Linguistics is the scientific study of the origin, structure and changes of a language that occur in the languages over a period of time. Languages do change in vocabulary and grammar over periods of time. Such changes can tell the historian about the adoption of new ideas by people. Some languages, when studied closely relate to the other (Ga and Adangbe; Wali and Dagari; Ewe and Fon; Fante and Bono; and Dagomba and Mossi etc.). One could project that those languages may have developed from one single parent language. The comparative study of such related languages can provide useful information.
MERITS/ADVANTAGES OF LINGUISTICS
Linguistics study has several advantages and importance in the reconstruction of African history.
- Origin of ethnic group: Linguistics helps us to trace the origin of people and peopling of places e.g. Ewe, Akan, Bantu etc. Studies conducted by one linguist J.H.Greenberg into the origin of the Bantu and other West African languages have helped to arrive at the conclusion that the then Bantu speakers dispersed throughout the eastern and southern Africa originate from the Nigerian-Cameroon border region.
- Confirmation of Origin: Linguistic studies can help confirm or question stories of origin e.g. Ewe as against Ga stories of origin from east of Ghana. In reconstructing Africa’s history, linguistics has confirmed the established facts that Ewes once stayed with the Yoruba at Ketu, Benin and Togo before settling in Ghana. This can be found in the language of Ewe speakers in the West African countries.
- Identification of ethnic groups: Linguistics helps in identifying people into ethnic groups e.g. Ewe, Akan, Ga-Adange etc. indeed language plays very key role in identifying a group of people. For instance, it is the Ewe people that speak the Ewe language; also Twi is spoken by the Asantes.
- Borrowing of words: Linguistics again helps to throw light on the relationships that have existed between peoples e.g. existence of common words would point to exchanges between people otherwise not related. Also, a good example is the Akan words for political and other affairs in the Ga language, and words of Mande origin in Twi and other West African languages.
- Foreign influence: Furthermore, linguistics enlightens us on the influences that have come to people from outside, e.g. the existence of Portuguese words in Ghanaian languages like paano (bread), bokiti (bucket), asopatre (slippers), krataa (paper) and prete (plate).
- New ideas: Linguistics helps us to show the adoption of new ideas by people with changes in vocabulary and grammar. The changes that occur in languages can be studied to tell whether there has been an adoption of new ideas and general historical developments. Example, Akan words in Ga language like ‘anokwaley’, ‘abotaley’ etc.
- Emergence from the same source: Linguistic studies of the Bantu and West African languages have established that the ancestors of modern Bantu speakers originated from the Nigeria-Cameroon border area. The study of related languages may show that they emerged from the same source, probably a proto-language called ‘Kwa’.
- Related languages: Through the study of linguistics, historians can establish whether speakers of closely-related languages have a common root e.g. Ga and Adangbe,Wali and Dagari; Ewe and Fon; Fante and Bono; and Dagomba and Mossi. Professor Abena Dolphyne of the University of Ghana has studied Akan languages of the Asante, Fante and Bono. She concluded that the Bono language is more related to the Fante language than any of the two of the Asante language. This is confirmed by the oral tradition of the Fante that they stayed aTakyiman before moving to their present home.
DEMERTIS/LIMITATIONS OF LINGUISTICS
Difficult to study: It is difficult to study and analyze a particular language if the researcher does not have fore knowledge about it. Linguistics is such a complex study that there is very little unanimity or agreement among even the linguists themselves on their conclusions.
Changes may not help: Linguistics cannot clearly point out changes in language over a period of time. This can lead to misrepresentation, loss or distortion of reality in history, thus making it very difficult to know the true origins or events needed by the writer.
Less developed in Africa: Linguistics fell short in reconstruction of African history, because as a discipline it is less developed in Africa. Hence, it does not contribute very much like other sources in the writing of African history.That notwithstanding, in recent times, linguists in USA and elsewhere are researching on African history.
Rely on other sources: Linguistics in most cases, the historian has to largely rely on the other sources for validation and collaboration of information obtained.
Coincidence in word usage: Some conclusions drawn by linguists based on words similarities may be sheer coincidence. In such cases, finding conclusive evidence remains difficult.