A Bourdieusian Analysis of the Status of Indigenous Languages in the South African Translation Space

By Awung, Felix; Makhubu, Lolie | Hemispheres, July 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

A Bourdieusian Analysis of the Status of Indigenous Languages in the South African Translation Space


Awung, Felix, Makhubu, Lolie, Hemispheres


Introduction

The place of African indigenous languages in translation is increasingly attracting the attention of research in translation studies on the continent. This interest has stemmed from the fact that despite the dense multilingual structure of Africa, the languages of the continent are still marginalised in the translation industry. According to Bangbose, Africa has more than 2000 languages out of the estimated 6,000 languages of the world.1 This implies that about one third of the world's languages are found on the continent. This picture is an obvious indication of the fact that a lot of translation activities are taking place on the continent, which is indeed a reality. Most African communities are multilingual, and interactions between them have always been done with the help of language mediators. Bandia has shown that throughout history, the different African communities have interacted with each other, either for trade, war and peace or marriage.2 Given that these communities speak different languages, communication between them has always been facilitated by local mediators who are skilled in more than one language. This situation is still the same in many informal communities in Africa, as they still interact with other language communities with the help of language intermediaries. There is thus no question as to whether African indigenous languages are playing an important role in translation on the continent. However, this seeming importance of the role of indigenous languages is very limited to the informal economy, as indigenous languages remain on the margins of the formal translation industry in Africa. According to Kelly, DePalma and Hegde, with one third of the world's languages, Africa only generates less than 1% of the global translation revenue of $33 billion.3 This shows the extent of the marginalisation of indigenous languages, which may have a corresponding negative impact on the economic development of the continent given the role indigenous languages are supposed to play in that aspect. It should also be mentioned that even the less than 1% share of the translation that comes to Africa is still dominated by foreign languages, as they still constitute the official languages of most of the countries on the continent. The only African languages which enjoy the status of official languages are Amharic, Swahili and the nine indigenous languages of South Africa, of which Sesotho, Setswana and Siswati are also official languages of Lesotho, Botswana and Swaziland, respectively.4 While the status of these languages has seen them play a more significant role in translation, it should be mentioned that in most cases, the language combinations still always involve a foreign language, and there are rare cases of a language combination involving two indigenous languages.

With 11 official languages, South Africa enjoys the lion's share of the translation industry on the continent5 and offers an interesting context in which to explore the role and status of indigenous languages in translation. This is what has motivated this study, which seeks to understand the role, challenges and opportunities for translations of indigenous languages in the country. The paper uses a documentary method in which data is drawn from published information accessed online. It then adopts a Bourdieusian framework to critically reflect on the sociological factors underpinning the marginalisation of indigenous languages in the translation field. For the purpose of this paper, Afrikaans is considered an indigenous language based on the fact that although it belongs to the Germanic family of languages, its birthplace is in South Africa6, which is also the home of most of the speakers of the language.

Translation and the status of indigenous languages in South Africa

South Africa presents a very interesting linguistic scenario. With the coming of the democratic government, the country adopted a language policy that accorded 11 languages the status of official language. …

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