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July 28, 2003
African languages abound on campus
By Jennifer R. Cochran

Stroll along the brick walkways of Ohio University's campus this summer and you might hear something other than traffic, birdsong and conversation. You might also hear students trying out their new vocabulary in Twi, the language spoken by the Ashanti people of Ghana. Turn the corner and you might catch the end of a conversation in Yoruba, one of the major languages of Nigeria.

Nearly 60 students from across the country have come to Ohio University to study African languages as part of the Summer Cooperative African Language Institute (SCALI), the largest African language institute in the country.

Students are engaged in the study of 13 languages at SCALI. They spend four hours in class each day. The intensive seven-week institute provides the equivalent of one year of language instruction with exposure to the culture and traditions associated with the chosen language.

Caitlin Blaser, who will be a senior next year at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, has come to Ohio University for the summer to intern for the Institute for the African Child and study Somali through SCALI.

"I wanted to find a summer program that would allow me to study Somali in preparation for future study and work in sub-Saharan Africa," Blaser says. "I've been teaching in the Somali bilingual program in Boston for two years and I'm excited about being able to use my newly acquired language skills when I go back."

A master's student in Ohio University's African Studies Program, Chris Fournier, is a foreign affairs officer in the United States Army studying Swahili, a language he hopes to use in a posting in an American embassy in Eastern Africa.

He praised instructor Peter Otiato, whom he described as, "very enthusiastic and energetic, a great Mwalimu (teacher) who has the ability to tailor the course to the interests of those involved." Fournier adds, "The wide range of students from other universities pursuing different degrees provides a unique perspective of the target language and the cultures and countries it encompasses."

Instructors have come to Ohio University from universities across the country and the African continent to teach Akan/Twi, Amharic, Bamana, Lingala, Pulaar, Shona, Somali, Swahili, Tigrinya, Wolof, Xhosa, Yoruba and Zulu. These instructors hail from the Congo, Eritrea, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

SCALI is funded by the U.S. Department of Education and offered collaboratively by the Title VI National Resource Centers for African Language and Area Studies. SCALI sponsors at Ohio University are the African Studies Program, the Center for International Studies and the Department of Linguistics.

Jennifer R. Cochran is the assistant director of communications and graduate programming for the Center for International Studies


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