[lg policy] Namibia: English Dominance and Reading Culture

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Fri May 1 15:40:55 UTC 2015

Namibia: English Dominance and Reading Culture

ROBERT Phillipson in his scholarly article "Linguistic imperialism is alive
and kicking" published by The Guardian newspaper on 13 March 2012, argued
that the British goals on expanding English are political and commercial.

He cemented his argument based on the British Council report that for every
US$1,6 of the British taxpayer's money it spends, it earns US$4 through its
English teaching and examining around the world.

As a result of political and commercial expansion of English around the
world, the British English policies towards these countries have changed
too, to promote the hegemony of English over the widely spoken indigenous
languages. Most certainly, there is overwhelming evidence that the United
States, Britain and Australia's English policy towards non-English speaking
countries is such that it does not promote core existence with indigenous

In the Namibian context, the impression created by the declaration that
English is the only official language is that many Namibians are made to
believe that their lives are doomed without English.

Denver Kisting of The Namibian newspaper reported in the article published
in The Guardian newspaper of 10 January 2012, entitled Language policy
"poisoning" children, that a public demand has been created for English in
Namibia. Additionally, he further wrote that people believe that English,
without doubt, is the magic wand that can open the doors to prosperity.

As a result of this belief many children pay scant attention to the need to
learn and promote their different indigenous languages.

Namibia has about 30 spoken languages of which 14 have full orthography
(The Guardian, 10 Jan 2012). The hegemonic position accorded to English by
the Namibian language policy 'the only official language' has a potential
threat towards all the 30 spoken languages in the near future.

The discrimination of people who do not speak English well even in jobs
that do not require language experts does not only have a potential threat
to indigenous languages but the potential to disintegrate the very social
foundation and cohesion of these indigenous languages.

Any further discrimination of indigenous languages is not only bad for
Namibia but it is against the spirit of the African Union's (AU) stand on
the promotion and protection of indigenous languages in Africa. The AU even
went further to encourage member states to increase their use of African
languages as vehicle of instruction at all educational levels.

Unlike the AU's determination and desire to see African languages elevated,
in Namibia the linguistic trend seems to be heading for the opposite
direction. The government seems to stick to its language policy that
English is the only official language in the country.

A study entitled "the reading behaviour and preferences of Namibian
children" conducted by Emma Kirchner, Susan Alexander and Andree-Jeanne
Totemeyer whose results and findings were reported in one of our national
newspapers, revealed that most Namibian pupils spend less time reading, and
when they read it was more in English than in their mother tongues.

Needless to say that recommendations were made in which the three
researchers suggested that there should be more publications in indigenous
languages so that learners can read more.

Gerson Sindano is a language centre lecturer, University of Namibia, Rundu


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