Most of the about 2,000 languages in Africa are spoken in small, remote communities. “This extraordinary language diversity is one of Africa’s unique intellectual treasures,” says Matthias Brenzinger, director of the Centre for African Language Diversity (CALDi) at the University of Cape Town. These communities are the least affected by global concepts. Many of them retain their own worldviews and approaches to life, reflected in their languages. But in many cases, these languages are no longer acquired by their children and are therefore destined to vanish. Concerned about the risk of language extinction, Brenzinger’s research over 40 years has focused on the documentation and revitalisation of endangered or near-extinct languages in Africa. He has climbed mountains and crossed deserts to spend time with remote communities to understand their daily lives, languages and thoughts better. In the early 1980s, he travelled to the Usambara Mountains of Tanzania to learn more about Ma’a, ...

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