Battle for the mother tongue: Getting to grips with isiXhosa

2013-09-24 08:00

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

It’s a complaint that reverberates around our multilingual country. Many of our children who are taught in English battle to speak their mother tongue. City Press asked four families how they keep their languages and heritage alive.

Mkhuseli Jack is very proud of his Xhosa heritage and views his mother tongue as an integral part of his tradition and legacy.

But his wife Karen, the mother of Thembaloxolo (19) and Cayla-Rose (17), speaks a different tongue entirely.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, his two children cannot speak isiXhosa as well as he would like – despite his best efforts to encourage them to embrace his language.

“My son speaks a little, but my daughter’s isiXhosa is not good at all. I guess in terms of language children are influenced by their mother, hence it’s called mother tongue.

That’s the case at my house,” Jack says of his English wife.

The wealthy businessman and prominent anti-apartheid activist from Port Elizabeth speaks to his children in isiXhosa but they respond in English.

He is quick to defend his children, though, saying his beloved language is dying a slow death, which they are not alone in being part of.

“My children have Xhosa-speaking friends but even when these kids are alone, they speak in English. Young people have lost interest in the language. As much as I try to revive it in my own house, it seems I am fighting a losing battle,” he says.

Jack feels strongly that his language defines who he is, but he cannot force his children to speak it.

“Language is the most valuable thing in our heritage and if you lose it, it means you have lost who you are.”

Although her isiXhosa is not perfect either, Karen Jack, who has been married to Mkhuseli for 20 years, encourages her children to speak the language.

Themba, as Jack’s son is known, has now taken an interest and is majoring in isiXhosa for his BA degree at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.

He also didn’t allow his limited vocabulary to stand in the way of undergoing the traditional ritual initiation.

Asked in isiXhosa if he is a man, he replies, “Ewe ndiyindoda, ndaya entabeni” (Of course I am, I went to the mountain).

But he quickly switches to English. “We speak 95% English at home. My dad tries to encourage us but I guess we have not been trying hard. But I am very proud of isiXhosa, it is part of my heritage.”

I ask Themba questions in isiXhosa and he responds with “Andiva“ (I can’t understand you). He says goodbye in isiXhosa, though: “Ndiyavuya ukukwazi“ (It was nice knowing you).

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.