I am very much delighted to be invited here to address a special breed of people in our society, who endeavour to make the world a slightly smaller place by breaking down language barriers and allowing great literature to be enjoyed far more widely.
I would like to further thank Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) for organising this auspicious event to celebrate International Mother Language Day, and affording the Department of Arts and Culture a golden opportunity to interact with members of staff and students in the field of language studies.
Language is very important and we all communicate to be understood. If you deny people their language, you are denying their very existence.
Language was used as a tool for oppression during the apartheid regime.
Hence this year marks the 40th anniversary of the June 16 student uprising in Soweto. The students took to the streets protesting for being coerced to be taught in Afrikaans.
Earlier this morning we hoisted the national flag at Cowan High School in New Brighton as part of the National Identity Campaign recently launched in partnership with SABC Education under the slogan, “Afurika Tshipembe lashu”, meaning Our South Africa. The National Identity campaign is currently underway through promos and fillers in 11 official languages on SABC Radio Stations across the country.
This campaign is an extension of the Department of Arts and Culture’s Flag in every School project that aims at educating learners and citizens about nation building and social cohesion. The programme includes promoting the singing of the National Anthem; reciting of the Preamble of the Constitution and installation of the National Flag in schools.
The campaign’s objective is to mobilize all South Africans, schools, different racial groups, civil organisation, interfaith and business to strengthen relations amongst fellow South Africans towards a common identity.
I am proud to announce another milestone in preserving and elevating our indigenous languages. Last year we were very instrumental in resuscitating the National lexicography Units (One per official language), the launch of the mono-lingual and bi-lingual dictionaries. We also launched the Human Language Technologies during the International Translation Day.
The Human Language Technologies (HLT) is one of positive development within the language sphere which utilises modern technology to improve translation.
The annual celebrations of the International Mother Language Day further reinforces all efforts to ensure that indigenous languages are not extinct since it seeks to promote awareness of multilingualism, linguistic and cultural diversity.
Lest we forget, International Mother Language Day originated as the international recognition of Language Movement Day, which is celebrated on 21 February to commemorate the day in 1952 when four students in Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) were killed during demonstrations to recognise their mother tongue as an official language. UNESCO announces a theme for the day every year, and this year’s theme is “To promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by people of the world”
Language is a vital form of communication. It remains the central instrument of culture. People learn their culture through linguistic interaction; they give their culture expression through language, art, music and dance. It is through language that we are able to convey our feelings, wishes, hopes and desires. It is also through language that today I am able to give this keynote address.
Throughout history, many scholars have reflected on the significance of language.
For instance, the scholar Benjamin Whorf has noted that “language shapes thoughts and emotions, determining one’s perception of reality”.
Edward Sapir, further said “language is not only a vehicle for the expression of thoughts, perceptions, sentiments, and values characteristic of a community; it also represents a fundamental expression of social identity”.
Since the dawn of democracy in 1994, South Africa is known as one of the countries which have the most progressive constitutional language provisions on the African continent.
It enshrines multilingualism in the sense that the former language dispensation based on official bilingualism has been substituted by multilingualism, where eleven languages of the South African population are recognized as official languages.
Therefore, all three spheres of government are required to use at least two official languages, and the constitution also encourages the use of previously marginalized African languages, stipulating that they must enjoy ‘parity of esteem and must be treated equitably’ in relation to English and Afrikaans.
Our country is blessed with cultural and linguistic diversity, and there are numerous opportunities for people from various linguistic cultures to interact. If one values diversity, one should also value the continued existence of all our languages. In fact, the preservation, promotion of mother tongue and development of cultural and linguistic diversity is vital for global harmony.
As the Department of Arts and Culture is charged with development and promoting the eleven official languages, particularly those languages that have not received equitable treatment in the past, through partnerships with various universities in the language field.
The bursary scheme is part of our strategic goal to build skills and capacity in the Arts, Culture and Heritage Sector and is aimed at developing qualified language practitioners in fields such as translation, interpreting, lexicography, language planning and human language technologies.
The promotion of these areas is a major part of the Department’s mandate, so events such as International Mother Language Day are an opportunity for us to highlight our commitment to our work and the study of languages.
The bursary scheme was originated in 2004/5. It runs in three-year cycles and bursaries are awarded for undergraduate and postgraduate studies. At the beginning of each cycle, the National Language Service invites universities to apply for funding to award bursaries.
To qualify for funding, they are required to submit their course outlines.
The decision to award funding is based on relevance of the course content, and factors such as the African languages that will benefit, the fields of specialisation offered and the location of the universities.
The course content must address the knowledge and skills required by language practitioners in the South African context.
For purposes of undergraduate studies in particular, the National Language Service (NLS) tries to support the study of the most marginalised languages, for example Tshivenda, Xitsonga, Siswati and isiNdebele.
The location of the universities is a factor because the NLS tries to ensure that universities in all provinces get an opportunity to offer bursaries, so that students throughout the country will benefit. In the current cycle, bursaries are awarded to students at the following universities:
University of Limpopo (Turfloop Campus), University of Witwatersrand, University of Western Cape, North-West University, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and University of South Africa (UNISA).
We are here to meet the language practitioners of the future, and to engage them on their studies, the role they see for themselves in promoting multilingualism, and in developing and promoting the use of their mother tongues.
From our side, as the department, we would like to share with them the work they are doing to develop all our official languages, to encourage them to continue to study and use their mother tongues, and to answer their questions about their role in promoting multilingualism and linguistic diversity.
Ladies and Gentlemen: Let us think about our mother languages not only during Mother Language Day Celebration but every day.
Ndi a livhuwa
Ke a leboga
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