South Africa is blessed with a rich texture of diversity regarding different cultures and languages. That diversity requires planning and in the case of languages, language planning, policy and implementation need to be developed.
“Very often, we have policies and very little implementation and from the point of view of linguistics, it is problematic. Implementing is very important for our democracy, we need equitable implementation of languages,” said University of Johannesburg (UJ) Professor and Linguist Anne-Marie Beukes.
Prof Beukes, who has over 35 years of teaching and research experience in language facilitation (translation) and language management, stated how languages are an important instrument for human beings to communicate, and project themselves and their identities.
“It is not just about languages but about human beings and humanity. Languages are instruments that serve humanity. That is why, in my view, language planning is extremely important because we need well designed policies and good implementation.”
Since the year 2000, International Mother Language Day has been celebrated on February 21 annually. The day was introduced by UNESCO in recognition of the sanctity and preservation of all vernacular languages in the world. The day aims to promote awareness of linguistic diversity and cultural diversity and to promote multilingualism.
In South Africa, language policies have evolved over the years, and in 1994 it was a watershed period not just for the country but also for the language dispensation in the country, added Prof Beukes.
“That was the start of a real language policy that made provision for 11 official languages. We had the opportunity of developing a multilingual language policy implementation plan and that is where our modern era of language planning started in South Africa.”
Prof Beukes said oftentimes multilingualism was regarded as a problem and not as a rich source to embrace diversity and recognise the people of the country.
“It is said that it costs too much money while there are other priorities like building schools, houses, providing running water and proper education. Somehow the issue of language is relegated to the back seat.”Prof Beukes revealed that the linguistics point of view argued that viewing multilingualism in that light was a great pity because good education requires language as an essential tool.
“You can’t teach without language and if you use the wrong languages, the end result is not always what you would have desired. People need to communicate effectively. Language is a golden thread that cuts across all domains of society. Perhaps our politicians have not yet paid proper attention to that aspect.”
Linguists have also argued that all South Africans should try to be at least trilingual – mother tongue, another indigenous language and English.
“We all tend to take language as a given. We think just as there is oxygen in the air for us to breathe, we accept for granted that languages are there. They need cultivation and proper management.”
A country like South Africa must embrace cultural diversity, Prof Beukes reiterated.
“We need to embrace our cultural heritage, our language heritage, because we are all striving towards creating harmony and peace in our democracy. We would like to minimize strife. Us linguists argue that language and proper implementation of multilingualism in our situation is so vital, an essential instrument in achieving our ends as a young democracy,” she concluded.