South African Contextual And Conceptual Framework Education Essay

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In essence a language policy is a documented procedure that tends to approve or refrain the use of a particular language or set of languages (Crawford, 2008). According to Crawford (2008) although historically nations have used language policies, most often to promote a single official language at the expense of others, many countries now have policies implemented to protect and promote regional and ethnic languages whose capacity is threatened. Thus, Language Policy is what a government does either officially through legislation, court decisions or policy to establish how languages are used, to develop language skills needed to meet national priorities or to ascertain the rights of individuals or groups to use and preserve languages (Crawford, 2008). Hence, this essay aims to provide a critical assessment of the University of The Western Cape's language policy and to provide relevant insight on this particular topic within a South African context.

A South African Contextual and Conceptual Framework

The use and choice of language stands as a basic human right to all South Africans. The language clause is supported by the Bill of Rights which states "Everyone has the right to use the language and participate in the cultural life of their choice, but no one exercising these rights may do so in a manner inconsistent with any provision of the Bill of Rights" (South African Bill of Rights, 2010:30). Multilingualism in this case is established as the reason that this particular section has been implemented. According to the South African Council of Higher Education (2001) in a South African context multilingualism may be defined as the ability to speak more than one of South Africa's eleven official languages.

Multilingualism as a form of a broader political concern includes the development and promotion of respect for all languages used by South Africans that comprise of foundational values of our post-apartheid society (CHE, 2001). As a result one may attach South Africa's context to a form of negotiated and truncated multilingualism on the typology of societal multilingualism. Truncated multilingualism is described as a form of linguistic competencies which are organised topically, on the basis of domains or specific activities (Blommaert, Collins & Slembrouck, 2004).

As a result of South Africa's multilingual society we are likely to be inclined to truncated multilingualism especially between the African languages along with English and Afrikaans which are in the line of dominance with particularly isiZulu and isiXhosa. According to Dor (2004) negotiated multilingualism on the other hand is concerned with negotiating a policy that provides a fair platform for expression between dominant and minority languages. This occurs in South Africa as due to the many languages that flow across the country the dominance of languages such as English, Afrikaans isiZulu and Isixhosa need to be negotiated with less dominant languages such as Tsvenda, Sesotho, Setswane etc. As a result of this topic surfacing, the truncated and negotiated form of multilingualism influences educational institutions such as the University of the Western Cape in particular, and the broader economical and social communication environment.

Consequently due to South Africa being a contemporary society we are manipulated by the advances in technology which encourages a form of transidiomatic practices by which we exploit multilingualism through the uses of technologies such as computers through e-mail, cell-phone and communicative channels such as Facebook and Twitter (Jacqemet, 2005). These particular channels are widely used within educational institutions as students seem to be the majority user group.

Accordingly the choice and use of language especially in South Africa is influenced by many aspects. These aspects form a framework to which individuals within society base their choices and use of language on. As a result of the many diverse cultures, South Africans are exposed to a vast amount of different languages. These languages form part of identity and thus are accompanied by certain language ideologies and attitudes that influence the choice and uses of the various languages. The languages are therefore accompanied by certain language ideologies and attitudes.

Language ideology may be defined as "shared beliefs about language forms and practices embedded in social conflicts over power" (Volk and Angelova, 2007:177). Attitudes on the other hand are closely related to ideologies, and are described as learned reactions toward a person or situation (Steinberg, 2007). Attitudes on the other hand are closely related to ideologies, and are described as learned reactions toward a person or situation (Steinberg, 2007).

These particular aspects and issues of multilingualism contribute to the linguistic situations that occur in society today especially our educational institutions, UWC is no stranger to this situation. The university's language policy is therefore influenced by these many aspects. For example the ideology held by individuals that English is a global language has expanded the conception that the language should be used as a "Lingua franca". The term lingua franca in this sense describes a language standing as a standard means of communication between different linguistic groups in a multilingual speech community (Holmes, 1997). This conception has thus influenced people's attitudes toward learning English as a second language as a vital part of reaching success in international relations. This notion is allocated globally and has influenced many aspects of society including educational organisations. UWC as a local and international institution for higher education is therefore strongly impacted by these aspects.

Assessment of UWC Language Policy

The University of the Western Cape represents language as a right. This postulation coincides with the "right" paradigm and may be associated with Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights in which article nine states "All language communities have the right to codify, standardize, preserve, develop and promote their linguistic system, without induced or forced interference" (UNLR, 2010:9). This particular paradigm is also adopted by the South African National language Policy and the university takes on this same position. The language policy of the university therefore seems to be aimed at all students from both local and international backgrounds.

According to South African statistics the most commonly-spoken home language is isiZulu, which is spoken by 23.8% of the population, followed by isiXhosa (17.6%) and Afrikaans (13.3%). English is used as a lingua franca across the country, but is the home language of 8.2% of the population (Census 2001). The language policy of UWC has recognised these statistics and has therefore adhered to the premise of these results by trying to accommodate the languages. Consequently English is accepted as a lingua franca at UWC and is therefore the main medium of instruction.

