Global Missiology English, Vol 2, No 14 (2017)

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An ‘Impact Model’ of Language, Mission and Development in East Africa

Harries Jim


A re-examination of communication theory in this article reveals that coding / decoding models of understanding of language widespread in missiological literature have been misleading. Because they always meet and are affected by contexts, the author suggests that words are more helpfully understood as having ‘impacts’ than ‘meanings’. This is illustrated by comparison with ‘touching’ someone’s body. As ‘meaning’ is not found in the hand that touches, but in the meeting of a hand with a part of a body (a handshake as against a thump or a tickle for example) such is the impact of words on the mind. The problems of the use of English in East Africa are explored from colonial times up to today. Leaving power in English was an embarrassment to Britain. This has had a major impact on East African society. The prominence of English is not based on its indigenous usefulness, says this author. He presents clear arguments that demonstrate this. Rather, use of English internally to East Africa can encourage incompetence, and certainly produces dependence. English flourishes by drawing on powers outside of the region. The problems in the current linguistic situation in East Africa are illustrated using examples that draw on the discipline of pragmatics. Because English is not working in people’s long-term interests, and this is shown giving examples especially from Kenya, missionaries (especially native-English speakers) from outside of the region are strongly encouraged to minister using local languages, as well as by drawing on local resources.