Briefing by Pan South African Language Board (PANSALB) on Annual Report for 2000/1, promotion of indigenous languages & achievem

Arts and Culture

25 June 2002
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Meeting report

25 June 2002


Ms MAA Njobe (ANC)

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PANSALB's website:

The Pan South African Language Board briefed the Committee on three questions. Namely, PANSALB's annual report for 2000-01; promotion of indigenous languages; and achievements of linguistic/cultural diversity. One of the major challenges faced by PANSALB was achieving linguistic. In this regard there were a number of problems, including the fact that there was a lack of national language policy and plan. The lack of knowledge by some government officials on how to handle the linguistic diversity was also noted.

The Chairperson, Ms Njobe welcomed Prof Marivate: Chief Executive Officer, to the committee meeting. Mr M F Cassim (IFP) sought clarity on whether PANSALB's visit to the Committee was in response to the amendments made to the Cultural Laws last year which, among other things, require PANSALB to report to Parliament every five months, or whether it was a spontaneous visit. Prof Marivate indicated that it was a spontaneous visit. The Chairperson added that PANSALB's visit was part of the Committee's own programme and arrangements and had nothing to do with the amendments to the Cultural Law.

Prof Marivate explained that her briefing would address the three questions that the Portfolio Committee had asked for input on. Namely, PANSALB's annual report for 2000-01, the promotion of indigenous languages and PANSALB's achievements in the area of linguistic diversity.

PANSALB's annual report for 2000-01
Starting her briefing, Prof Marivate alluded to the difficulty she was experiencing in trying to respond to the Committee's question regarding PANSALB's annual report for 2000-01. She said that she would briefly summarise what she thought the report reflected. The 2000/01 PANSALB annual report was an indication of the activities that the previous Board conducted in order to round-off its term of office.

The report had focussed on indicating the systems that were set in place in order to assist PANSALB achieve its objectives as spelt out in the PANSALB Act (1995), amended in 1999.

She said that the report had highlighted the following key issues:
-The establishment of the 11 National Lexicography Units as Section 21 companies.
-By the end of its term of office, the previous Board had ensured that all the legal requirements pertaining to establishing an NLU had been satisfied. A Board of Directors were appointed and trained. Articles/Memorandum of Association were developed and accepted by the parties involved. Agreements between PANSALB and universities where the NLUs would be located developed and in certain cases signed. The Buro van die WAT Act was repealed.
In certain cases the potential staff for the units were trained in preparation for the running of the Units. The training for staff (where they exist) and the Board of Directors included the computerisation of NLUs and co-operative lexicography.

-The establishment of the National Language Bodies as advisory bodies to the Board regarding the respective languages represented. Eleven for official languages; one for Khoe, San, Nama languages, one for South African Sign Language. The fourteenth NLB on "heritage" languages was not established. The previous Board felt that the new Board should explore the difference between this NLB and the section 185 Commission, which would be established. Members of the thirteen National Language Bodies had not been trained by the end of the term of that Board's office. It is only now that the new Board has embarked on a training programme.

-The establishment of the nine Provincial Language Committees was completed, although not all of them were fully functional. The major problem was the lack of a National Language Policy and Plan and lack of support from MECs responsible for language in certain provinces. (Dual role of PLCs)

Prof Marivate added that the report had also captured information regarding projects (research and development) that were funded during the year, and previous years (i.e. ongoing projects). Some of the projects, she said, would continue during the course of this year. The following projects, she said, had been funded under the various focus areas that the Board had operated as subcommittees:

-Status Language Planning
-Language in Education
-Translation and Interpreting
-Development of Literature and Previously Marginalised Languages
-Lexicography and Terminology Development
-Language Rights and Mediation

Mr MF Cassim (IFP) advised Prof Marivate that PANSALB could, with regard to developing policy, approach the Portfolio Committee if it was of the view that the Minister of Arts to come up with policy. The Portfolio Committee could facilitate the process of developing policy for PANSALB through arranging public hearings and submissions.

Prof Marivate replied that they were not aware that PANSALB could directly channel policy proposals to the Portfolio Committee. She promised to go and recheck what the protocol said about that.

Ms ND Mbombo (ANC) reminded Prof Marivate of one of PANSALB's mandates which was to develop languages. The development of technology called for the development of languages. She then sought clarity on the confusion surrounding sign language, alleging that there was sign language taught in Afrikaans and in English.

Prof Marivate acknowledged that there was indeed confusion surrounding sign language. She also admitted that PANSALB was in the past not competent enough to shed light on the issue of sign language. However, the Language Board now had a new member, Mrs Morgan who was now looking at the issue of sign language. She also expressed her hope that the South African Sign Language Board would also help them out.

Ms A Van Wyk (NNP) enquired about PANSALB's work with regard to the development of terminology.

Prof Marivate responded by saying that Ms Van Wyk's question was a difficult one which has created a great deal of conflict between the Minister of Arts and PANSALB.

Ms Mbombo further wanted to know if SePedi was not a language on its own.

In her reply, Prof Marivate said that according to the Linguistic Report they received, SePedi was a dialect and the language was northern Sotho.

Prof IJ Mohamed (ANC) enquired about the progress made in respect of sign language for maths and physics. He also wanted to know how and when maths and physics could be taught in indigenous languages.

Prof Marivate explained that PANSALB was cooperating with the Department of Arts on the project for the terminology for maths and science.

