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Type Journal Article - Revue électronique d’études sur le monde anglophone
Title The state of multilingual publishing in South Africa
Issue 11.1
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2013
URL https://erea.revues.org/3507?lang=fr
South Africa has eleven official languages which include English, Afrikaans and nine other African languages: isiNdebele, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sesotho, Sepedi, Setswana, SiSwati, Tshivenda and Xitsonga. The languages that are most published, however, are English and Afrikaans, with South Africa’s indigenous1 languages — even the official languages — lagging far behind in the production of literature. During apartheid, English and Afrikaans were South Africa’s two official languages while other South African languages were very much ignored. Before 1993 and the democracy, indigenous languages were all fairly widely spoken as mother tongue languages in South Africa, but their economic and political roles were extremely limited and the speakers tended to be poor, poorly educated and largely rural (De Kadt 19). The end of apartheid brought about freedom for South Africa’s peoples, and all languages could be developed equally. However, there are various problems with the development of the official languages, and still today most indigenous languages are not standardised as English and Afrikaans are.

2South Africa’s Constitution (1996) recognises the historically “diminished use and status of the indigenous languages,” and declares that the state must take “practical and positive measures to elevate the status and advance the use of these languages” (section 6). It also states that all official languages must enjoy parity of esteem and must be treated equitably. The Pan South African Language Board, which has been established by national legislation, must — according to the Constitution — promote, and create conditions for, the development and use of all official languages and promote and ensure respect for all languages commonly used by communities in South Africa (Republic of South Africa). However language, despite being politically important in contemporary South Africa, is not an issue that is prioritised (De Kadt 19). Webb also argues that South Africa’s official languages are not standardised, “fully-fledged” (159) languages as English and Afrikaans are. He goes on to explain that standard languages are important in the lives of communities in at least the following ways: (1) they are the languages of communication with government, in public administration and the justice system; (2) they are the languages (varieties) used for the distribution of and access to information in formal contexts; (3) they are the languages of higher-level employment and participation in the political, economic and educational life of a country; (4) they are the languages of intellectual development, public debate and literature, and are basic to establishing a culture of reading; and (5) they are the symbols of national unity, social identity and social prestige.

3With English representing what many black speakers (especially the urban youth) want to be while at the same time being the main language of political power, state control, the provision of education and participation in the economy (Webb 161), many South Africans are moving away from their mother tongues and towards English, as the underdevelopment of African languages means they are not fulfilling their roles as explained above. Thus the demand for African language literature decreases, and the difficulties in standardising the languages increase.

4This paper will attempt to show that the growth of the official African languages has not reached the same level as English and Afrikaans and does not enjoy ‘parity of esteem’ in the South African publishing industry, and that this underdevelopment of nine of the official languages is thus in discord with the South African Constitution.

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