28). Regrettably, national development cannot be limited in scope to socio – economic development. A wider and more satisfactory conception of national development is that which sees it as total human development. In this model of development, the emphasis is on a full realization of the human potential and a maximum utilization of the nation’s resources for the benefit of all.
Ansre (1971:18) argues that national development comprises of four elements namely: economic development, politico-judicial development, intellectual and educational development. In all these, he claims that the role of language is crucial. A minority official language at its best will only produce a wealthy few whilst on the other hand; a language shared by many should ensure greater productivity and fairer distribution. Law for example, can only be just and meaningful if the language in which it is couched is accessible to all. Development, whether socio-cultural, intellectual or educational, needs to have its roots in the language of the community.
However, some scholars continue to view development as an economic phenomenon. Todaro and Smith (2003:85) define development in strictly economic terms as the capacity of a national economy to generate and sustain an actual increase in its Gross National Product (GNP) at rates of perhaps 5% to 7% or more. But the experience of the late twentieth century, when many developing nations did realize their economic growth targets, but the levels of living of the masses of people remained for the most part unchanged, signaled that something was very wrong with this narrow definition of development.
During the 1970s, development came to be redefined in terms of the reduction or elimination of poverty, inequality and unemployment within the context of a growing economy. The usual questions to ask about a country’s development are the following:

  • What has been happening to poverty?
  • What has been happening to inequality?
  • What has been happening to unemployment? (Seers, 1999:3)
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If all three of these have declined, from high levels, then beyond doubt, this has been a period of development for the country concerned. If one or two of these central problems have been growing worse, especially if all three have, it would be strange to call the result development even if Per Capita Income doubled.
The World Bank took a broader perspective of the term development when in its 1999 World Development Report, it stated that development should be perceived as a multidimensional process involving major changes in social structures, popular attitudes and national institutions as well as the acceleration of economic growth, the reduction of inequality and the eradication of poverty. In essence, it must represent the whole gamut of change, an entire social system and desires of individuals and social groups within that system. It must move away from a condition of life widely perceived as unsatisfactory toward a situation or conditions of life regarded as materially and spiritually better (Todaro and Smith, 2003:116). Economic growth cannot be sensibly treated as an end in itself, thus development according to Sen (1999:27) has to be more concerned with enhancing the lives we lead and the freedoms we enjoy. He further argues that values such as, being adequately nourished, being free from avoidable disease being able to take part in the life of the community and having self-respect are basic elementary components of development.
Development implies change and the concept of development usually, is used to describe the process of economic and social transformation within a country. Goutlet (1971:8) outlines three basic components or core values in this wider meaning of development. These are life-sustenance, self-esteem and freedom. Life-sustenance is concerned with the provision of basic needs, thus no country can be regarded as fully developed if it cannot provide its entire population with such basics needs as housing, clothing, food and minimal education (Thirlwall, 1994:20). The major objective of development is therefore to raise people out of primary poverty and to provide basic needs simultaneously. The second basic component, self-esteem, is concerned with the feeling of self-respect and independence. No country can be regarded as fully developed if others exploit it and does not have the power and influence to conduct relations on equal terms. The third component, freedom refers to freedom from the three evils of want, ignorance and squalor so that people are more able to determine their own destiny. No human being is free if he/she cannot choose and if also he/she is imprisoned by living on the margin of subsistence with no education and no skills (ibid).

1.1 The Problem
1.2 Background
1.3 Rationale
1.4 Study Objectives
1.5 Scope of the Study
1.6 Research Questions
1.7 Research Design and Methodology
1.8 Literature Review and Theoretical Framework
1.9 Definition of Terms
1.10 Structure of the Thesis
1.11 Conclusion
2.1 Introduction
2.2 The Meaning of Development
2.3 The Role of African Languages in Development
2.4 Language and Education
2.5 Conclusion
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Language Policy in a Wider African Context
3.3 The Linguistic Situation in Zimbabwe
3.4 Education and Language Policies in Colonial Rhodesia
3.5 Language Policy in Post-Colonial Zimbabwe
3.6 Conclusion
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Key Findings
4.3 Conclusion
5.1 Introduction
5.2 Language as a basic human right
5.3 Mother tongue medium education
5.4 Attitude problems
5.5 English hegemony
5.6 Promoting the use of indigenous African languages in Zimbabwe
5.7 Quest and impediments in the use of African languages
5.8 Conclusion
6.1 Introduction
6.2 Summary of findings
6.3 Conclusion
6.4 Recommendations.

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