Languages Used in South Africa

Published: 2021-09-14 09:20:08
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The South African Statistics reported that about 25 languages are used on a daily basis in South Africa by more than 44.8 million people (2003). Beukes (2004) states that almost 80% of the South African population use an African language as their home language. Of the eleven official languages, isiZulu is spoken by 23% of the population, followed by isiXhosa with 17.6%, and Afrikaans with 13.3%. English is used as a lingua franca across the country but is the home language of 8.2% of the population (Census 2001). It is also used to conduct the work of government as mentioned in one of the prominent newspapers, Sunday Times, in 2004, where it stated that Black South African Languages (BSALs) were becoming unfashionable among Black South Africans. Beukes (2004) states that the elevated status of English dates back during the apartheid era, where it was considered as a language of resistance and liberation. The liberation movement used English as a cross-ethnic lingua franca.
In the new South Africa, English has become part of the cultural capital of the new elite (Alexander 2000 & 2002 in Beukes 2004). It is being promoted as the language of power in high-status functions (Alexander 2002, Heugh 2000, Brand 2004, in Beukes 2004). Broeder, Extra and Maartens (1998: 32) believe that the dominance of English is caused by the lack of strategic planning and implementation procedures that accompany the language clause in the 1996 Constitution. Whilst English is dominating, Black South African Languages are replaced by English in the corporate world and upper and lower-middle class families. (cf. Kellas, 1994). Dyers (2008) examined teenage language use in intimate domains, like at home, with family, and friends in a school at a new non-racial working class township in South Africa. Three languages were spoken in the township: Afrikaans, IsiXhosa, and English. Among the twelve teenagers who participated in the study, six were from cross-linguistic/cross-cultural families.The outcome of the study was that English was mainly used at school; the Afrikaans and Xhosa learners that were in Grade 8 (new at the school) used mainly their first language, or a mixture of the first language and some English, in most domains. Grade 9 Afrikaans pupils were reported to code-mix across all domains between English and Afrikaans, while a significant number of Xhosa Grade 9 pupils (minority in the group) reported code-mixing between isiXhosa, Afrikaans, and English in their interactions with friends, and on the streets, and yet, reported that they were not allowed to speak Afrikaans at home, due to the history of the language. In another Afrikaans (Coloured) family, the mother seemed to have made a conscious decision (family language policy) to speak Afrikaans to her children, and isiXhosa to her siblings. Another Coloured family reported that their well-off relatives, who did not reside in the township, spoke to the family in English – giving the language a symbol of prestige and success. Nongogo (2007) examined how multilingual Grade 9 learners at a formerly White, private school used language to position themselves and others, and thus, used it as an identity-building resource.
The study was based on the growing concerns that children, who attended in English-medium schools, were at risk of losing their ability to communicate effectively in their ethnic languages. The learners involved in the study resided in the school hostels, only going home during weekends and holidays. Their family backgrounds – seemingly of high economic status, based on the expensive fee structure – were Zulu, Pedi, Tswana, and Sotho. One learner from a Zulu background reflected that she spoke isiZulu at home and that her English proficiency was higher than in the vernacular. Another learner, who was Pedi, spoke the language fluently, but not as compared to English; attesting that he knew English more than isiZulu.
Definition of terms Language
Language is not only an element of culture; it is the basis for all cultural activities (Bloch & Trager, 1942: 5, in Crystal, 2000: 39). Chomsky (Year) defines language as a process of free creation, its laws and principles are fixed, but the manner in which the principles of generation are used is free and infinitely varied. Language is the sociolinguistic notion of the speech community, which can be defined as a group of language users brought together by a limited set of shared linguistic codes and registers (Gumperz, 1972; Morgan, 2004). Every language is a temple, in which the soul of those who speaks it is enshrined (Holmes, 1860, in Crystal, 2000: 39). Just as, at the level of relations between groups, a language is worth what those who speak it are worth, so too, at the level of interactions between individuals, speech always owes a major part of its value to the value of the person who utters it (Bourdieu, 1977: 652, in Norton, 1997).
