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Theory and Practice in Language Policy: The Case of Uganda

R Mukama


The team that carried out the Survey of Language Use and Language Teaching in Eastern Africa (with specific reference to Uganda) was non-committal on stating the number of languages there are in Uganda. In the end, they mentioned 63 languages/dialects which fall into 5 groups based on broad lexical and grammatical affinity. The 5 groups in turn came under 3 language families: Bantu, Sudanic and Nilotic. Bolder estimations put the number to 30 distinct languages. (Ladefoged, Glick, Criper 1971:16, 83). If we add English and Kiswahili, the number comes to 32 languages. Uganda is therefore a multilingual country, with approximately 32 languages. It is , however, very easy to discern three powerful languages fighting for influence: English, Luganda and Kiswahili. Nevertheless, the language policy statements have never failed to make reference to other indigenous languages.

Three years after independence, Uganda acquired a language policy in education when, in 1965, it adopted the Castle Report of 1963 which made a number of recommendations. First, six Ugandan languages were to be used as mediums of instruction iin the primary schools: Luganda, Akarimojong/Ateso, Lugbara, Luo, Runyoro/Rutooro and Runyankole/Rukiga. Secondly, children were to be taught in their own language in the early years of school. Thirdly, English was to be introduced as a subject in primary 1 and continue as a subject for all seven years of primary school. In Primary IV Mathematics and Physical Education were to be taught through the medium of English. Then English as a medium of instruction would be gradually extended to Science, Geography, Art, Crafts and Music in the fifth year, and in the sixth and seventh year all subjects would be taught in English. (Ladefoged, et al., 1971:96)

             With such an elaborate policy statement, one would assume that the implementation of the stated decisions would be assured and would be equally elaborate; but was it? The main aim of this paper is to analyse the relationship between language policy theorizing and implementation in Uganda since independence. To appreciate the processes at play in policy formulation better, we set out by clarifying the duality between the notions of language Policy and Language Planning. Further, as already mooted above, historical factors as well as language policy have nurtured three languages which are continually vying for influence both in the system of education and in mass communication. We examine the position of each of these languages in the context of language policy and planning in the Ugandan polity. The role of the other ‘minority’ indigenous languages must also not be underrated and overlooked. The salient deterrents to the implementation of language policy decisions are also outlined and discussed. Finally, propositions for the way forward are offered.

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