Valuable cultural qualities take care of themselves

2015-12-03 06:00

I REFER to the writer who complained that blacks want to be fluent in English rather than concentrating on their own particular languages (“Is English your language?” 19 November).

It is not clear whether the writer is against bilingualism, but because the admission is made that justification for the choice of English is its indisputable international communication value (and this does not exclude the Netherlands), the argument against this choice seems to be rooted in the language policies of the old regime.

Under Afrikaner rule, the promotion of indigenous languages for blacks was a part of the divisive apartheid policy, as was the effective conditioning by the government of Afrikaners against English-speaking South Africans.

In spite of this, for the obvious reasons noted above, the international and educational value to Afrikaners of fluency in English was never denied. After the 1976 Soweto uprising, English was eventually allowed to become the language of choice for black people.

It is estimated that only about 25% of black South Africans are as fluent in English as they would like to be, largely because of poor quality teaching (which persists), and at least partly because their teachers were products of the indigenous language Bantu education.

In addition to English, I think there are nine official African languages (10 including Afrikaans, which is more widely spoken than one might suspect). Why is it of concern to the writer whose motives I am disputing, that the British were worse colonists than the Dutch (Afrikaners) and that native blacks should thus concentrate more on their own languages than on the one that will undoubtedly best serve their future prospects? If Afrikaans were the international language, that would be the sensible choice.

The Afrikaans-English divide was calculated to fragment the whites under National Party rule, and now your reader proposes that blacks should be concentrating not on the English language, but on their particular indigenous languages. One might sympathise with this sentiment if the object were the preservation of some important, exclusive cultural attribute, but valuable cultural qualities do take care of themselves and do survive the natural developments that mark the history of all surviving cultures which historically have often been enriched blending.

South African

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