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Review of Language Policy and Nation-Building in Post-Apartheid South Africa
AUTHOR: Jon Orman TITLE: Language Policy and Nation-Building in Post-Apartheid South Africa SERIES: Language Policy PUBLISHER: Springer YEAR: 2008
Kirsten Colquhoun, EC Cambridge
This volume is part of a series aimed at scholars and those interested in language planning and policy, as well as educational and applied linguistics and sociolinguistics. This book surveys the current situation in South Africa. The situation in post-apartheid South Africa is interesting with regards to the governmental language policies and the reality of their implementation and acceptance by the people of the country. This book provides an overview of the relationship between national identity and language, illustrating how this has manifested itself in the new South Africa. It is based on analyses of primary and secondary materials, ranging from government documents and organisational websites to press reports and academic texts, as well as interviews with numerous language professionals and academics. It will be of interest especially to those involved in language planning and policy, but also those interested in the interplay of identity and language in multilingual societies, and finally to anyone interested in the linguistic future of this country.
The introduction outlines the book's structure and aims: ''to investigate the role of language policy and planning in the formation and consolidation of national identities, first in a general theoretical sense and then with specific application to the South African situation'' (6).
The second chapter discusses ethnic and national identities and their relationships to language. This issue is of direct importance to the South African situation, in that the new South Africa needs to create a new South African identity in order for the country to move forward into the future as a united community. The country is home to numerous different ethnic, social and political groups and languages, which interact to form identities. However, the nature of the relationships between language and ethnic identity and language and national identity are difficult to define but still necessary to conceptualise in order for it to be of use. Indeed, Orman points out that while South Africans, Australians and the Scottish (among others, of course) all speak a form of the same language (English) this fact doesn't detract from their respective individual national identities. On the other hand, there exist countries such as Switzerland which don't have a common language for the nation, yet have a strong sense of national identity. It seems then that ''language is a highly central and salient marker of [ethnic or national] identities'' (6).
The third chapter returns to definitional matters, this time setting up a framework for the study of language policy and language planning. Language policy is understood as a combination of linguistic ideology, practice and language planning. Language planning is effectively defined as a sub-element of language policy, which in turn is considered identity policy.
These chapters lay the foundation for an understanding of the situation in South Africa. Chapter four provides a historical overview of the language situation, describing how regimes have shaped national identity through language policies. This was their attempts to construct and entrench group identities, from the time of initial Dutch colonisation to British colonial policy, through the apartheid years until the post-apartheid years. What emerges is the story of how Afrikaans was promoted as the language of the country by the Afrikaner National Party (NP), with English maintained as another national language, and other languages designated languages of instruction. Understandably this led to a rejection of Afrikaans along with the marginalisation of home languages in favour of English as an international language.
The case of Afrikaans is then considered in Chapter Five, through the apartheid years and the reign of the ANC to the present. It is pleasing to see someone take notice of the effects of the apartheid government’s language (and social) policies on Afrikaans, not only other African languages. Orman argues that while English has clearly benefited the most among South Africa's languages in terms of attributed status, Afrikaans is being marginalised as it is seen as the language of the oppressors. However this does not take into account the fact that Afrikaans is spoken by a large percentage of the population as a first language, and not only by Afrikaners. Effectively, Afrikaans speakers are losing out as a result of the policies of an Afrikaner-dominated government.
Chapter Six deals with language policies of the present ANC government and outlines the problems of such policies. After the breakdown of apartheid, the government abandoned the earlier language policy and instead implemented one aimed at the linguistic equality of eleven languages, still in practice today. In this way it seems the current government hopes to promote a national identity based on linguistic pluralism, though it is not clear that this is a realistic goal.
Furthermore, the numerous African languages spoken within South African are being discarded in favour of English by the native-speakers themselves. Additionally, English -- and Afrikaans -- speakers are not encouraged to learn an African language, as there is no instrumental motivation, largely because the government has not invested economic value in these languages (Kamwangamalu, 2004). Without equality between the languages of a country, the speakers will not see any purpose in speaking languages other than those which are understood to be economically, politically and socially important (Webb and Sure, 2000). Consequently, Alexander (1989) has proposed the harmonisation of a number of African languages to form a hybrid language which could then be advertised as a common language for the country. Reaction to this idea though has ranged from ''the unenthusiastic to the downright hostile'' (158).
Finally, suggestions are given as to what the future of South Africa might hold in terms of the creation of a national identity. Orman draws a parallel between the hope for a unifying identity within the European Union and the situation in South Africa. However Orman believes that ''it would seem unrealistic to hope or plan for ... individual multilingualism...to become the social norm through some kind of 'civic virtue' taking hold amongst citizens'' (165). Instead, he proposes that in order for African languages to be attractive to English and Afrikaans speakers, they need to be assigned economic value.
Chapter Seven provides a general summary of the findings of the book and suggests ideas for further research within this context.
Definitions of terms and background information are a necessary component of any study, and the introductory chapters provide a good foundation, but they are lengthy and dense in this case. More space could have been devoted to a further account of the situation in South Africa, as suggested by the title.
Another aspect of the language debate in South Africa and the future of its languages which could have been discussed is an examination of the many varieties of South African English. While it is true that the majority of South Africans strive for linguistic competence in English, what form would this competence take? Which one of the many different forms of South African English will be seen to be the most popular, and how will this influence the formation of a national identity?
Still, Orman provides a refreshing view of the South African situation. He is not afraid to criticise the ANC government, pointing out that the constant reinforcement of historical identities ''acts as a barrier to the development of a fully inclusive South African national identity'' (124). It is in the power of the government now to take action to help future nation building.
Kamwangamalu, N.M. (2004). The language policy/language economics interface and mother-tongue education in post-apartheid South Africa. In Language Problems and Language Planning 28 (2): 131 - 146.
Webb, V.N. and K. Sure. (eds). 2000. African voices: An introduction to the languages and linguistics of Africa. Cape Town: Oxford University Press.
Alexander, N. (1989). Language policy and national unity in South Africa/Azania. Cape Town: David Philip.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Kirsten Colquhoun is currently teaching English as a Foreign Language at a
language school in Cambridge, UK, after recently completing an MPhil in
English and Applied Linguistics at the Research Centre for English and
Applied Linguistics at the University of Cambridge, in which she focussed
on theories of language learning as they relate to second language
acquisition, and language change. As a South African, she is especially
interested in the language situation there, and how it is adapting to the
changing political and social situation.