Connections: Eritrean Languages and the modern ‘pop culture’

Language is an important means of communication. As humans evolved, language has become the principal tool in expressing thoughts, opinion and emotions. On the other hand, language is a cultural component of a society. It reflects the values and identity of a society and, to a certain degree, and when studied, it can also show the history of that society.

In Eritrea, the languages of each of the nine ethnic groups not only serves as a means of distinguishing  the group from the other but also shows the ancestral background of the ethnic group, its values through how its speech is shaped, and above all, is a major component of its culture.  Through the languages present in Eritrea, we can see the relations we have with our neighboring countries, the presence of the feudal system, and the marks of the colonial powers that colonized Eritrea. It is in this way that language is defined as dynamic. No language in the world has stayed the same in its original form since its creation. It changes its shape with every stage of change within the society and serves the needs of every period.

Today, in the era of globalization, the interconnections of people and countries is having a negative impact on the cultures of many countries. Within the spirit of globalization, people are exposed to cultural systems different than their own. This exposure is not necessarily attained through travel (like the good old days) but through the ease of access to information through different mediums such as internet, social media, media and entertainment. However, the available information is largely shaped by the developed world. As such, the disseminated information mainly imparts the values and cultures of the developed countries (what we now commonly name as western culture). The internet, media…etc, have cultivated a ‘pop culture’ that is mainly driven by western cultural values, and is not only influencing the developing world but also is negatively impacting the cultures of many societies and countries. As a result, many cultures are loosing their uniqueness and, in a way, meshing into a global culture that’s, in my opinion, being propagated as civilized, global, and progressive.

In Eritrea, we can observe the impact of globalization and its effect on our culture, especially in our languages. The languages spoken today, especially by the younger generation (millennial), is a mixture of their local languages and languages from other cultures/countries, mainly the west. Speaking in this manner is perceived and considered as being ‘cool’ or more civilized. Don’t get me wrong: being a bilingual or multilingual is a great strength. However, there shouldn’t be any misconception that someone is a multilingual just because he/she can speak few words or phrases in different languages. That person should be able to profess, communicate and convey his/her message and ideas properly in different languages to be named as multilingual.

However, the youth today neglect or choose to ignore this fact and fall into the modern ‘pop culture’ that is projected on to them, where everything western or from abroad is considered way better than their very own culture. It’s becoming a common trend in which the integrity of our languages in Eritrea are jeopardized due to the modern ‘pop culture’ from abroad and domestic fads like speaking as ‘deqi shuq’. If trends like these continue, the languages we have and take pride in will be in danger of loosing their purity and originality or may even become extinct.

As individuals and a society as a whole, we should be able to add to what we have and not lose our cultural identity. As a small country that is blessed with nine ethnic groups, we should not fall victim to the negative impacts of globalization. We should take in all the benefits of this ‘new age of information’ and enrich our knowledge and culture, while maintaining the integrity of our culture, especially our language. Let’s increase our aptitude and ability in our own local languages, and also foreign languages, while maintaing the originality of the respective language, and close the chapter on being influenced and dominated by foreign powers and their cultures.

Let’s maintain our uniqueness as a society and integrity of our ethnic groups and further cultivate our national identity. We can take-in, on our own terms, certain cultural aspects from other societies/countries, and use these aspects to further enrich our culture. We are a beautiful country with amazing cultural variety and uniqueness; as citizens, it’s our social obligation to increase our knowledge and awareness of the different cultures that exist within our country.  We should respect and marvel their differences, and above all maintain our diversity in one country.  Besides, there would be no beauty in the world if every society was the same, for beauty lies within our differences.


Meriem Ahmado from Asmara

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