Language Development

An overview

Meeting with community leaders

In partnership with other organisations, GILLBT works with local communities and churches on the principle that language development should always involve the language group to achieve their goals as a community. By ‘language development’, we mean extending the use of languages that only exist orally to other forms and contexts.

GILLBT has contributed to the development of 34 Ghanaian languages, providing the University of Ghana and the country with phonologies, grammars, dictionaries and other anthropological materials on these languages. Through its academic output to the University of Ghana, GILLBT is the largest contributor to the documentation and analyses of Ghana’s minority languages. To see a list of our language projects click here.

Our Language Project Office is comprised of the Translation department, Literacy and Development, Anthropology, Scripture Use and the Project Funding office.

Developing an alphabet

To produce accurate, natural-sounding books and other materials, development of a written form of the language requires careful scientific study to determine:

•    significant sounds of the language (the phonology) for an alphabet

•    structures of words and sentences (grammar) for spelling and punctuation

•    meaning and usages of words and idioms (semantics) and larger speech segments (discourse structure).

Producing reading materials

After establishing the written form, we further develop the language by producing printed versions of stories, history and information on various subjects that had only been oral. We make trial editions of these materials to ensure the written form is practical by getting feedback from ordinary people in the community.

Promoting literacy

GILLBT then extends the use of the language by encouraging people to learn how to read and write. In collaboration with the language communities, we identify the best approach. Often this will be adult education classes (night school), especially in areas where literacy levels are generally low. On the other hand, we also promote mother-tongue literacy among people literate in another language. Many communities also prefer their mother-tongue to be the initial medium of instruction in formal schools, as this is considered necessary to acquire literacy skills applicable to learning English. In these ways, the written language becomes a medium for both formal and non-formal education.

Taking language development forward

Production of literature such as dictionaries, grammars, literacy materials, folktales, books on health and mother-tongue Scriptures is part of language development. At this stage, the language is considered ‘literary’. Development at this level can help preserve the community’s traditions, history, and values; as well as serving them in times of social, cultural, political, economic and spiritual change. This enables other types of development since all types of information can be translated into the language and distributed in printed form.