Language and Politics


A few language related news items from South Africa over the last few months:
Firstly, the Pan South African Language Board decries the loss of human languages but only has International Mother Tongue Day and such like as solutions. Surely this is a feather-weight solution to a hippo-sized problem? For many people they'll pay as much attention as to International Talk Like a Pirate Day (or less). We need rather concerted efforts on the part of governments and civil society around the world.
For example, Mbeki raising the issue of language neglect with the National House of Traditional Leaders. This is great. Interestingly, he quotes the above report to say that in South Africa, only Afrikaans is defended by its speakers. Declining interest in African languages is reported in the Department of Education.
What can we do to fight these things? Promote the use of diverse languages in court, for a start - the article illustrates the kind of difficulties of encouraging multilingualism when there are several languages at stake. But it's a road that needs to be travelled. Fortunately the South African constitution mandates government promotion of languages. For's part, we're trying to ensure that people can use the language of their choice on their computers.
Behind all this is a mentality issue: are we as South Africans just going to imitate the west or are we going to celebrate our uniqueness and diversity? And keep a good sense of humour at the same time - sometimes localization goes awry.
Unrelatedly, I found this quote fascinating: Rebecca Wanjiku on the World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva, 2003:
Being my first time to attend intergovernmental negotiations, the chance was an eye opener for me. I witnessed "reputable" governments opposing press freedom, locking out major input from the civil society and at the end of it, I understood why my government never discloses its contribution to the public.

Hopefully South Africa will not allow the many winds and waves of global and local thinking to divert us from what is truly important.
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