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Are Namibian indigenous languages important?

2020-03-06  Staff Reporter

Are Namibian indigenous languages important?
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Namibia is a democratic country and each member of the civil society needs to feel valued for being a meaningful member of society. For people to feel they are valued and their rights are recognised, their indigenous languages must be recognised and valued in society. However, when it comes to Namibian indigenous languages, it appears that little effort is made to uphold indigenous languages and their relevance in Namibia. 

There are certain issues we do as a nation that make one question the importance of Namibian indigenous languages. To mention a few: in Namibian schools, attention is only given to English and not to the indigenous languages; learners who excel in indigenous languages and fail English are regarded as having failed; the Namibia national examination passing grade for grade 12 (Matric) does not include indigenous languages; Namibian universities are clear on the English symbol that potential students must obtain in matric but none of the universities requires potential students to pass indigenous language to be admitted at the university, and even students who aspire to become teachers of indigenous languages are mainly selected based on the marks obtained in English before admissions. As a result of the above-stated, an aspiring indigenous language teacher may not be admitted if s/he has not obtained a good symbol in English despite having excelled in his/her indigenous languages.  As a nation, we need to carefully examine the treatment we give our indigenous language and the effect it may have on the general development of the country. There is a need to analyse the position of our indigenous languages in our nation and suggest ways to make their roles more visible. We need a multilingual approach where most languages feature in most, if not all, the discourses. 

Some schools still punish learners for speaking in their indigenous languages at schools, and some parents prefer their children to know European languages at the expense of their indigenous language. One cannot fully blame the parents because they simply want their children to know the languages they will benefit from – and as it stands, the benefits from knowing the indigenous languages are not visible. 
Important national discourses, such as parliamentary sessions, take place in English and are not translated in all indigenous languages. This indirectly denies some people the rights to participate in the national discourse – not because they do not want to, but because the only languages they know, their indigenous languages, are excluded. 

We need to realise that the exclusion of some indigenous languages from schools affect the performance of children in other subjects because certain concepts are only known by them in their indigenous languages. This limits the students’ capability to fully express their knowledge, which they are sometimes only able to do in indigenous languages. 

Furthermore, languages are not neutral to culture, and English is not an exception. English has its own culture and values; thus, the African value and knowledge, which may be helpful in the development of the country, cannot be upheld and transferred to future generations through a foreign language. 

Awareness of indigenous languages offers both Namibians and non-Namibians an opportunity to better understand our combined history and to gain an understanding of Namibia’s indigenous heritage of languages and culture. We believe tribalism can easily be eliminated if all languages are included in all public discourse and in the curricula, as many people will get an opportunity to be exposed and make other indigenous languages that, at the moment, seem invisible due to the fact that they are only used by their native speakers. As a result, when speakers of other languages hear about such minority languages, they are likely to be linguistically shocked and turn to tribalistic remarks that could have been avoided if all languages were accessible. 

The profile of all Namibian indigenous languages needs to be raised. We must make use of interpreters to translate information in the languages that are well known by the majority, especially in sectors such as health, law and education, because information is comprehensive in the language that people know.
As a country, we are aiming to achieve the development that can be sustained for many generations – and in so doing, we must keep in mind that sustainable development will not be fully achieved without giving people the opportunities to actively share their traditional knowledge, part of their intangible cultural heritage, on how to deal with different drawbacks facing the country.

2020-03-06  Staff Reporter

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