African languages decline nearing crisis point

April 15, 2005

The domination of English and Afrikaans in South Africa's universities poses a threat to indigenous languages, according to a report commissioned by the Education Ministry.

Use of African languages has fallen sharply at university and support must be offered to stem the decline, according to the report.

The use of African languages for instruction will spark controversy. Most academics are white and do not speak any indigenous language, although this will change as racial staffing ratios begin more accurately to reflect society.

The report warns that there "is a crisis looming" in the preservation of indigenous languages as English becomes the lingua franca in South Africa.

Although most universities teach in English and some in Afrikaans, African languages have been used to some degree at formerly black institutions. The merger of many black and white institutions means English will become even more dominant.

The proposals have been drafted by a team led by University of Cape Town vice-chancellor Njabulo Ndebele.

The report points to a global shift towards studying technology, business and science and a perception that English is superior to African languages.

It says that to develop official indigenous languages - of which there are nine - as mediums of instruction will require their greater use in schools. The report recommends that universities identify an indigenous language to develop in teaching.

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