The preservation and protection of all languages used by people of the world, has been called upon by the Member States. This resolution has particular relevance for minority language groups where mother tongue- so vital to self-expression- is primarily a spoken medium, often ascribed low status. With few fluent readers and writers, and a consequent dearth of written resources, a vicious circle develops and linguistic and cultural heritage erodes.
In light of International Mother Language Day celebrations which took place on Friday, 21 February 2020, UJ’s School of Languages and the Transformation Unit, in collaboration with Indigenous Languages Initiative for Advancement (ILIFA) Lethu Institution, hosted a Mother Language Assembly at Soweto Campus incorporating the above sentiments under the theme of Indigenous language usage: A constitutional imperative.
Addressing on this occasion, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng highlighted the importance of regional languages and delved into their origin.
The Chief Justice emphasised the relevance of linguistic diversity and said it was a worthy initiative of the United Nations to celebrate the linguistic diversity in various societies. He said that the day is a reminder of every citizen’s right to maximise the use of mother tongue. “Language is a reflection of our consciousness, therefore there is nothing inferior about indigenous languages. Let’s promote who we are.”
“Every effort must be made to ensure that our mother tongue has a future; that our future generation have opportunities not only to hear stories in indigenous languages but to handle books and learn to read and write in it as well and to feel proud of it,” Mogoeng said.
At the Department of Languages, while highlighting the importance of the day, UJ scholar and critic, Prof Zilibele Mtumane, said Mother tongue instruction is a necessary phenomenon in Africa, including South African schools. African pupils fail at school, not because they cannot grasp the content of the learning areas. The major hindrance is language. “Should African children be taught in their mother tongue, the pass rate would improve tremendously.”
Prof Mtumane urged that people should make efforts on their own to safeguard and promote their mother tongue from extinction because this may lead to the long term extinction of the nationality of a people. It would also have a negative effect on people’s identity. As language also carries the culture of its speakers, the culture might gradually get eroded.”
On this occasion, up and coming poets, and the People’s Poet, Mzwakhe Mbuli presented poems on the importance of mother tongue.
UJ’s Acting Vice Dean: Faculty of Humanities, Prof Brendon Barnes; Dr Somadoda Fikeni,political analyst, Elinor Sisulu, South African writer and activist , a representative for Cllr Geof Makhubo, Executive Mayor of the City of Johannesburg and Chief Cornelius Botha, Khoisan leader, also expressed their views.
Ilifa is an organization formed by legendary actor ‘Kid Sithole’ to preserve indigenous languages and promote their use in all spaces in society.