[lg policy] South Africa: Language a pivotal tool to effect transformation at university

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sat Oct 4 18:52:40 UTC 2014

 Language a pivotal tool to effect transformation at university

Date Released: Fri, 3 October 2014 17:02 +0200

Language is one of the pivotal tools to effect transformation at a
university like Rhodes, both visually in terms of multilingual signage as
well as deeper transformation related to the curriculum. This according to
SARChI Chair in the field of Intellectualisation of African Languages,
Multilingualism and Education at Rhodes University, Professor Russell

Speaking at Rhodes University’s Multilingualism Colloquium recently, Prof
Kaschula was among a group of experts speaking on the topic of
multilingualism and Rhodes’ revised language policy.

According to Dr Sam Naidu of the English Department at Rhodes, the revised
language policy affects each and every member of the Rhodes community.
“Whether you are a research student wishing to write your thesis in a
language other than English or whether you are a gardener or caterer
wishing to conduct your job interview in a language other than English,
provision is made for your language rights,” she said.

She provided background to the new document which is among one of the most
detailed in the country, along with the University of KwaZulu-Natal which
makes ample provision for isiZulu as an additional language of learning and

She said, “this growing awareness of and attention to the politics of
language in higher education is a trend, which is firmly established at
Rhodes. Whereas before the revision students could only learn isiXhosa as a
second or additional language, today approximately 600 students are
studying isiXhosa at both mother tongue and second language levels,
including undergraduate, Honours, Masters and PhD levels as well as the
vocation-specific courses including Journalism, Law, Education and

Dr Naidu spoke to the 2014 revision and updating of the language policy by
a sub-committee of the Rhodes University Language Committee, originally
formed in 2011 by representatives from across the University community and
tasked with overseeing the implementation of multilingualism on campus as
well as to revise the University Language Policy every three years.

A sub-committee was formed in 2012 and the procedure of revision followed
was one based on the concept of “meaningful engagement”. That is, the
policy revision process was informed by a broader language policy framework
in South Africa, by notions such as open-mindedness, transparency,
mediation, consultation and empathy, by self-reflexivity, and as Neville
Alexander puts it, by an awareness of “the fallacy of the ideological
neutrality of the English language in our multilingual new South African

Moreover, the Constitution of South Africa, with its emphasis on language
rights and the status of African languages formed the bedrock of this
revision process, which comprised a campus-wide survey about language
usage, awareness of the language policy and rights, areas for improvement,
failures and proposals for change.

The Language Policy in Higher Education guidelines laid down by the Council
of Higher Education were considered, as were Language Policies at other
tertiary institutions.

Dr Naidu added that the revised policy will hopefully foster the trend
toward multilingualism, and she called on staff and students to implement
it, “to promote multilingualism at Rhodes and to make it a living document.”

Photo: Dr Sam Naidu.


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