Language a profound tool

2019-05-16 06:01

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. But if you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

These were the words of the late former President Nelson Mandela in one of his many speeches. The man did not mince his words and was accurate in his utterances.

Dozens of people died for the same reason in 1976 – for a language. Back then they fought for the recognition of their mother tongues against one dominant language as a medium of instruction.

Language is a powerful tool that can be used to unite or divide at the same time. So one must always be cognisant of how you use your language.

Institutions that should be proud of their legacy and of being free, still use language as a barrier among people. This is totally wrong, no matter how you look at it.

I know the outcry will be “freedom of speech”. That freedom of speech is the same for which many people of this country fought and died.

What about the person who doesn’t understand your language? Must they suffer because they are a minority? That cannot be how democracy works!

If I were to speak isiXhosa, my mother tongue, in an environment where there are English and Afrikaans speaking individuals, how would they feel?

IsiXhosa is also recognised as one of South Africa’s 11 official languages. Then there’s English, a universal language, yet people choose to use other languages, especially in the workplace . . .

People should learn and understand that all languages are equal and should be respected by all, regardless of race. If you want to level the playing field, speak to a person in the language he or she understands – and you must not do that out of favour.

This also goes back to school: learners should be taught in the language they best understand. If it’s a dual medium school or learners come from different backgrounds, then there must be one common language.

Yes, this will have it’s disadvantages and advantages, but it’s far better than the promotion of one dominant language over the other.

I believe no-one is born stupid, but sometimes barriers created may create an impression that a person is incapable. By the way, the best English speakers may not be the brightest people!

Respect is paramount and all languages should be respected. It must not be certain people accommodating others, while some just carry on with their daily lives as if nothing matters.

Some will dismiss this as hot air, but the reality is that something deep within them needs to be looked into – if they can’t have introspection. No-one is against another’s language, but I have a problem when you communicate in a language that is foreign to others without knowing a single word of that person’s language, let alone making an effort,

Some will brush it off and say just be like so and so . . . No! That’s utter nonsense!

No-one is going to be like the other person. We are all unique in our own way. Let us be diverse, as we are, but we should all be respected.

In the end, I strongly believe that is what democracy is all about.


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