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REMARKS BY THE VICE-CHANCELLOR OF THE UNIVERSITY OF MALAWI PROFESSOR JOHN D. KALENGA SAKA DURING THE LAUNCH OF THE BOOK “THE PHONOLOGY OF CHICHEWA” CO-AUTHORED BY PROF. LAURA DOWNING AND PROF. AL MTENJE.


12 September, 2017

The Chairman of University of Malawi Council, Dr. James Maida; Prof. Al Mtenje, Pro Vice-Chancellor, and co-author of the Phonology of
Chichewa Book;
Members of the family;
The Deputy Vice-Chancellor Designate for LUANAR, Prof. Lewis Dzimbiri;
The Principal of Chancellor College, Prof Richard Tambulasi;
The Principal of the Polytechnic, Prof. Grant Kululanga;
Professors, Deans of Faculty and Heads of Department, and all other Members of Staff;
Members of the media, and Ladies and gentlemen

It is a great delight to come and join in this important academic function- launch of a key scholarly output The Phonology of Chichewa. This book is a key output of the long-term partnership between two academics from Malawi and Sweden. We should all therefore celebrate this output. Congratulations to the two are in order. What we witness today is consistent with UNIMA Strategic Plan (2012-17) Pillar 2: Research, Outreach and Community Engagement and core value-responsiveness and equally to the three Pillars in the National Education Sector Plan. The approved University Research and Consultancy Policy concretises this direction.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the reputation of any university is largely determined by the quality of its leadership in research, which addresses problems facing a given society. Through research, evidence is generated to improve the quality of life of societies.Unless research results are packaged appropriately according to user needs and disseminated, new knowledge cannot inform the improvement of communities and societies. It is therefore very important that research outputs are made available to the key stakeholders who have a central role in shaping the quality of human life. The launch of the book today addresses that need.

The role of language in national development has for a long time not been fully appreciated. In most cases, issues of language are regarded as peripheral to national development priority areas. Disciplines in or related to Science and Technology are normally considered as central to development and yet, we all use language in our everyday lives and thus cannot do without it. For African languages, the situation has been exacerbated by the long history of colonial domination which has left most African elites with negative attitudes towards their languages and a conviction that these (the languages) are inferior to those that have been colonially-inherited like English, French, Portuguese, Spanish etc. However, research, world-wide, has shown that no country has developed while using a foreign language.

The African renaissance is giving more value to their cultures, languages and indigenous knowledge systems as vehicles for the continent’s transformation. Renown Africans, such as the former South African President Thabo Mbeki and other thought leaders have contributed to the enhancement of this intellectual agenda.

As far as African languages are concerned, there has been a realization.The African Heads of State and Governments have realized that the Africa 2063 Development Agenda, will only be meaningful if African languages are developed and empowered to the level where they can function alongside former colonial languages, as tools for development. This is particularly pertinent when one realizes that the majority of Africans do not have access to these foreign languages.Consequently, in 2006, African Heads of State and Governments established The African Academy of Languages (ACALAN) at their Summit in Khartoum as a specialized organ of the AU whose mandate is to oversee the development and promotion of African languages on the continent.

One key strategy for achieving this is through what is called the “Valorization” of African languages (adding value to them) so that they can be used in the same domains as European languages. This process involves “intellectualizing” African languages by, among other things, ensuring that they are used and studied even at the university level. This is where research and publication on these languages becomes crucial. It is a growing trend that many African languages are now studied and researched on, even at the PhD level, by many leading Linguistics scholars particularly in Europe and North America. This includes Chichewa, which is one of the most well-researched African languages by Linguists world-wide. In the 70s and 80s, we had the Department of Chichewa and Linguistics which is known by a more inclusive name. The National Cultural Policy of 2016 promotes the conservation and value addition to our culture including languages.


“The job of the linguist, like that of the biologist or the botanist, is not to tell us how nature should behave, or what its creations should look like, but to describe those creations in all their messy glory and try to figure out what they can teach us about life, the world, and, especially in the case of linguistics, the workings of the human mind.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, the publication of the “PHONOLOGY OF CHICHEWA” by Oxford University Press represents a continuation of efforts to intellectualize African languages, a process which will help traditional speakers and others to better understand the structure, complexity and value of these languages as tools of communication and hence, the development of African societies. This book is expected to and should contribute to the academic growth of Linguistics and other language-related academic programs and research in the University of Malawi and Africa since it will serve as a readily available resource for students and other interested scholars. It is my sincere hope that departments such as African Languages and Linguistics, English, Classics, French, Language and Communication in UNIMA (and in the new form) and other public and private universitieswill include this publication among the recommended reading texts in their programs. The publication is expected to mitigate current shortage of teaching and learning resources being experienced by our University, and others.

At this stage, I wish to call uponmore members of staff to publish books to further domesticate knowledge and making it more contextually relevant to our African environment. This call also applies to those of us in senior management positionsbecause as we have seen today, one can combine management with scholarship provided time is properly managed/or utilized.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I wish to thank:

  1. The authors for bringing us together;
  2. The Book Launch organisers for a wonderful event;
  3. The Media for supporting this achievement giving greater publicity, all colleagues who sent congratulatory messages to Prof. Al Mtenje, and
  4. All invited guests for coming and participating in the Launch, your presence inspires us to continue implementing research for the socio-economic development of Malawi and the world.

Once again, Congratulations to the two for this academic output.

It is now my singular honour to declare THE PHONOLOGY OF CHICHEWA officially launched.

God bless the University of Malawi God bless Malawi