South Africa’s language games: Moving us forward or backward?

2016-03-09 18:41

The ANC and its darling offspring, the EFF, believe they are qualified to decide on higher education’s language policies.

My concern is that they view language simply as a symbol of racial identity and the answer to coping with University education. I think this limited view of language is a mistake. I am willing to concede to being wrong here, but first I need a few questions answered.

Remember the subjects taught at Universities have their own technical language that is not part of everyday common use. Will someone be kind enough, then, to provide me with the indigenous language concepts in math for technical terms like quadratic equations, trigonometry and geometry? What terms would capture specialist topics in physics such as quantum mechanics, electromagnetism and thermodynamics? Consider terms in biology. Are there indigenous language terms equivalent to evolutionary biology, genes and speciation? What is the indigenous language equivalent to technical terms in computing such as polymorphism, encapsulation and terabytes? And in finance, will someone be kind enough to provide the indigenous equivalent for net present value, internal rate of return and arbitrage?

And as we delve into more advanced studies, consider technical terms in philosophy. Will someone be kind enough to provide the indigenous language concepts equivalent to abstract and difficult concepts like ontology, epistemology and axiology? In the philosophy of science, will someone be kind enough to provide the indigenous language equivalent to concepts such as positivism, hermeneutics and post-modernism? What about concepts in scientific experiments such as falsification, hypothesis testing, and the mediating variable?  Even if indigenous languages can be adapted to cope with terms that took centuries to evolve, who and where are these people that would be qualified to teach using these indigenous concepts?

If we want to publish our research in top journals, attract international academics, collaborate with the best minds both local and global, create patents from research to build mega industries, and communicate effectively in the global world of work, we will need to use the world’s most evolved and flexible language: English.

Language is more importantly a tool to think stuff and build stuff. And we have to face up to it – some tools are simply better than others.

Perhaps, the prehistoric ANC and its backward offspring the EFF should mind their own language and stick to something they are good at – show business.

We could replace the first three letters of the above-mentioned complex terms with EFF as a concession (for example: Effgenes or Effterabytes) but unfortunately this sounds just a tiny bit vulgar.

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