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Challenges encountered in the home-neighbourhood-community and school domains: An analysis of Tonga revitalisation through Fishman’s (1991) Reversing Language Shift framework

Jubilee Chikasha
Anne-Marie Beukes


Minority language groups in Zimbabwe face many challenges as they strive for space for, and recognition of, their languages. This study focuses particularly on the Tonga language spoken in the Binga district of Zimbabwe. The study aims to explore the language planning goals for the revitalisation of Tonga as well as the challenges encountered in realising these goals in two domains, i.e. the home-neighbourhood-community (HNC) and the school domains. Data was gathered through interviews as well as through the use of secondary sources. For the interviews, social actors involved in the revitalisation of Tonga were used as informants. These included Binga chiefs and their communities, non-governmental organisations, publishing houses, and universities. The study reveals that the goals of Tonga revitalisation fall under language maintenance goals with an orientation towards community language maintenance, as well as language spread (acquisition) and standardisation for the HNC and school domains, respectively. Within the HNC domain, the Tonga community faced great challenges in garnering ideological consensus within the community itself, mainly due to a lack of advocacy and lobbying skills. They also faced challenges in gaining entry into domains outside the home, particularly the school domain. Following an analysis of the challenges encountered, this study argues that minority language groups cannot revitalise minority languages without support from, and collaboration with, other stakeholders, including central government. The insights drawn from this study’s findings might be applicable to other minority language groups in Zimbabwe and elsewhere, for example, in respect of offering feasible alternatives to the challenges of micro-level language revitalisation.