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

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. After 300 years of creolisation, Dutch was renamed Afrikaans in 1925. Influenced by European concepts of nation state, language and identity, Afrikaans came to represent Afrikaner identity through the twentieth century.

  2. The discussion here does not explore the critique of harmonisation in relation to the missionary ‘invention’ of languages, which is undertaken by Makoni and others in this special issue.

  3. Bechuanaland was to become Botswana, and Basutoland was to become Lesotho after independence from British colonial rule in 1966.

  4. Now often known as Sesotho, Sesotho sa Leboa or Sepedi, and Setswana, respectively.

  5. Now often known as isiZulu and isiXhosa, and similarly siSwati (Swazi) and isiNdebele (Southern Ndebele) or Sindebele (Northern Ndebele).

  6. The author has privileged access to the original archival documentation and records of the debates within ECCSA, the political parties and the NLP during this period.

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Heugh, K. Harmonisation and South African languages: twentieth century debates of homogeneity and heterogeneity. Lang Policy 15, 235–255 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10993-015-9372-0

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Keywords

  • Missionaries
  • Linguists
  • Harmonisation
  • Standardisation
  • Politics
  • Ideology