South African Journal of African Languages

Log in or Register to get access to full text downloads.

Remember me or Register

DOWNLOAD FULL TEXT Open Access  DOWNLOAD FULL TEXT Subscription or Fee Access

African languages and the identity question in the 21st century

Christiaan Swanepoel


Debates about identity, its nature, essential markers, fixity or fluidity have increased since the major political changes in South Africa and other parts of Africa towards the end of the 20th century. Language, a key marker, often features prominently. In South Africa a new, common identity is emerging since independence in 1994. One of the features of this development is the de-ethicising of citizenship around the notion of an inclusive South-Africanship. An increased use of English as lingua franca in public domains raises questions about the position of African languages in the 21st century, given the likelihood that the developing scenario is not in line with the position the 1996 Constitution (RSA, 1996) had laid down for the indigenous languages of the country. Following a multidisciplinary approach, this article first addresses language-related issues of identity; then focuses on the current position of the African languages in public domains; and finally probes their future within the political, cultural-demographic, educational and literary modalities at work. The article argues that the national level provides space for a second and possibly third ‘illustrious vernacular’, while on provincial level there are unique opportunities for all African languages to be equally developed and to come into their own as pillars of the African Renaissance.

South African Journal of African Languages 2013, 33(1): 19–28

AJOL African Journals Online