Though the policy recognises that the use of African languages should be considered it has not made any compensation for other African languages except for isiXhosa which is only used wherever it is practical to do so (Board of Management of Ililwimi Sentrum, 2003). Afrikaans is also considered in the lines with isiXhosa, however it is recognised second to English as the majority of students have either English or Afrikaans as second and third languages the same goes for isiXhosa.

To a certain extent the intent of the statement of the language policy has been carried out, however there are not many multilingual lecturers and tutors to accommodate students with various language backgrounds. The policy has to an extent managed to accommodate the majority English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa speakers, though this leaves little consideration for those that speak other African languages such as isiZulu, Tsvenda, Swane etc. There also seems to be evidence that Xhosa seems to be the main African language recognised when actually the majority of Africans within the country speak isiZulu, Xhosa is second to this. The policy in this case seems to recognise IsiXhosa as a lingua franca to the other African languages it therefore seems to be regarded highly in this case.

The main language of learning and Teaching used seems to be English. However there are support mechanisms that have been implemented such as the means for all students to have access to entry-level courses aimed at strengthening their English. There is also compensation made to African languages of which texts may be available in isiXhosa and other African languages where necessary. This may only be done in regard to course materials and computer courseware.

The main language for internal and external communication is considered to be English however the university is compelled to make information available in Afrikaans and isiXhosa. This particular section of the policy does not seem to be adhered to in my opinion as most of the information available is in English this is evidently seen on the UWC website in which application forms and instructions are all in English. According to the UWC language policy the university attains to make language acquisition courses in Afrikaans, English and isiXhosa available to both administrative and lecturing staff (Board of Management of Ililwimi Sentrum, 2003). In my experience it seems that the staff is well trained in this area as the staff members seem to be relatively competent in the English language.

According to the Council of Higher Education (2001) recognition of multilingualism in a democratic South Africa aims to facilitate individual empowerment and national development by promoting the fair use of the official languages and thereby ensuring that all South Africans have the freedom to employ their language rights by using the official language/s of their choice in a range of contexts. This applies in particular to equality of access to government services and programmes, and to knowledge and information through using language and speech technology (CHE, 2001). To a degree the language policy of UWC does not accommodate for this as the official languages are not fully being used in the various domains of students' choice within an academic context.

Implementation Issues

There are many concerns that may arise from the implementation of a policy such as UWC's. One of the main concerns is that language barriers may occur. A language barrier may be defined as anything that stops the use or attainment of a particular language (Steinberg, 2007). In this case a UWC makes no accommodation for the other official languages except for English, Xhosa and Afrikaans which could bring about a barrier between superior and inferior languages. IsiXhosa amongst the African languages would have the most recognition and therefore be superior to the other languages. There would also be a conception that English may become a killer language. "Big" languages become Killer languages when they are learned subtractively, at the cost of the mother tongues, rather than additively (in addition to mother tongues) (Skutnabb-Kangas, 2004).

According to Skutnabb-Kangas (2004) worldwide linguistic diversity is threatened by killer languages and this may be the case for the language policy of UWC. For example it is already noticed that English is exploited as a global language, the language policy of UWC is thus increasing the exploitation of English at the expense of the other official languages this could cause problems for inferior languages resulting in English "killing" the other official languages. Due to this reason there is a chance that the University may face the prospect of becoming a monolingual institution.

Another issue that could occur is that the cultural heritage that is associated with various languages may be at threat as well. In this sense language is associated with identity and culture forms part of this, should a policy like this be implemented it may cause cultural complications in which people will not be able to fully explore and express their identities. In this instance cultural heritage in which the rights statement is intended for may fall away in regard to the other official languages.

There is also an issue of stigmatization towards the other official African languages individuals that may speak an indigenous language would be stigmatized do to the possibility of inferiority and death of that specific language. This will therefore cause continuous emotional resistance toward the "Bantu" languages that will have to be reconsidered in a post apartheid era.

The positive outcome of the policy would only occur in the case of the exploitation of English to communicate at a global level and to adhere to international relations. There is an opportunity to study abroad with the growth of English as a lingua franca. This may increase infrastructure and trade relations due to the international prospects of students' ability to communicate outside of South African boarders.


In comparison to the negative implementations the University of the Western Cape's language policy shows little positive outcome. To a degree the policy shows both linguistic ideology and reality. The ideological part may be associated with the implementation of Afrikaans as a second language as well as the idea that Xhosa stands above the other African languages. Moreover the implementation of English as a medium of instruction hinders the notion of it been a global language and therefore a lingua franca. Moreover the linguistic reality is that currently English is recognized as a global language and to an extent poses threat to various other languages. The trade and transportation industry is evident of this and we are imposed by this form of communication. To show this point McWhorther (2003) contends "The urgencies of capitalism require governments to exact as much work and allegiance from their populations as possible, and the imposition of a single language has traditionally been seen as critical to this goal, especially within the nationalist models that have ruled since the 1700s," McWhorther (2003:261). In this regard the reality is that globally capitalism is key to survival and success hence this would intentionally form the basis of the role of academic institutions. Thus it stands to reason that this policy is influenced by both the ideology and reality of this notion.