African Studies, Essays, Publications

The social and philosophical function of language

Relationship between language and thought

African languages convey African thoughts and worldview. It recognizes that African linguistic expressions are meaningful, thoughtful, intentional and relational. This relation is precisely with Desein (Heidegger, 1965). The question of the relationship between language and thought has for a very long time remained a philosophical question. The absurdities to which a simplistic understanding of this relationship leads every philosopher nowhere more evident than in the linguistic articulation of Kagame There seem to be some relationship between the form of a language and the modes of thought of its speakers, but this can hardly be taken to mean that a language is a prototype of a philosophical system, or that the structure of a language represents the structure of African philosophy. The Mexican, Chinese, Greek, Native Americans, Indians, Japanese, Jewish have a class system for all the nouns whereas; the Ibos, Bantus, French, German, and the Romans have a gender system. All these languages have cultural significance. Their significance can be expressed philosophically. Okere (1983) postulated that if to each language there was a corresponding philosophical system, it would be impossible to conceive two distinct and much less two opposed philosophies in one language and there would be no difference between Thales and Plato-Aristotle and Parmenides. Cultural and linguistic comparism does not of course refuse all validity to the thesis of linguists who have drawn attention to the close relationship between language and thought (Whorf, 1956). Due to the close relationship between language and thought, linguistic researchers admit that language seems to affect culture and thought at some level but there is enough material yet to help determine precisely how. In most cases, speaking of philosophical and metaphysical thought as somehow predetermined linguistically is really to indulge in baseless and fruitless rationalization. Fruitless rationalization leads man no where. In this sense man cannot even communicate what he has reflected. African philosophy must have something to do with its culture, tribe, its concept of time expressed linguistically. In his work “New Testament Eschatology in an African background, Mbiti formulated cogent arguments that prove that Africans have two-dimensional concept of time, an indefinite past and an intensely active present. African eschatological concepts are “eschatological” in the strict sense since they are directed towards the end in the opposite direction. They lack a telos; they are eschatological but not teleological.

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