In a contemporary society especially in a diverse country such as South Africa, language plays an important role in defining identity. 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. 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). This essay aims to research the effects of a multilingual university (UWC) community on language use and ideology. It will also provide reasons for these effects and how attitudes relate to language ideology.
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To begin the study my research population consisted of a UWC male student, age twenty five and his first language is Setswana. In order to conduct the research I first posed a question to this student. The question was as follows; Given that you have been at UWC for at least two years, what effect is your membership of a multilingual university community having on your language use and ideology? The student answered that being at UWC has changed his ideology of different languages, because of the diverse language speakers and the formation of strong friendships he has been forced to become familiar with other languages. I then used this response as a framework to begin the research. As this is a qualitative research study I have made use of the survey-questionnaire method to gather my data. I have particularly applied the Linkert Scale style questionnaire that consists of statements and of which the participant’s answers are among the following; strongly agree/ agree/ unsure/disagree/strongly disagree. The participant would then provide the reasons for their answers.
The statements on the Linkert Scale questionnaire were as follows:
I am happy with English as the main medium of instruction at UWC
I would be more successful in my academic studies if my home/first language could be used in lectures and tutorials
The other languages are sufficiently developed for use at tertiary level, and should not only be used for informal communication
It’s a good thing that we have a common language here at UWC to help us communicate across linguistic boundaries
I’m pleased that I’ve picked up some words and expressions in other languages here at UWC
The other part of the questionnaire asked for “reasons for answers” and provided writing space for the student’s response. In this case the student then provided reasons for his response to the above statements which made up the full data which I have made use of in this essay.
The findings consisted of the responses to the above statements and the reasons for the response. The participant’s response to statement one was that he strongly agrees with English being a medium of instruction at UWC. His reason for his response was as follows “Since different students come from different backgrounds/cultures and languages it’s only fair to have English as a lingua Franca common to all”. Thus in this case I have found that the participant feels that English is a language spoken by all students at UWC. He also suggests that it is fair to have English as a medium of instruction, because all students at UWC share the common understanding of English whether it be a first, second or third language acquisition. This explains English as a lingua franca, ‘the term lingua franca describes a language serving as a regular means of communication between different linguistic groups in a multilingual speech community’ Holmes (1997:86). The participant in this case is happy with the fact that English is used as a medium of instruction.
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The student’s response to statement two was that he disagrees that he would be more successful academically if his first language was a medium of instruction. The student’s reason for this is as follows “No, I am more competent in English than my mother tongue when it comes to reading and writing as I last stopped using my first language for reading and writing in standard 3”. It is clear, judging by the participant’s response, that he has lost proficiency in his first language in reading and writing due to being educated in English for so long. As a result of being educated in English for such a long time the student seems to feel more competent with English. This evidence gives rise to the notion that English may be the predominant language for educating a multilingual society due to its global recognition.
The participant’s response to statement three was that he strongly disagrees with the assumption that, other languages are sufficiently developed for use at tertiary level and should not only be used for informal communication. The student’s reason for this is “When it comes to Afrikaans and Xhosa I understand because these are the languages predominantly spoken in the Western Cape, but if it’s other languages it would not be fair to the other 11 official languages which are not used in tertiary education”. The student in this instance feels as that English, Afrikaans and Xhosa are the only three languages developed at tertiary level as there is predominance in the amount of speakers of these languages. However, the participant disagrees that other languages should be used as a medium of instruction at tertiary level because it would be unfair to those who cannot understand the language. The student also feels that should one language, other than English/Afrikaans or Xhosa, be used as a medium of instruction at tertiary level it would be unfair to the other eleven official languages that are not used in this way.
The student’s answer to statement four was that he strongly agrees that it’s a good thing that we have a common language at UWC to communicate across linguistic boundaries. The student’s reason for this is as follows; “If it wasn’t for English as a lingua franca we would all be lost unless we share a 1st language, So it very good that we have a lingua franca as we connect/communicate well”. In this case it is evident that the participant feels generally pleased that there is a language that can break through linguistic boundaries. The student in this case feels that English has the power to do so as a result of its wide range of speakers. It is also clear that the student agrees that English as a lingua franca helps us to communicate with other students from different linguistic backgrounds.
The last statement the partaker responded that he agrees that he is pleased he has picked up some words and expressions in other languages. His reason for this is “Yes I am this helps to communicate better with student who I do not share the same 1st language with, helps to build friendships and more, it brings people together”. With regard to this response it seems that the student is pleased that he is able to pick up words form other languages that help to form relationships.
To conclude the findings it is apparent that language attitudes form part of ideologies. Judging by the data I have gathered the participant provided insight of his attitude toward different languages especially English. It is obvious that English is a medium of instruction that the participant is pleased with as he would not have chosen UWC as an institution for higher education if this was not the case. The participant thus has a positive attitude towards English and the ideology (shared beliefs of language forms and practices) that English is a lingua franca common to all, increases this positive attitude. In this instance it brings to mind the assumption that we attain our attitudes from our ideologies.
In essence it is apparent that our ideologies influence our attitudes toward various languages and it is these components that constitute as part of our identity. Language thus forms part of identity and in a modernised multilingual society the choice of identity is open to all. To elaborate one can side with the post-modern researchers who suggest that “Post-modern accounts of identity have reacted against traditional and essentialist views by proposing an almost unlimited range of identity choices” (Wallace, 2008:61). We as South Africans may be faced with the challenge of the battle between predominant and minor languages in a diverse country that consists of many different languages. Yet it is still astonishing to see that an institution such as UWC is able to bring people together even if it is through the use of English as a medium of instruction.
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