In South Africa 24 September recognises and celebrates the cultural wealth of our nation. South Africa is home to many different ethnicities, cultures, and languages and the day is meant to celebrate them all by remembering the cultural heritage of the many cultures that make up the population of South Africa.
Language diversity has played a critical role in the history of South Africa.
So, focusing specifically on language we look at what causes language diversity, why language diversity is important to a nation and why it is integral to cultural identity and heritage.
Why is language diversity important?
Language diversity is a global topic as countries all over the world become even more culturally diverse due to various social and economic factors that have allowed for increased cross-cultural integration or globalisation.
According to the site Study.com, linguistic diversity is important because languages are a cultural touchstone that connects people to their histories, families, and homes. They are also an expression of the innovation and creativity of humans as a species.
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” – Nelson Mandela
What role does language play in heritage?
According to the GreenHeart Organisation, “Cultural identity is heavily dependent on a number of factors including ethnicity, gender, geographic location, religion, language, and so much more. Culture is defined as a ‘historically transmitted system of symbols, meanings, and norms.’ Knowing a language automatically enables someone to identify with others who speak the same language. This connection is such an important part of cultural exchange.”
“If culture was a house, then language was the key to the front door, to all the rooms inside.” — Khaled Hosseini, Afghan-born American novelist, and physician
How to manage language diversity in the classroom?
How practical is it to offer formal education to learners, in such a culturally diverse country like South Africa with 12 official languages (this includes South African sign language but does not take into consideration learners from families that originally came from countries like India or China), in their respective mother tongues?
Although no implementation details have been provided, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga’s announcement in parliament on 9 March 2022 that indigenous African languages will be used as languages of instruction beyond Grade 3 (which up until now has been conducted and resourced in English and Afrikaans). But there is still debate as to whether this can actually work.
The ability to choose a language of instruction may not be realized in the near future, for the time being, a bilingual approach will remain the best route of action as English remains the language of business in South Africa and a useful tool economically for the country.
Therefore, by offering learners the opportunity to learn their own native language or one more similar to their own language, albeit as a second language (second languages at schools are greatly based on the demographics of the learners and mandates of the schools themselves), in the correct vernacular by native speakers we are helping preserve our nations cultures, identities and heritage. We are also breaking down barriers of understanding between different cultures and fostering a united vision of South Africa.