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  News & Views

Naming the American Universities With the Most Extensive Course Offerings in African Languages

JBHE research concludes that among the nation's highest-ranked colleges and universities, the University of Pennsylvania, Yale University, and the University of California at Los Angeles have the most extensive curriculum offerings in African languages. Harvard is playing catch-up ball.

This past year there was widespread publicity surrounding the departure of Lawrence Bobo and Marcyliena Morgan from the African and African-American studies department at Harvard. The pair took teaching positions at Stanford University. Most commentators agree that this was a major blow to the prestige of the Harvard department. But what went almost unnoticed in the press was the concurrent effort by department chair Henry Louis Gates Jr. to establish a formidable program in African language studies.

To lead the effort, Professor Gates brought in John M. Mugane from Ohio University. A native of Kenya, Professor Mugane holds master's degrees in international affairs and linguistics from Ohio University and a Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Arizona.

The new African language program at Harvard enables students to take introductory and advanced courses in Swahili, Igbo, Yoruba, Zulu, and the Kenyan language of Kikuyu. Other courses are offered in Kamba, Oromo, Kikongo, Bamana, Krio, Twi, Oshiwambo, Malagasi, and Shona.

Elsewhere in the Ivy League, African language programs are well established, particularly at Yale and the University of Pennsylvania. JBHE estimates that these two Ivy League institutions are among the nation's leaders in African language studies.

At Yale, regular courses are offered in Swahili, Twi, Yoruba, and Zulu. Introductory, intermediate, and advanced courses are available at Yale in all four languages. In addition to these standard courses, tutorials are offered in 11 other African languages.

The University of Pennsylvania appears to have the most extensive course offerings in African languages of any college or university in the United States. In the Spring 2004 semester, 10 instructors at Penn offered 19 courses in eight different African languages. These courses included advanced studies in Amharic, Swahili, Yoruba, and Igbo.

Among the other Ivy League colleges, Princeton, Columbia, and Cornell offer courses in Swahili. Princeton offers a four-term introductory and intermediate level of study in Swahili which fulfills a student's language requirement. Brown and Dartmouth do not offer courses in Swahili.

The University of California at Los Angeles also offers an extensive list of courses in African languages.The department of linguistics has courses in Swahili and seven other African languages.

At Duke University there is a department of Asian and African Languages. But the title is a misnomer. There are courses in Arabic, Chinese, Hebrew, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, and Persian. But there are no courses in languages spoken in sub-Saharan Africa.

African Language Programs at Top Liberal
Arts Colleges and at the Black Colleges

At the nation's highest-ranked universities, courses in Swahili are also offered at Stanford, Northwestern, Washington University, the University of Chicago, Berkeley, George-town, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Even science-oriented universities such as Johns Hopkins and MIT offer courses in Swahili.

Among the nation's high-ranking liberal arts colleges, courses in Swahili are offered at Williams College, Wesleyan University, Grinnell College, and Bryn Mawr College. Grinnell also has a course in Kiswahili. Several other top-ranked liberal arts colleges, including Vassar and Davidson, have self-instructional courses in African languages.

A number of the nation's historically black colleges and universities also have courses in Swahili and other African languages. At Morgan State University, students are able to minor in Swahili and also take courses in the Wolof language. A minor in Swahili is also offered at Delaware State University. There students can also minor in Kiswahili. Howard University has courses in Swahili and Yoruba. Swahili courses are also among the curriculum at Morehouse College, Lincoln University of Pennsylvania, and Norfolk State University.

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