Language is the primary index, or symbol, or register of identity (Crystal, 2000: 40). Language is one of the most systematic and complex forms of human behaviour, it has given rise to different theories about what it is used for (communication vs. thinking), how it has evolved (abruptly or gradually), types of process underlying its structure (specific to language vs. applicable in many cognitive domains) (Bybee, 2010: 6). Language acquisition/ learning Krashen describes acquisition as hidden, casual, and natural language learning (1982). Acquisition refers to learning that was unconscious while the learning portion is considered as conscious learning that take place in the classroom (Krashen year). Maslo (2007: 41) states that language acquisition is based on the neuro-psychological processes. Language acquisition is opposed to learning and is a subconscious process similar to that by which children acquire their first language (Kramina, 2000: 27). Language learning is a conscious process, it is the product of either formal learning situation or self-study programme (Kramina, 2000: 27).
Language attitudes Ajzen (1988, in Baker, 1992: 11) defined attitude as a disposition to respond favourably or unfavourably to an object, person, institution, or event. Bem (1968, in Baker, 1992: 11) states that attitudes are self-descriptions or self-perceptions; therefore, individuals recognise their attitudes by observations of their own behaviour. According to Baker (1992: 29), language attitude is an umbrella term, under which resides a variety of specific attitudes, e.g., language variation, dialect, and speech style; learning a new language; specific minority language; language groups, communities and minorities; language lessons; the uses of a specific language; attitudes of parents to language learning; and attitude to language preference. Language attitudes could be defined as negative or positive feelings toward particular languages (and/or their speakers). A language attitude could be regarded as any affective, cognitive, or behavioural index of evaluative reactions toward different language varieties, or the speakers (ref).
Language identity
According to Norton (1997), the term, identity, refers to how people understand their relationship to the world, how that relationship is constructed across time and space, and how people understand their possibilities for the future. Identity relates to the desire for recognition, the desire for affiliation, and the desire for security and safety. A person’s identity will shift, in accordance with changing social and economic relations. Language development in children Language Policy Language Policy could be defined as a guideline on how languages will be used in society. These policies provide direction towards the maintenance of languages. In a multilingual family, where a number of languages co-exist, just like in society, the couple would work out their own family language policy, and their behaviour towards implementing the policy will determine the children’s languages and language maintenance. Family interactional practices and children’s active roles in reconstructing or negotiating language policies in family interactions could be necessary and timely.
Language Planning
Language-in-Education Policy The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) emphasised the importance of first language (L1) education, which could be extended to as late a stage in education as possible, as children understand it best, and because to begin their school life in the L1 will make the break between home and school as smooth as possible (1951: 691). During the apartheid government in South Africa, Black African learners were forced to use Afrikaans as the medium of instruction. The new South African Language in Education Policy (1997) is meant to facilitate communication across the barriers of colour, language, and religion, while at the same time creating an environment in which respect for languages other than one’s own would be encouraged. The underlying principle of this policy is to maintain the home language(s), while providing access to the effective acquisition of (an) additional language(s). It recognises the cultural and linguistic diversity in the country, and comprises two policies: languages as subjects; and, language(s) of learning and teaching. English is a compulsory school subject throughout South Africa.
The term, multilingualism, implies a co-existence of more than one language within the same society. Multilingualism can be ascribed to multiculturalism, and refers to codes developed within specific regional, ethnic, professional, or social groupings, as well as the nation state (Tange & Lauring, 2009). The European Commission (2007) defined multilingualism as the ability of societies, institutions, groups, and individuals to engage, on a regular basis, with more than one language in their day-to-day lives. Li (2008) defined a multilingual individual as anyone who can communicate in more than one language, be it active (through speaking and writing), or passive (through listening and reading). Truncated multilingualism is defined as linguistic competencies which are organised topically, on the basis of the domains or specific activities. This does not mean that all people are fully competent in all the different languages they use, instead their linguistic competencies may vary greatly across different domains. Truncated multilingualism is also influenced by a range of factors, such as, language attitudes, levels of literacy, access to quality education, social class, level of income, and especially, location. It allows for a large degree of communication across language boundaries in multilingual societies Blommaert et al (2005a).

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