Let’s end English obsession

2016-09-25 06:06
Gauteng MEC for Education Panyaza Lesufi. (Cornel van Heerden)

Gauteng MEC for Education Panyaza Lesufi. (Cornel van Heerden)

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Georg Hegel warned: “We learn from history that we don’t learn from history.” There still exists a perpetual, if not detrimental phenomenon to prioritise the English language over our own languages.

It is clear that we have not learnt from history that African languages are not useless, and we use them less and less.

This is a disturbing fact.

History is littered with stories which should have taught us various lessons, including that language was used as an instrument to conquer us in Africa. French, Portuguese, English and other western languages were forced on us and, lately, it seems, the Chinese espouse the same imperialistic covert policies to impose Mandarin in Africa.

They do that with the help of our democratic governments. They employ designed monetary pretexts to impose their language on us.

Language imperialism impairs the perceived and envisaged development of African languages.

As a result, all the valuable knowledge passed down to us by previous generations, such as language, culture and traditions – that define our heritage – will soon face extinction.

Language can be described as the permanent and stable, but developing nucleus of personality; it is absolutely our own. Without our languages we are nothing, less than nothing.

It is obvious that we are still slaves of post-colonial psychological imprisonment when it comes to how we Africans treat the English language.

In South Africa we have 11 official languages, but we have officialised English at the expense of our own. We are closed to admitting that our indigenous languages carry our heritage and way of life.

This Heritage Month, we ought to celebrate indigenous languages but, instead, we celebrate our heritage in English.

The Pan South African Language Board, which is meant to promote African languages, has become another empty policy-pretext to further perpetuate stigmas around African languages.

Our Constitution also sounds the death knell to the promotion of these languages. They are theoretically protected but practically neglected.

The appreciation of our languages will only be realised when we begin to treat them as the languages of politics, economics and research.

Accents and fluency in English must not be mistakenly equated to intelligence. Psychoanalysis must be carried out to treat the detrimental effects of post-colonialism.

This colonial mentality can be traced back to the colonial and apartheid eras where we were taught to glorify English and Afrikaans as the supreme languages.

The symbolic effects of post-colonialism still hold us ransom. We are not aware that we perpetuate white supremacy through the English language.

UNESCO’s Endangered Languages Programme estimates that 6 000 languages that are spoken today will disappear by the end of the century.

Our home languages face extinction within the walls of our homes. Our mother tongues are foreign to our children.

Because our skin pigmentation makes the attainment of whiteness impossible, we then resort to using accent as a means of blending in with the “superior” race.

We ought to be honest and elevate our languages to prominence. We must stop using English where it is not necessary.

This in turn will help preserve our culture and heritage. This Heritage Month we must celebrate the power of our own languages. We must do away with the obsession with English.

The social order and school curriculum still indoctrinate us to worship English. Language policy makers seem to be agents of Cecil John Rhodes’ dream to westernise the world.

In 1901, Rhodes initiated scholarships to safeguard his dream of making the whole world English.

In the 1980s, our teachers severely punished us, and some still do so, for abusing the Queen’s language with our nasty accents.

When a teacher discourages a learner from speaking an indigenous language, is psychology paralysing the learner to start thinking that their language is useless?

One is flabbergasted that some students majoring in African languages still write their theses in English. It proves that our own languages are regarded as useless, not only by whites, but by us as well.

Decolonisation starts when one becomes conscious that one is colonised. Failure to be aware further perpetuates and maintains the status quo. We need to disrupt the existing orders purposed at suppressing our languages.

The fertile ground for promoting and developing languages is at school level, and it is something that Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi must be commended for.

But let’s speak our languages at home as well. I have a strong conviction that our languages can be turned into those of politics, economics and research.

Shishenge is an indigenous-language teacher and activist at Wena Research Institute

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Read more on:    panyaza lesufi  |  cecil john rhodes  |  language

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