[lg policy] South Africa: Are language policies enacted at independence practical?

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Fri May 13 11:51:27 EDT 2016

Are language policies enacted at independence practical?
[image: body7]

Prof Dave Mutasa (Department of African Languages) looks at whether the
language policies enacted at independence were practical.

*The Department of African Languages
<http://www.unisa.ac.za/Default.asp?Cmd=ViewContent&ContentID=143> under
the College of Human Sciences (CHS) recently hosted a seminar presented by
noted Shona lecturer and renowned linguistics professor, Dave Mutasa. His
field of interests include Shona linguistics and literature;
multilingualism and diversity; language planning and policy; and language
and migration. He has written extensive publications on language and has
presented more than 40 conference papers around the world.*

The question he spoke on was what triggers the formulation of language
policies (LPs) enacted at independence? Mutasa said LPs are predicated on
the feeling of nationalism, some on economic exigencies and viability. He
believes that policies are politically motivated; some are based on hidden
agendas for indoctrination or ideological orientation.

Many countries are determined to build their own national identity and one
of the manifestations of national identity is a change in language policy,
he said. He made an example of Malaysia when they introduced Malay in
primary schools and university, but failed to take pragmatic concerns into
account and ended up facing major challenges.

At independence, South Africa promoted 11 languages to official status.
This was hailed as one of the most progressive language policies in the
world. However, to what extent has the policy been pragmatic, asked Mutasa.
He quotes Prof Henry Thipa, former chair of the African Languages
Association of Southern Africa (ALASA), when he said: “In schools the
policy has remained intact, the promotion of indigenous languages in formal
education is extremely limited.”

The questions in Mutasa’s paper are:

   - What influenced the choice of this language policy given the disparity
   between English and indigenous languages?
   - Why the “Afrikaans must fall campaign”, given the stipulations of the
   - Why do students opt for English and not indigenous African languages
   when they protest?
   - Why has the University of the Free State opted for English?

Answering the above questions, Mutasa said yes, the recognition of the 11
official languages was in accordance with the linguistic human rights
paradigm, which was essential if languages were to receive the attention
that they deserved. However, introducing indigenous African languages as
languages of learning and teaching for subjects other than African
Languages themselves in 1994 was an ambitious move because “it was like
pitting a small soccer team against a big team like Barcelona”.

According to Mutasa’s paper, lecturers of content subjects argue that we do
not have the technical jargon which is a prerequisite for mother-tongue
education. He went on to ask why language policies are not pragmatic. It
may mean that people fail to implement the language policy. A policy may
not have achieved its goal. This is because people formulate language
policies and sit back and expect things to just happen. The question is who
knows how to implement a language policy?

In conclusion, Mutasa’s paper suggests that for us to succeed, we need time
to develop languages. We also need to establish many language academies; we
need technological paraphernalia; we need determination/willpower; we need
timeframes and enforcement; and we need crosschecks.

Mutasa said, in spite of the challenges in implementation, we should
continue to cherish our language policy for it accommodates all languages.
He said our languages are the quintessence of our humanity and any language
lost signifies great loss for humankind as the accumulated knowledge,
wisdom and values die with it, and furthermore great traditions and culture
would certainly die with it.

“Hence, languages have to continue to be accorded the attention they
deserve in terms of development but the process must be gradual because, as
alluded to, language policy implementation is more complex than mere
language use.”

**By Bryan Pilane*


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