Language Policy

, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 235–255 | Cite as

Harmonisation and South African languages: twentieth century debates of homogeneity and heterogeneity

  • Kathleen HeughEmail author
Original Paper


This article offers a historiographic analysis of twentieth century debates amongst agents with linguistic, missionary and ideological interest in the standardisation or harmonisation of two widely used clusters of languages in South Africa, Nguni and Sotho. The discussion illustrates how faith-based and political ideologies interact with and bring influence to bear on the interpretation of linguistic endeavour. It also explores how theoretical considerations of linguistic diversity become entangled with political interest in the process of (re)articulating language policy. Whereas several authors (e.g. Harries in Afr Aff 87(346):25–52, 1988; Errington in Annu Rev Anthropol 30:19–39, 2001) have discussed nineteenth century missionary and linguistic endeavour or offered ideologically conceived proposals for the harmonisation of Nguni and Sotho languages (Nhlapo in Bantu Babel: will the Bantu languages live? The sixpenny library, vol 4. The African Bookman, Cape Town, 1944, in Nguni and Sotho, The African Bookman, Cape Town, 1945; Alexander in Language policy and national unity in South Africa/Azania, Buchu Books, Cape Town, 1989, in Democratically speaking. International perspectives on language planning, National Language Project, Cape Town, pp 56–68, 1992), the focus here is to demonstrate both continuity and disjuncture of debates amongst agents with different interests during the last century.


Missionaries Linguists Harmonisation Standardisation Politics Ideology 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Research Centre for Languages and Cultures, School of Communication, International Studies and Languages University of South AustraliaMagillAustralia

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