Mr Cassim expressed regret over what he said was a lack of adequate vocabulary among South Africans in different languages in South Africa. He alleged that there was no systematisation of vocabulary at schools.

Prof Marivate said that PANSALB was trying to fund many bilingual projects. Outcomes Based Education (OBE) was also addressing the issue by stressing communicative abilities as opposed to emphasising grammar.

Mr SL Dithebe (ANC) complained about the poor quality of interpretation in Parliament and wanted to know if any specific effort was being made to ensure the proper training of interpreters as well as those who train them.

In her reply Prof Marivate said that there was a project underway to train interpreters in Parliament. She stressed however, that this project was not the PANSALB's project.

The Chairperson said that the Committee was encouraged by that. She said that this would go a long way in helping out with their problem of interpretation in Parliament.

Promotion of indigenous languages
Prof Marivate explained that their strategy with regard to promotion of indigenous languages was to tie promotion of languages together with their development. She argued that there could be no promotion of languages if the languages were not developed. She also acknowledged the fact that the previous Board had assisted the new Board to draft a new strategy to assist it realise PANSALB's mandate namely, the development of languages, and creation of conditions for use and promotion of languages.

Prof Marivate then referred to research which they had funded and which had been widely distributed and were still assisting them in giving advice to government bodies and institutions:

-The national survey on Language use and Language Interaction in South Africa (Markdata).
-Language and Client Behavior (Pienaar and Slabbert).
-Subtitling in South Africa (Kruger).
-Establishing the status of Khelovedu (PANSALB) (current Boshego).
-Guidelines for Language Planning and Policy Development (PANSALB).

Prof Marivate also informed the Committee Members that PANSALB had also assisted the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology in the process of establishing a regulatory body for translators and interpreters. DACST had already developed a draft bill to be approved by Cabinet. In view of the importance of technology in modern day life, Prof Marivate said, the Human Language Terminologies project proposal was submitted to DACST, to assist the Minister to develop a policy on Human Language Technology, and eventually, the development of a Human Language Technologies industry.

Their strategy to promote languages, she said, included among other things the following:
-Pilot Projects on reading competitions at schools throughout the different Provinces.
-Career guidance week where different languages are promoted.
-Language Policy implementation process. Educating staff in different government institutions and private companies on how to formulate language policy without necessarily sidelining indigenous languages.
-Incentives for bodies that promote languages.
-Language hearings where languages are promoted.
-Pilot project on indigenous language newspaper. She said that the newspaper would target publishing in indigenous languages.
-Project from Communications Unit that would target translating names of buildings into different languages widely spoken in different Provinces.
-Training of interpreters in Parliament.
-Joining celebration of language-related dates in the country and abroad such as the Literacy Day, World Book Day to promote languages.

Achievements of linguistic/cultural diversity
Prof Marivate said that achieving linguistic diversity was proving too difficult a task for them. They had identified problems at two levels namely, government level as well as an individual/societal level. At government level, the problem was a lack of national language policy and plan. She attributed this to the absence of a law in place to address that. She also blamed the problem of lack of linguistic diversity on what she called a lack of knowledge by some government officials on how to handle the linguistic diversity. She accused other government officials of blatantly resisting linguistic diversity and others for pure lack of interest in addressing linguistic diversity.

She also complained that when developmental needs were considered and addressed by government, languages had to fight for attention as they were not being considered among the priority areas for government funding.

At an individual/societal level, Prof Marivate attributed the difficulty of achieving linguistic diversity to a lack of common vision and understanding on what was meant by multilingualism. She stressed a definite need for a genuine debate on multilingualism. Part of the problem, she said, was also a lack of respect for individual difference. She said that there was a need for a regulatory framework to foster linguistic diversity.

Mr Cassim asked if PANSALB had made any efforts to foster synergy among the Nguni languages.

In her reply, Prof Marivate said that the issue of synergy among Nguni languages was a political one. Hence they PANSALB preferred talking about cooperative lexicography as opposed to synergy. She indicated, however, that PNASALB had, despite, the political nature of the issue, tried to encourage it and was regrettably met with resistance from people who did not want the Nguni languages lumped together.

Ms Mbombo raised another problem she was experiencing with the parliamentary interpreters. She lamented the fact that the parliamentary interpreters did not make any differentiation between the smaller languages such as IsiMpondo, IsiBhaca, which she alleged were often mistakenly regarded as IsiXhosa. She then wanted to know how PANSALB was going to be able to train both the interpreters as well as their trainers to cater for such linguistic confusion.

Prof Marivate acknowledged the problem raised by Ms Mbombo and explained that the previous language Board before theirs had tried to deal to with the problem. They had devised a strategy of dividing languages first according to advantaged languages (namely English and Afrikaans) on one hand, and disadvantaged languages (mainly made of indigenous languages) on the other hand; and advantaged indigenous languages (such as IsiZulu) and disadvantaged indigenous (such as SePedi).

The Chairperson urged PANSALB to ensure that the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) was sensitive to the local cultures so that children in this country would be brought up balanced culturally. Commenting on Mr Cassim's question, the Chairperson said that the time was not right yet to foster a synergy among the Nguni languages. The different Nguni groups should be allowed time to be proud of their individuality and uniqueness before such a move could be advanced.

The Chairperson concluded by thanking Prof Marivate for her briefing, and acknowledged the huge challenges ahead with regard to the issue of language in South Africa.

The meeting was adjourned.



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