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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:The two language maps of the Belgian Congo
Author:Velde, Mark Van deISNI
Periodical:Annales aequatoria
Geographic terms:Congo (Democratic Republic of)
African languages
Abstract:In 1948 the Jesuit father Gaston Van Bulck published a survey of all the linguistic work done up till then in the Belgian Congo, called 'Les recherches linguistiques au Congo belge'. This survey contained a language map of the entire Congo (present-day Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC). Two years later, another map of the Congo appeared, drawn by Gustaaf Hulstaert: 'Carte linguistique du Congo belge'. The two maps are profoundly different. The present article examines how some small variations in opinion led to such an important incongruity between two studies based on the same documentation. It shows the importance of both authors' views on language, culture and ethnicity and makes clear some implicit views on Africa and the role European scholars assumed in that continent. The language maps were in fact to a large extent philosophical or scientific statements, rather than exact representations of the empirical knowledge of their authors. Especially Hulstaert's map also had a clear sociopolitical goal. It fitted into the nationwide debate on the so-called language problem, namely the idea that there were too many languages in the Congo. Here, colonial science and daily administration went hand in hand. In the end, both Hulstaert and Van Bulck had a rather essentialistic view of African reality, implicitly regarded as being very manipulable, which blurred the border between scientific conclusions and wishful thinking. Bibliogr.