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Growing economies by preserving indigenous languages


Speaking at the Mariam Tladi Reading and Book Club, columnist and University of South Africa’s Professor Vuyisile Msila called upon all South Africans to use English only as a tool to preserve the indigenous languages from extinction.

Everyone in our society is playing an important role in preserving indigenous languages and ultimately using them to grow economies and promote social development:

“It should fall on all institutions; families, schools, governments etc. It should be the responsibility of everyone in society.”

His co-panellist librarian Mubanga Lumpa emphasised that family is the most influential environment to set these values as core in each child:

“The home plays a very key role in language. We need a society that looks after a language with confidence because if that confidence is lost at home, it will be difficult for the children to learn out there.”

The main goal nowadays is to change the very perception of English being a measure of intelligence. The source of that belief lies in the introduction of English to South Africans and Africans at large in the colonisation era:

“The settlers started mission schools in the Eastern Cape; taking you from the community and making sure that you’re alienated from the community. There was the Zonnebloom College where they took all the sons of the chiefs and took them there so as to be westernised. It was very deliberate so that when they come back, they do not identify with the culture of the people they live with.”

The mission of the colonisers was to kill the languages, the historic and cultural sites “thus ensuring that they contain the identity of the colonised people eventually.”

So how do we change the situation where one language enjoys all the glory at the expense of others?

“I’m thinking of former Stellenbosch University vice-chancellor Professor [Russel] Botman, who made a speech once at a time when his university was in a huge cloud of language uproar, he used a very crucial term – Ubuntu of Language. And what he meant was that my language will exist because yours exists. But unfortunately, we think of dominance all the time, that this language is more important than this one.”

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation has declared 2019 as the year of indigenous languages.


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