Not Enough Respect Is Given to Our Linguistic Diversity

Cape Times (South Africa), February 22, 2008 | Go to article overview

Not Enough Respect Is Given to Our Linguistic Diversity


International Mother Language Day (celebrated yesterday) provides an opportunity for countries throughout the world to take stock of the state of the mother tongues used by their people. The objective is to promote linguistic and cultural diversity in a world where many languages are seriously threatened.

In terms of our constitution, all our 11 official languages must enjoy parity of esteem and must be treated equitably.

In addition, the state is required "to take practical and positive measures to elevate the status and advance the use" of our indigenous languages.

The national government and each provincial government must use at least two official languages for the purposes of government. In choosing these languages, the national and provincial governments must take into account "practicality, expense, regional circumstances and the balance of the needs and preferences of the population".

The constitution requires the establishment of a "Pan South African Language Board" (Pansalb) to develop the use of the official languages, sign language and the Khoi, Nama and San languages and to promote 26 additional languages that are used by South African communities.

The constitution also established a Commission for the Protection of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities, "to promote respect for the rights" of such communities.

In addition, "everyone has the right to receive education in the official language or languages of their choice in public educational institutions where that education is reasonably practicable".

In implementing this right, the state must also consider all reasonable educational alternatives, "including single-medium institutions".

Unfortunately, in many important respects we are not recognising these constitutional language rights:

English has become the de facto single official language of the national government - despite the requirement that it must use two official languages;

Our 10 official indigenous languages clearly do not, in practice, enjoy parity of esteem with English and are not treated equitably. …

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