The changing language policies and reversing language roles in Malawi: From colonial times (1891-1964) to the present

  • Themba Moyo


This article attempts to chart the language policies that Malawi has followed from colonial times (1891-1964) up to the present.  The focus falls on the roles accorded to indigenous languages and English in national life and communities, respectively. In Malwi, the value of mother tongues or languages widely used by particular communities is recognised and these languages are used as instructional languages in early education. This is done to enable learners to understand basic concepts and to facilitate cognitive development. It is also to ensure that there is a smooth transition to English, which becomes the medium of instruction in standard five. The use of mother tongues and community languages of wider communication also plays an important role in the development of pride in, respect for and affiliation with mother tongues and cultural identity. It appears that there is a crucial need to for language policy in Malawi to be reviewed. To date it has been politically motivated, fragmentary and often not effectively implemented. This is particularly true since Malawi gained its independence in 1964. President Bakili Muluzi has seen the value of developing viable indigenous languages as well as some of those spoken by a small minority, However, since his election to power, language issues have received little attention: the policies he promised have not been implemented.

Author Biography

Themba Moyo
Themba Moyo is acting head of the Department of General Linguistics. (email:; tel: 035-902-6321)