Contemporary Diversity Issues: Communication Patterns in Africa
Sociolinguists take the community in which these languages serve as a means of communication. Social development in Africa has not proceeded at an equal pace. As a result, the roles that languages may play within a larger community, such as the modern country, are bound to be unequal. Some languages expand; become Lingua francas, while others shrink and possibly die out, language death is seen as a great bad event by linguists because a valuable source for studying linguistic structures disappears. The sociolinguist looks upon this with more equality—in times of social change, this is a normal happening. Languages die out when they can no longer serve their community as an enough tool of social interaction. Another language takes the place of the dying language and grows in size and importance (Mansour, 1993 p.11).
South African society is characterized by so much diversity. The society is multiracial, multicultural, multireligious, and multilingual. Indeed, the diversity present in contemporary South Africa is evidently nowhere manifested more clearly than in the case of language. In addition to Africans and English, which during the apartheid era served as the country’s main and official languages, nine native African Languages and five Indian languages are spoken. The picture is further changed by the presence of a number of immigrant languages, languages used primarily or exclusively for religious purposes, and various kinds of nonstandard and koine languages (Rosenthal, 2000 p.255).
Education and Bilingualism (2-Language Spoken)
Despite this high degree of linguistic diversity, which is far from uncommon in “developing societies, South Africa, nonetheless, also shares a number of linguistic characteristics with the world’s developed” nations. The country’s linguistic diversity includes a language of wider communication, English, which is spoken throughout the country and by members of virtually all of the different ethnolinguistic or the ethnic language groups. There is a high level and degree of bilingualism and even multilingualism (many languages), reflecting the educational level of the population as well as the extensive intergroup contact that continues, in spite of the legacy of apartheid (a time period of language development), to characterize South African society (see Kasdiula & Anthorussen, 1998). Moreover, although still far too low to be acceptable, and certainly not equal toward certain groups at the expense of others, the literacy rate in South Africa is categorized into third world standards, if not by Western ones (we, e.g., French, 192; National Education Policy Investigation. 1993b; cited in Rosenthal, 2000 p.257). Although, it is obviously not possible to provide a complete survey of the linguistic situation in contemporary South Africa here, it is appropriate for this diversity to be briefly discussed at this point (Mowlana, 1997 p.135). There are also a number of immigrant languages currently m use in South Africa including Tamil, Hindi, Tengu, Gujarati, and Urdu, which are all spoken in the Indian community, Chinese and a variety of languages used by European immigrant groups (Krupnick and Cress, 2005 p.18). With our overview of the South African linguistic situation completed, we can now turn to an analysis of the historical development of language policies in South African education (Mowlana, 1997 p.136).
Historical Relationships of Communication Mediums
Afrikaans and English served historically as the two official languages of the Republic of South Africa, both before and during the apartheid era, and were constitutionally guaranteed equality of treatment in the country Afrikaans, a Germanic language derived Largely from Dutch, is the native Language of the majority of White South Africans. It is also the native language of the majority of so-called ‘Colored” South Africans, though the Afrikaans that is generally spoken by members of this group is quite distinct from Standard Afrikaans. English is spoken as a first language by significant numbers of South Africans, the overwhelming majority of whom are Whites (though the Indian English-speaking community is also significant). Both languages are widely understood and spoken as second languages throughout southern Africa, and there is a high degree of bilingualism in the two official languages among educated South Africans (Mowlana, 1997 p.135). The relationship between these two languages historically has been that Afrikaans is far more established as a home language in South Africa, whereas English is important as a second, socially, economically, and internationally useful language. At the same time, the affective or attitudinal status of Afrikaans and English, especially among the Black population, differs significantly. Whereas Afrikaans has historically been seen as the language of the oppressor, and remains to some extent closely identified with the Afrikaner establishment and with policies of apartheid (as the 1976 Soweto uprising made clear; see Reagan. 1985, 1987a; cited in Rosenthal, 2000 p.256). English has in recent years been generally seen as the language of liberation.” Despite this characterization of the two languages; however, it should be stressed that both views have been under increasing attack in recent years as far too simplistic (Reagan. 1986a. 1956b; Webb. 1992; cited in Rosenthal, 2000 p.256). Although not used as native Languages in South Africa, Arabic, Hebrew, and Sanskrit are also used in specific religious contexts. In short, South Africa Is linguistically, as well as in many other ways, a highly complex society in which language, ethnicity, race, and ideology interacts in interesting and unusual ways.
Communication and Language Struggle in Africa
The taalstryd, or “language struggle”, has been a central point of disagreement and debate throughout the history of South Africa, especially in the educational sphere. Under the apartheid regime, the language-medium question was most controversial in Black education where the policy of initial mother tongue instruction was widely denounced as an attempt to retribalize Black South Africans (Mowlana, 1997 p.137). To some extent, though, it must be remembered that the mother tongue policy was in fact a reflection of the historical language struggle that took place in the White community of South Africa in the 19th and early 20th centuries; that struggle deeply influenced both White perceptions and government policy with regard to language policies in education. This earlier language struggle had focused in part on the rights of Afrikaners to educate their children in their mother tongue, in the face of ongoing efforts of Anglicization.
Although the tensions between English and Afrikaans were never eliminated, government policies of what might be termed active official bilingualism, coupled with English and Afrikaans speakers attending their own-medium schools, mitigated what tensions existed. Language remained a highly controversial issue in Black education throughout the apartheid era (Alexander. 1990; Hartshorne, 1987; Marivate, 1993: Reagan, 1984. 1986a, 1986c). Somewhat ironically, it was the Afrikaner government that supported mother tongue schooling for Blacks, whereas Blacks themselves, for the most part, opposed such schooling (Vanelisti, 2003 p.247). It is this irony that provides, at least in part. a key to understanding the apartheid-era, indeed, much of the post apartheid debate on language policy in South African education. The apartheid era consistently favored mother tongue schooling for Blacks (and, in fact, for almost all children in the country. but for arguably quite different reasons than those used to defend mother tongue instruction for White children (Vanelisti, 2003 p.247). It is clear that mother tongue programs for Blacks not only were consistent with the ideology of apartheid, but also functioned as one of the pillars of apartheid in perpetuating both racial and ethnolinguistic divisions in South African society (see Reagan, 198*). Mother tongue schooling for Blacks was employed from the passage of the Bantu Education Act of 1953 to the end of the apartheid era to support the social and educational goals of Verwaerdian-style apartheid (Mansour, 1993 p.13). The apartheid regime used such programs to reinforce ethnic and tribal identity among Black schoolchildren, seeking to ‘divide and conquer” by encouraging ethnolinguistic division within the Black community.
This was clearly the case in South Africa, and though few Black was taken in by the rhetoric of pluralism, the same cannot be said for much of the South African educational establishment, which began utilizing the language of multiculturalism and cultural pluralism toward the end of the apartheid era. The real problem that now confronts educators and language planners alike in the South African context is how the realities of cultural and linguistic diversity can be dealt with in an equitable and just manner.
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