S. Africans seek lingual diversity, but English rules
Many tongues vs. modern era
Aug. 16, 2003
CARLETONVILLE, South Africa - Two miles below the Earth's surface, English is
becoming the lingua franca of TauTona, the world's deepest gold mine.
For decades, Black miners ferried into the cramped, steamy depths have
communicated with their primarily White Afrikaner bosses in fanagalo, a pidgin
of Zulu, Xhosa and related languages that developed in the mines, or in
Afrikaans or one of a dozen other African languages.
But growing safety concerns, new technology and a desire of workers to drop
apartheid-era fanagalo and Afrikaans are combining to push TauTona toward
"It's the language of business, technology, commerce," said Shelagh Blackman, a
spokeswoman for AngloGold, the mining giant that runs TauTona. "In South Africa,
it's the language of opportunity."
AngloGold's push toward one common language, however, is directly at odds with
the South African government's campaign to promote language diversification as a
basic human right in the post-apartheid era.
For years, most government documents and signs and television programs have been
produced in Afrikaans and English, the country's two White languages, and in
some cases in Zulu and Xhosa, the predominant Black languages. The country's new
national anthem combines lyrics in Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, English and Afrikaans.
Superhero cartoons, dubbed into Zulu, are a Saturday morning television staple.
Now, however, the government plans to put all 11 of the country's official
languages on an even footing and to promote the use of more than a dozen other
unofficial languages as well.
Under the new National Language Policy Framework, important government documents
will be printed in Pedi, Tswana, Sotho, Tsonga, Swati, Venda and Ndebele as well
as the four more widely used languages.
A national government languages department will be established next year and
translation units set up in every government ministry.
Government officials estimate the changes will require a 2 percent budget
increase, a figure critics believe is unrealistically low.
Jacob Zuma, South Africa's deputy president, calls the push, mandated in the
1996 post-apartheid constitution, an effort at "the complete restoration of the
pride and dignity of all our people."
With minority languages fast vanishing throughout the world as their last
speakers die or as dominant languages push them out of common usage, South
Africa's effort has won the praise of linguists, anthropologists and others
interested in preserving cultural diversity.
Promoting the use of any language in daily life, experts say, is the only way to
ensure that it continues to survive and thrive.
South Africa's push also has a practical side. A recent poll by the Pan South
African Language Board said that almost half of South Africans whose first
language is something other than English did not grasp a significant portion of
English-language political speeches and official statements, and 47 percent felt
that their native tongue was not adequately used in government offices and other