• July 14th, 2020

Opinion: Readers’ comments on language issues encouraging

As we get to the end of the year, I found it pertinent to reflect on some readers’ comments on articles on language issues published in this column. The written and verbal comments I have received since the inception of this column in January this year indicate that the articles have attracted a huge following. I have been humbled by some of the comments I have received through emails and verbally. I feel that it is in the interest of the followers of this column to read about what other readers feel about some of the articles, To illustrate this, I will refer to three articles on language issues – two articles that addressed the conundrum faced by countries in implementing language policies that promote indigenous languages in Africa, and one article  in which I argued against making Swahili a compulsory language in primary schools in Namibia. 

After reading the article “Implementing language policies in Africa: A daunting task Part 1”, a female student reader expressed how that article had assisted her in writing her assignment. She wrote: “…  I am an African Languages student at Stellenbosch University in the Faculty of Arts and Social Science. I read your article in NEW ERA newspaper of 24 May 2019, and it is very interesting and an eye opener especially for some of us who are studying African languages. Your article assisted me a lot in my assignment based on Language maintenance and Language death of African languages. It also opened my eyes in terms of our language policy. I am a Namibian, an Oshiwambo speaker. I realised that our indigenous languages especially here in NAMIBIA, a lot need to be done so that they can have equal functional status.  Thank you so much for this article.” 

Language maintenance and language death that the student mentioned in her comments above are important phenomena in the study of any language, in this case African languages. What worries linguists most is that skewed language policies can lead to the death of languages, hence the term language death.  According to Almurashi (2017), “Language death is considered to be something sad and quite unfortunate. For many speakers of widely spoken languages, such a case may be difficult to grasp. However, this case is real, and it happens around the world. For example, more than eleven percent of the world’s languages have less than one hundred and fifty speakers each. Additionally, there are a significant number of languages that are likely to be no-longer spoken …”

The article on Swahili received comments locally and one from abroad. All the way from Edmonton, Canada, one male reader had this to say: “I’m a Swahili speaker from Tanzania and also a writer in that language. I agree with the thrust of the article. I’ve always had qualms about people wanting to impose Swahili on other countries through the educational systems of those countries. I always thought Swahili should spread naturally as it has through history, leaving a light footprint. In the East African countries of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and pockets of neighboring countries, Swahili spread naturally mainly through trade. Other ways Swahili or its flavor has spread and is spreading was/is through music (and popular culture), which bears a ‘light footprint’. I don’t support a heavy-handed approach of introducing Swahili to historically non-Swahili speaking countries. The beauty of Swahili in East Africa, as I see it, was/is that no one was forced to speak it and it was/is seen as everybody’s and nobody’s language. Now, in introducing it to Namibia and other totally non-Swahili countries, Swahili may end up being seen as a foreign (even if African) language being imposed from the traditionally Swahili speaking countries, and resented or resisted because of that. And Swahili would lose some of its appeal as a non-threatening non-burdensome international African language that should be allowed and only encouraged to spread naturally.”  

In addition, the reader shared how he uses Swahili lyrics in a book. He explained: “I’m glad to have shared with you my long-held views on the matter. The article caught my eye because of a project I’m doing here in Edmonton, with a musician -- Garth Prinsonsky (aka Garth Prince) -- from Namibia, who also lives here. One of things I write, besides plays and stories for adults, are children’s picture book stories. Garth and I are working on a picture book titled “Grazing Back Home” (GBH), that will also integrate music by Garth and other musicians. A song of the same title will be part of an album of songs Garth has been working on.

The few simple lyrics in the music are in Swahili with the rest of the story text in English. What I like about the Swahili in the story is the way it sneaks in and its ‘light footprint’. The story setting is indeterminate but is African and could easily reflect a Southern African one and even Namibian (or Tanzanian). A goat herd boy called Pevu is GBH main character, but as the story unfolds it becomes clear he’s more than just a herd boy, his future potential shining through. We plan to have the book out electronically and in hard copy by early next year as part of Garth’s album (with songs other than ‘Grazing Back Home’), which he hopes to release next April. Best.”

To all the old and new readers, I say, let’s keep this column alive. The dialogue is necessary; the feedback is most welcome. Asante Sana!

*Professor Jairos Kangira is the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Namibia. He writes on his own accord. E-mail address: kjairos@gmail.com

Staff Reporter
2019-12-06 08:50:55 | 7 months ago

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