[lg policy] South Africa: Proposals on Language Policy & Practise

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Tue Nov 26 15:39:57 UTC 2013

 Proposals on Language Policy & Practise 26 November 2013, 07:17

In the English language, there are two Latin phrases which so perfectly
describe the difference between Policy and Practise 'de facto' and 'de

If something is 'de facto' it means that it is commonly accepted to be
such, although no such law exists to make it so. English is the de facto
language of the United States (they don't actually have an official
language). De jure then means the opposite - there are laws and policies in
place to enforce a certain situation or propagate an idea.

I think that in most cases we should obey the law, and always when the law
is rational. In the case of Medium of Instruction the current law is that,
where possible, students have a right to education in their home language.
I think this is detrimental to our students and we should get rid of this.
Fluency in English should be compulsory to be hired as a teacher at any
level and we should throw away the Afrikaans textbooks. Students should be
taught in English even in a subject like History, so as to strengthen their
command of this language. (Exceptions to the English fluency rule exist, of
course, in a Xhosa or Sotho classroom for instance).

There are so many reason that such a policy should be promulgated:-- At the
moment the global lingua franca as English and we should position ourselves
to take full advantage of that fact (maybe hop on the Mandarin bandwagon
too)-- English is mostly a neutral language despite it's historical
connotations because it was adopted by the colonized worldwide and (like
rappers would claim about the N-word) has lost its 'colonial' power.--
English is a conglomerate of many languages that has an unparalleled
ability to describe, very precisely, almost every concept in science up to
an undergraduate level (beyond which intuitive Mathematics is most probably

However, I find that proponents of this position often throw the baby out
with the bath water. They forget about the 'de facto', everyday side of
life. They forget that as Marcell walks through town, there is a very slim
chance that anything he says or does is going to impact the national
economy significantly. And so they often go to the length of shunning other
languages as inferior and cultures as stupid.

Concepts of culture and identity are very often stupid, but sometimes not.
That statement isn't objectively or even logically flawless. It's a really
wishy-washy statement that you are expected to feel and understand.
Sometimes, it matters that you know who won Idols this year. Somehow, your
life might be more peaceful if you were to really read up on the history of
who was in South Africa first. Someway and somehow... the 21st Century has
become far too objective and logical. I don't want us to go back to
irrational wars or anything, but let's not pretend that nothing else
matters that can't be proved with science.

And for this reason I encourage everybody to learn the wealth of languages
of your community. It doesn't have to be government law. The government
doesn't have to make it compulsory (in fact I'm not too sure about this
First Additional Language being compulsory thing). However, I do believe
that it would be in everybody's best interests to be able to communicate in
a variety of ways. While the most important thing is to accept people for
who they are, despite all the other things, the most human thing a person
can do is try and relate and make it easier for a person to accept you and
befriend/be friendly to you.
I think by carefully observing these two stances in balance - that English
is a superior academic language to any other currently, but that for the
sake of nation building we should speak a wealth of languages and should
WANT TO - we can make ourselves a greater republic.


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