The Diminished Use of Tamil in South Africa

  • EM Mncwango


South Africa has eleven official languages: isiZulu, isiNdebele, isiXhosa, Sepedi, seSotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, English and Afrikaans. These are not the only languages spoken in South Africa. As a result of this fact, the South African constitution (1996) promotes and ensures respect for all languages spoken by minority groups. These include German, Greek, Gujarati, Hindi, Portuguese, Tamil, Telegu and Urdu, as well as languages used for religious purposes in South Africa, like Arabic, Hebrew, Sanskrit and others. The article argues that, while Tamil is a minority language, it serves very important functions among Tamil speakers and should, therefore, be preserved. A language identifies one with one's culture and roots. Twenty people (of Indian origin) from the Tugela area (north of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal), and five schools in the Tugela, Darnall and Stanger areas were interviewed, and their responses are discussed. These confirm that some Asian languages are not used by the majority among Indian communities. In fact many cannot even greet using these languages. The languages are no longer taught in the schools where they used to be taught, for various reasons. This state of affairs, the article argues, is perilous and likely to bring about the demise of the language. It is clearly the case that speakers of Tamil are much fewer than there are of this ethnocultural and linguistic group.

LWATI: A Journal of Contemporary Research Vol. 5 2008: pp. 122-128

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eISSN: 1813-2227