[lg policy] Multilingualism must be celebrated as a resource, not a problem

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Sat Feb 17 14:32:25 EST 2018

 Multilingualism must be celebrated as a resource, not a problem

Date <http://www.menafn.com/1096470911/about.html#>
2/15/2018 11:44:06 AM

(MENAFN - The Conversation) February ought to be a joyful month for South
African languages. It's been declared ' by the Pan South African Languages
Board, a constitutionally established body tasked with the promotion and
development of the 11 official languages, as well as those recognised for
religious and cultural purposes. The idea is to encourage people to promote
and campaign actively for the use of the country's 11 official languages in
all disciplines across society.

Instead of celebrating its official languages, though, South Africa is
caught in a rip current of English. This is sweeping the country further
away from accepting, promoting and advancing the use of the other 10

Recently a group of parents took the Gauteng province's education
department to court . They wanted their children to be accommodated in the
Afrikaans-medium school and for the school to change its language of
instruction to English. The parents and learners in question do not
necessarily speak English as their mother tongue. But they fought for
English, rather than an African language.

This is what South Africa's former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke,
ruling in another case related to a school's language of instruction,
'collateral irony'. People who speak an African language at home prefer
that their children learn in English – with its – than in their own mother

We believe there are two reasons for this. The first is political will.
There's been insufficient buy-in from the government about the importance
of developing, promoting and using African languages, particularly in
education. Second, ordinary South Africans are ill-informed about the
advantages of mother tongue being used as the medium of instruction.
A rich resource

Those responsible for drawing up language policies and curricula must be
aware of what scholar Richard Ruíz, who spearheaded a revitalisation of
indigenous South American languages, calls the .

Orientation, Ruíz says, refers to

a complex of dispositions toward language and its role, and toward
languages and their role in society.

There are three orientations: language as a problem, language as a right
and language as a resource.

Part of South Africa's challenge is that language, and in particular
multilingualism, is generally seen as a problem rather than as a rich
resource. Several other African countries view their indigenous languages
as resources: Kiswahili in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda and Afan-Oromo in
Ethiopia are all good examples of this. And some small corners of South
Africa are getting it right; to teach maths and science in the Cofimvaba
district of the Eastern Cape province.

If the country's policymakers, politicians and ordinary citizens understood
this it would open innumerable doors. It would for language development and
greater access to services – from government departments, courts of law,
hospitals, banks and so on. This in turn would provide many new job
opportunities for African language speakers.

Read more:

South Africa's courts do have interpreters for some local languages, but
there have been complaints about the quality of their training and work.
There's no reason why this can't be rectified, as models elsewhere in the
world show. The courts of New Brunswick in Canada (
www.officiallanguages.nb.ca>imce>pdfs) are staffed by judicial officers and
attorneys who are linguistically competent in the region's indigenous

So what does South Africa need to shift its thinking about African
languages from 'problem' to resource? The answer is two-fold: better
policies, and greater public awareness.
Seeking solutions

The country does not need a single central language policy, as is currently
the case. Policies should be drafted and enacted at provincial level
instead. South Africa has nine provinces, and their majority languages
differ. That's why a 'one size fits all' central language policy isn't

Each province's dominant African language or languages should be promoted
equally alongside English and Afrikaans.

There is also a need for ordinary South Africans to find their voice in .
Language activists must work together with bodies like the Pan South
African Languages Board, the (which is part of the Department of Arts and
Culture), NGOs, schools, universities and the media to create multilingual
awareness. This will help people to see language as a rich natural

What is needed now is the emergence of a united and transformed
multilingual vocal voice, where South Africa is seen as a country for
speakers of all official languages rather than an English-only elite.

[image: The Conversation]



 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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