For most of my life, I have straddled this reckless line of never being African enough and also never being Arab enough. As a Libyan, I have been told I break the mold of who should be an Arab and cannot be placed in one of the countries in the Levant, Machrek and Maghreb regions. The cultural rule of thumb is: if you speak Arabic and you don’t belong to one of those countries then you are not a “true” Arab speaker.
Language is an integral element of our identities. It serves as an embodiment of our communities, our heritage, and oftentimes, our history. Our words can be used to express our deepest truths, but the dialect that we speak them in can reveal hidden stories that we may have been completely unaware of.
As I walked through the streets of Dakar in Sénégal, I heard the whispers of Wolof all around me: Na nga def, mangi fi rekk, toubab. The words all blended together to my untrained ears. As a foreigner, I’d wrongfully expected to hear French, since Sénégal is a former colony of France. I later appreciated that the local language of the Wolof people was thriving here, unerased by the forces of colonization.
Many linguists describe communication in most African regions as being heavily oral. Historically, many stories have been passed down through word of mouth. But what happens when you do not speak with words, or listen with your ears? Different types of communication within African cultures are rarely discussed. What is not widely known is that African regions have a long …
Yoruba is a language that exists entirely in the realm of my grandmother’s house, and here, in this church, where it is mine and ours, where I finally feel like a part of something.
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