Comprehensive note on the importance of linguistics as a source of African history


The study of languages also helps the historian in his or her writing of the history of Africa. It is a field that is technically called linguistics. A detailed study is made of the language of the people, including the history of the language and its relationship with other languages. The information so obtained helps the historian in writing the history of Africa.


  • Helps to confirm oral sources: The tradition of almost every African tribe is rich with information about the origins of the people. Some of these pieces of information are embedded in the language of the people. Therefore, linguistics is important since it confirms what is found in the oral traditions of the people.
  • Helps to trace the origin of a people: Another reason linguistics is important to the study of African history is that it helps to trace the origin of people. Where a scientific study of the origin, structure and changes in language is conducted, it is easy to identify where a people come from.
  • Groups people into ethnic divisions: Also, linguistics is important because it helps to determine which ethnic group belongs to a particular language block in Africa. In Nigeria, those who speak a certain group of languages are blocked into, for example, the Yoruba or Igbo ethnic group.
  • Determines external influences on people: Linguistics is considered as important to the study of African history because it exposes the external influences that have been brought to bear on the people. In many parts of Africa, the language of the former colonial masters has found their ways into the local languages of the locals. This goes to shed light on the various external influences on the people of Africa. 
  • Helps to identify the origin of languages: It has been amply established that languages have origins. It is one of the reasons why linguistics is important to the study of African history. Linguistics is important because it helps to trace the origin of various languages on the continent of Africa.
  • Establishes links among people: Linguistics is important because it helps to establish the linkages that have existed among the peoples of the continent of Africa and the entire globe over the years. Many methods are used to establish this but chief among them is the identification of common words in the languages of the people of the world.

The following should be noted about the importance of linguistics to the study of African history:

One cannot rely entirely on linguistics to reconstruct the history of Africa. The reason is that, in spite of the advancement in knowledge and technology, some of the ancient languages have still not been deciphered. Thus, a great chunk of information is unavailable to historians, to have a clearer view of certain phenomenon of Africa’s past history.

Also, linguistics is not seen as a stand-alonetool in the hands of African historians. It is atool that complements other tools to arrive at a conclusive decision of how things were in the past.

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