Lehman College

Interdisciplinary Program in Linguistics

Course Title: AAS/LNG 339: African Languages 3 hours, 3 credits.

Course Description: African languages and language families, their characteristics and development, including pidgin and Creole languages. Analysis of relations of language to ethnicity and identity. The contributions of African languages to general linguistic theory.


Meeting Days: Tuesdays

Time:               2:00-4:40pm

Instructor:       Michelle A. Johnson


Office Hours: Tuesdays 12:30-2:00 in the computer lab in Carman Hall

Textbook: Childs, G. Tucker, 2003. An Introduction to African Languages. Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

The textbook is available in digital format through the Lehman library.

There will also be additional readings, podcasts and you tube videos posted to the course website which will help you throughout the course.

Website (this page):

Course Overview:

There is more linguistic diversity on the African continent than anywhere else in the world. Given that Africa is bigger than the U.S., China and all of Western Europe combined, this should not be a surprising fact. There will be two main aspects to this class – a theoretical linguistic one, and a social, political one. From both perspectives, African languages are intensely fascinating and wildly diverse. From a theoretical perspective, almost every phenomenon we can study in linguistics is utilized by speakers of African languages. This course will survey the linguistic wealth of Africa from clicks in the South to noun classes in the East and serial verb constructions in the West.  We will look at different approaches to classification of wildly disparate languages and why it is still so difficult today.  We will delve into the history and look at how migration, climate change, and war come to be written on language. WE will take a modern look at issues of race and ethnicity to understand how they are played out in governments, classrooms, and markets as individuals and groups negotiate identity and power through language.

By the end of this course, students will…

  1. be able to explain classifications of African languages and why they are significant.
  2. develop an understanding of the complexity of differentiating languages and dialects, and the distinction between Creoles and pidgin languages.
  3. become sensitive to the relationship between language and ethnicity, language and identity.
  4. articulate some of the unique characteristics found in African languages and the contributions they have made to linguistic theory.


  • Attendance

You are responsible to attend all meetings of class. It will be extremely difficult to absorb the concepts and ideas without attending all of the lectures. The lectures will also help you develop your individual project.  Because the in-class writing assignments are figured into your grade, I do not have an attendance policy. However, if you must miss 2 or more consecutive sessions, please discuss it with me.

  • Homework

There are 6 homework assignments in this course.  These assignments each contribute to the development of your final project, which will be a wordpress website about an African Language of your choice. All students are expected to complete the homework assignments and final project by the posted deadline. Once you have completed an assignment, you must email me to let me know that you have finished it and that I should go to your site a look at it.

If you are unable to complete a homework assignment by the deadline, you must contact me in advance with the date you expect to complete it, no questions asked. If you do not contact me in advance, you will lose 10% per day.

The last day you can do this is April 20th.

  • In-class writing

In the beginning or middle of class every week (after the break) depending on the lesson, you will have a short response question to answer. You will have 15 minutes to answer this question. There are no right or wrong answers provided that you justify your answer with fact-based information that you have learned in this class, other classes, or from your own research. Answers that perpetuate stereotypes and myths about Africa, African people and African languages that have already been addressed in class will earn a 0.

These questions will ask you to integrate what has been discussed in class with language or social issues or to take a side on long standing debates. You answer does not need to be polished – only show that you understand what the issues are and why so many of the issues are so complicated.

  • Tests
    • There are no tests in this course.
  • Academic Integrity

Google Scholar: Stand on the shoulders of giants.[1]

All students will uphold academic integrity and only engage in ethical conduct. This means students will not plagiarize, use fabricated data, present biased findings, or present opinions as fact.

Plagiarism includes:

  1. Copying word for word someone else’s work.
  2. Paraphrasing someone else’s ideas without giving credit to the original source (of the idea- not just the words).
  3. Not indicating which ideas are from someone else within the text. A list of sources at the bottom of your site is not sufficient –readers cannot identify which ideas are the author’s and which ideas are from another source.
  4. Here: is an excellent source for information about plagiarism.  Here: is Lehman’s policy.

The best measure of a man’s honesty isn’t his income tax return. It’s the zero adjust on his bathroom scale.   –Arthur C. Clarke

  • Technology

Students will utilize the course website to download supplemental readings, videos and podcasts. There is a link to the course webpage on the blackboard site, but the course materials will not be hosted on blackboard. I mostly use the course website and email. Therefore, it is very important that I have an email address for you that you regularly use.

For technology needs, students have access to the library, which has a multimedia lab as well, where all of these materials can be listened to/watched.

If you are having trouble with technology on campus, please call the Help Desk at 718-960-1111 or visit them in Carman Hall.

Accommodating Disabilities

Lehman College is committed to providing access to all programs and curricula to all students.  Students with disabilities who may need classroom accommodations are encouraged to register with the Office of Student Disability Services.  For more information, please contact the Office of Student Disability Services, Shuster Hall, Room 238; phone number, 718-960-8441.  Accommodations will only be granted with documentation

Lehman College does not discriminate on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, race, color, creed, national origin, religion, handicap, or political belief, in any of its educational programs and activities, including employment practices and its policies relating to recruitment and admission of students.

Tutoring/Writing Center

The Academic Center for Excellence (ACE) and the Science Learning Center (SLC) are two of the tutoring centers on campus. The ACE provides appointment based and drop-in tutoring in the humanities, social sciences, and writing, as well as general writing and academic skills workshops. The SLC provides drop-in tutoring for natural and computer science courses. To obtain more information about the ACE and the SLC, please visit their website at, or please call the ACE at 718-960-8175, and the SLC at 718-960-7707.

Grading Policy:

  1. In class writing: 25%
  2. Assignment 0: 5%
  3. Assignments 1-5: 12% each, total 60%
  4. Presentation: 10%

96-100% = A

90-95% = A-

86-89%= B+

81-85%  = B

78-80% = B-

76-77% =C+

71-75% =C

60-69% =D

Below 60= F

[1] This quote is originally from Isaac Newton in a letter about his scientific discoveries “If I have seen far, it is because I am standing on the shoulders of giants.” It is also used in the free software movement, which is committed to the collaborative building of works by and for the people rather than ownership of our tools, efforts and creativity by corporations. For more on this, visit

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