Monday, October 26, 2009

Indian languages in South Africa

A school principal of Indian descent in South Africa is asking that his students be allowed to learn their "heritage languages" officially, instead of learning Afrikaans or an indigenous African language. In another report, students of Indian descent are saying the same thing: "We'd rather study Hindi".

The principal, Vishnu Naidoo, declares, that "Afrikaans is irrelevant to Indians in KwaZulu-Natal." Besides, recalling apartheid, he says that, "It is a crime to force Indian children to continue to learn the language of the oppressor." (See the essay "Language Policy and Oppression in South Africa" for a 1982-snapshot of language policy and politics in the country.)

The school does offer Tamil, Hindi and Urdu as additional subjects, but these are not part of the university points system.

But, as a Department of Education official points out, Afrikaans is not compulsory, and principals can apply for their pupils to learn any other of South Africa's 11 official languages. But Principal Naidoo says that his pupils avoid learning isiZulu (the most widely spoken home language) because it is "far too difficult for them".

Naidoo also asks: "Is it necessary for all pupils to do two languages at matric level?"

To which the Department responds: "We are a multi-lingual country, and therefore any two of the official languages have to be taught in all our schools."

Besides, as another report points out: "that there would be practical advantages to learning an indigenous African language rather than one of the Indian languages, which [are] rarely used in practice, even by the Indian community in the country."

But, of course, in matters of linguistic identities, "practical advantages" are never the only consideration. Here's a challenge for the Pan South African Language Board!

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