Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Thursday, 8 January, '09: 'Hello' in eleven official languages
Maria, who lives in Poland and is a veteran blogger in more ways than one, suggested that I add a Translator to my blog. Which I am doing...in process, as they say!
With that, the idea was sparked of chatting to you about the language policy of South Africa. In 1994, when the first democratic elections were held and the nation shifted, without bloodshed, to an entirely new Government of National Unity, the language issue was a thorny one, fraught with past bitterness and injustice. Previously we had a bilingual policy with two official languages: English and Afrikaans. This priviledged mainly white South Africans and excluded all other South African languages and their speakers. With reform came the entrenchment of language rights in the new Constitution of South Africa (1996). It was decided to give official status to all eleven South African languages. This development brought with it the usual hot public debate ranging from praise, optimism and hope to anger, cynicism and disparagement.
What has happened since?
Well, in my view, English has largely become the lingua franca of public discourse - certainly, the language of the formal workplace, education, government and commerce. But the multilingual policy, its intentions and the spirit thereof, are conciliatory and of merit.
Often our colloquial language is a mixture. I love to listen to South Africans chatting animatedly: moving from one language to another, peppering conversation with an approving 'Yebo!' (Yes!)
On my morning walk I am regularly hailed with: 'Morning, Mama' (Mother). Or more likely: 'Morning, Gogo' (Granny). Or on really 'bad hair' days, with 'Morning, MaGogo' (Old Granny)!
So, Hi there! in eleven languages: