SiSwati as she is truly spoken

2017-09-10 11:11
Dr Rakwena Monareng

Dr Rakwena Monareng

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The future of siSwati as a scientific language, optimised for the use of mathematical formulae and matrices, looks bright.

It will soon be possible to find a cohort of biologists discussing concepts in siSwati and peppering the conversation with scientific terms such as lufutontalo for DNA, futisa for clone and sibonisakhulu for microscope. Those in commerce could be talking of imphahla (assets), tindleko (expenditure) and imalingena (income).

This has been made possible after the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB) reached a milestone in its attempts to preserve indigenous languages, following the launch of the first monolingual siSwati dictionary in Mbombela, Mpumalanga, last week.

“A monolingual dictionary assists students of the language to develop it,” said Dr Rakwena Monareng, the chief executive officer of PanSALB.

“We are saying siSwati and other languages have enough vocabulary to explain any concept in the world. It is a fallacy that we do not have terminology for maths. We are giving these languages the rigour to be languages of science, research and business.

“Business is not equivalent to English. It is a concept. With monolingual dictionaries, people can learn and develop concepts in their heads in their languages.”

PanSALB is advocating for the development of African languages such as siSwati, isiZulu and Tshivenda to become technologically advanced languages that can be used in any professional environment.

South Africa has 11 official languages, with English being the country’s lingua franca as a predominant language of learning and business, yet it is the mother tongue of only 9.6% of the population.

According to the 2011 census, isiZulu is spoken by 22.7% of South Africans, followed by isiXhosa at 16%, Afrikaans at 13.5%, English at 9.6%, Setswana at 8% and Sesotho at 7.6%. The remaining official languages – siSwati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, isiNdebele, Sepedi (seSotho sa Leboa) – are each spoken by less than 5% of the population. Speakers of these languages often pepper their conversations with English and Afrikaans words.

PanSALB’s lexicography units in all the provinces are developing monolingual dictionaries. The next one to be launched will be one in Xitsonga.

Monareng said that, while there have been bilingual dictionaries explaining English words in African languages and vice versa, they did little to develop African languages, though they played some role in promoting multilingualism.

He said African languages were as much languages of money as any other, and could be used to make it. Another fallacy about African languages, he said, was that these were not languages of the Christian religion, and were therefore relegated to being “languages of the ancestors” and pagans.

He said most schools did not have teachers qualified in an African language, and school governing bodies had the power to decide which languages should be taught in schools.

“Some things need to be non-negotiable,” Monareng said.

Read more on:    education

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