Language in South Africa

Language in South Africa

Language in South Africa

Language in South Africa

Synopsis

This is a comprehensive and wide-ranging guide to language and society in South Africa. The book surveys the most important language groupings in the region in terms of pre-colonial and colonial history; contact between the different language varieties (leading to language loss, pidginization, creolization and new mixed varieties). It examines language and public policy issues associated with the transition to a post-apartheid society and its eleven official languages. All the chapters are informed by the importance of socio-political history in understanding questions of language.

Excerpt

This volume is the fifth in a group of books which aims to present a detailed overview of the languages and language-related issues in specific territories. The previous volumes, on the USA, the British Isles, Australia and Canada, have successfully attained these aims, and have served as well-referenced introductions to those areas for students trained in linguistics as well as for general readers. It is hoped that, despite the complexities of South African history and language politics, the present volume will prove as useful a reference. It is my brief in this introduction to make comparisons with previous volumes in the series, and to outline the issues that make language a concern of the wider public in South Africa.

1 COMPARISONS WITH THE USA, BRITAIN, AUSTRALIA AND
CANADA

English has been dominant in South Africa for two centuries and, with its rival Afrikaans, it has changed the linguistic ecology of southern Africa irrevocably. However, the differences between the position of English in South Africa and, say, Australia are quite significant. English is not numerically dominant in South Africa, and functional multilingualism is more common here than in the other territories represented in this series thus far. Many of the indigenous languages have continued to thrive as first languages, with large numbers of mother-tongue speakers and many second-language speakers. Nine of the indigenous languages have attained official status in addition to Afrikaans and English: Ndebele, North Sotho, South Sotho, Swati, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu. In this regard the fate of South Africa's local languages may seem very different from the destruction and marginalisation of languages like Huron in Canada, Yahi in the USA and Dyirbal in Australia. Yet South Africa has seen language genocide too: the fate of the Khoesan languages, once widespread in the country, has been even worse than that of the native languages of Australia, the USA and Canada. Some further differences between South Africa and the other territories surveyed in the series are as follows:

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