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Africa Policy Journal

Topic / Gender, Race and Identity

Harvard Professor Champions Promotion of African Languages Through AI

The launching of Chat GPT by Open AI has sparked a heated debate about the future of language. Chat GPT is an AI-driven powered chatbot that allows people to have human-like conversations. 

In an exclusive interview with the Editor-in-Chief of the African Policy Journal (APJ), Muhammad Jameel Yusha’u, John Mugane, Professor of the Practice of African Languages and Cultures at Harvard University, urged African countries to embrace the opportunities offered by artificial intelligence, particularly in promoting indigenous languages.

Mugane encouraged African countries to see the continent’s multilingualism as an advantage rather than a hindrance to its development. Despite linguistic differences, African people have been communicating and prospering for centuries. 

The influence of colonial languages such as English, French, and Portuguese should not overshadow the effectiveness of indigenous African languages, he said.

For Mugane, language is a crucial instrument of knowledge production, and African universities should take the teaching of indigenous languages seriously. 

He even suggested that they consider developing subjects such as physics in indigenous African languages.

He added that it is limiting to consider languages means of communication alone. They can also serve as powerful tools for intellectual discourse, knowledge production and innovation. 

Watch the full interview below.