• August 5th, 2020

Is there a future for Namibian indigenous languages?

Theresia Nepolo
This brief article is a follow up on the article I wrote on the state of English in Namibia vs Namibian indigenous languages. Educators and language lovers like I constantly think of languages and the role they play in our societies and lives, specifically. It is no secret that a language plays more than just a communication role. To me, a language carries the core of who the person is and defines him/her – their identity. 

A few weeks past, I had a brief interesting conversation with a friend. We narrated about how our children and grandchildren failed to behave the way children are expected to behave in our culture. My colleague narrated how disappointed she was because of the way her grandchild can freely tell her to wait when she asks her to bring her something; how this little girl would not bend her knees when given something, or receives whatever is given to her with the left hand – and ultimately how this child freely expresses how she feels towards her grandmother, i.e. telling her that she must consider she also gets tired from being sent around or from being asked to do this and that. 

When we were growing up as Aawambo girls (children), the above behaviour were uncommon, unheard of and utterly unacceptable. Allow me to mention here that during our growing up years, both my friend and I lived in villages where only Oshiwambo speakers were found. The Oshiwambo language was spoken at home, at school, at church as well as at any social gathering. We were taught how to speak and behave towards each other and to adults as girl children – and the same was done to boys. The way we should behave was very clear from the onset in families and communities – and if you fail or err in any of them, you were questioned as to whose child you are and from whose house you come. This took roots in most of us and to date we carry such identities. We were safe then dear reader because we did not have exposure to televisions, telephones, cell phones, tabs, laptops, computers and you may mention them all. Our teachers were from within our community and ultimately there was little influence from elsewhere to our language and behaviour. 

The children I made reference to in the second paragraph of this article are born in Windhoek, live in Windhoek, go to school in Windhoek, taught by non Oshiwambo speakers, are not exposed to learning Oshiwambo as a language (and even as a subject) at school and so forth and so forth. These children, watch television where English is ‘the language’, go to school where English is the medium of instruction, live in a society where English is the language of communication and in a country where the same English is the official language. These children are parented by parents who are at work from 7h00 to 18h00 – and for almost their whole day are surrounded by people of mixed ethnicities and cultures, who are bound together by the English language. These children are not only exposed to the English language, but to the English culture too. Expecting them to behave like little Wambo girls is almost impossible, though they are as such by birth. 

The scary part is that the same situation is penetrating our villages and remote areas slowly but surely. This leads me to the question of where we find the position of our own languages and cultures in the middle of English. Will there be anything left of our cultural norms, values and belief system? Will our children know who they are, where they are from and what their traditional and cultural value systems are? Is there anything that can be done to redeem our cultures and indigenous languages from this threatening trend? 

While the state and future of our indigenous languages are worrisome, the question about what you would do in Namibia today with your Oshiwambo is equally valid and should be considered. Most parents and societal members will respond and say ‘so what, why do our children need Oshiwambo anyway?’ What will they do with it – where?’ Some immediately say they do not want their children to be teachers or interpreters, or to live in northern Namibia where this language is somewhat useful. Apart from these, they claim, Oshiwambo is not useful. English, on the other hand, gets you everything and everywhere. From a good job to a great university! Can your indigenous language do that? No! Why bother with and about indigenous languages such as your Oshiwambo?

The question of culture and cultural transmission is equally a valid point of discussion here. Many parents would be proud to see their children behaving culturally appropriate; i.e. nodding or bending knees when receiving or giving something, speaking appropriately with adults, being polite and receiving or giving something with their right hand, instead of doing so with the left hand, etc. Most of us will be so happy to hear our children speak our native languages perfectly and will be overjoyed to see them children writing our language clearly. I will end here today with a question for reflection and for further discussion: is there a future for indigenous languages in the MIDDLE of English in Namibia?

*Theresia Nepolo is a lecturer at the Namibia University of Science and Technology. The views expressed in this article are my own and do not represent that of the institution I work for or my employer.

Staff Reporter
2020-01-24 07:51:46 | 6 months ago

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