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Title: Language, Technology and Democratic Culture
Author: Bukar Usman
Publisher: Klamidas Books, Abuja
Reviewer: Henry Akubuiro
Aside his solitary engagement as a writer and folklorist since his retirement from the presidency as a permanent secretary, Dr. Bukar Usman functions as a public intellectual, presenting papers at intellectual fora within and outside the country. He exudes a latitude that enables him to levitate across frontiers of knowledge: from governance, history, literature, education to culture. But, how does he preserve his views and make them available to a wider audience? Usman has found the right answer.
The book, Language, Technology and Democratic Culture, is one of the products of his cerebral fecundity. The book is a collation of two papers presented at the International Conference on Languages held at the College of Education, Zuba, FCT Abuja, in October 2015, and another presented in June 2016 at the International Colloquium on Cultural Diversity and National Identity in Abdou Moumouni University, Niamey, Niger Republic.
Though the two papers have dissimilar contents, they have a similar thread in language and culture. While the first paper is entitled “Language, Technology and Democratic Culture”, the latter is entitled “Cultural Diversity and National Identity”, little wonder the book is dedicated to mothers and language teachers for their pivotal roles in language transmission. Each paper is preceded by readers’ responses to the wanderings of Usman’s nous. Such feedbacks serve as veritable intercourse in the communication chain.
In the first article “Language, Technology and Democratic Culture”, the author points out that language is a conveyor of meaning in any facet of life. Hence, technology and the democratic process communicate meaning through vehicle of language.
He writes: “It is difficult to advance to advance technology and democracy without a corresponding advancement of language, indeed, without language, there will be no social understanding and, therefore, no stable environment within which technological innovation and democratic process can take place.
“It takes language to aggregate and express group interests, negotiate political stakes and express political choices. It takes technology to advance these goals. In this country, we have experienced the deployment of technological gadgets in affecting biometric capture of eligible voters and in the degitalisation of the voting and collation processes, among several other technological enhancements” (p.14).
Usman is concerned, in this paper, that scientific or technological development cannot be attained by a people who have not developed linguistically. The failure of many African countries to enhance the robust development of their local languages to make them more effective tools for technological development and wealth-generation has led such countries to failure and stagnation in many years.
Thus, the author canvases the need to sustain our languages, for it is only when a language is in existence that one can relate it to technology, democracy and other cultural expressions. An indigene of Biu in Borno State, Usman calls for urgent action to save his native Bura language and other threatened minority languages of Nigeria.
To use language to drive technology, the book argues that technology must be acquired or domesticated through acceptable integration of Nigerian languages. These languages, especially Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba, he says, have been adopted by Microsoft, in conjunction with African languages Technology Initiative, Ibadan, to produce a translation of most computer terminologies in them.
The first part of this book also shows the relation between culture and technology, as well as language and human rights. It also discusses language and learning, language education policy, National Language Policy, as well as language issues in globalisation.
“Cultural Diversity and National Identity”, the second paper in the book, argues that technology is going to have a far-reaching impact on the ways and means of doing things irrespective of diversity in culture and nationalism.
Although the forces of globalisation will be irresistible, the paper contends that globalisation in terms of complete obliteration of national identities is highly unlikely, though the growing migration of people poses new challenges requiring new tools of managing communal relations, and provisions of welfare as guarantee for law and order, peace and security worldwide.
Against the backdrop of the colonial partitioning of African and its ambiguous legacy, which lefts many parts of Africa and the world imbibing alien languages and culture, Usman notes that language and religion have created restrictions in movements and misunderstandings.
Group interests, the paper points out, would continue to challenge forces of integration, globalisation and universality. With the onset of globalisation in the form of civilisation, we get to learn that traditional nation-states have been placed under enormous pressures.
The second paper breaks down the issue of diversity, human development and access to opportunities, just as it highlights the imperative of intercultural interaction. The author’s conclusion is that peace promotes development, and development, particularly technological development, erodes diversity. Researchers in the area of language, culture, and globalisation will find this book useful as it sets the tone on modern discourse on this evolving trend.