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ARTS AND CULTURE PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
7 June 2005
Pan SOUTH AFRICAN Language Board AND DEPARTMENT National Language Service: BRIEFINGS
Acting Chairperson: Mr M Sonto (ANC)
Documents handed out:
ARTS AND CULTURE PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
Department National Language Service briefing
Pan South African Language Board PowerPoint presentation
The Committee was briefed on the activities of the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB). Special focus was placed on the creation of three structures that would assist in promoting and developing the nine official languages especially. These structures were provincial language committees, national language boards and national lexicography units. A second briefing by the National Language Service of the Department of Arts and Culture informed the Committee about Language Research and Development Centres. The primary aim of these centres would be to promote indigenous languages, conduct research and improving literacy levels.
The ensuing discussion centred on issues surrounding the development of indigenous languages across the continent. Many Members felt that speakers of indigenous languages still experienced discrimination in for example, broadcasting, beauty pageants, job interviews and education. The issue of the youth gravitating to the use of tsotsi-taal to the detriment of indigenous languages was also raised.
Pan South African Language Board briefing
CEO, Professor Cynthia Marivate presented PanSALB’s Annual Report for 2004/2005. PanSALB funded three types of structures: provincial language committees (PLCs), national language boards (NLBs) as well as national lexicography units (NLUs).
In the past year, PLCs had been created in each of the nine provinces in order to promote and ensure the use of languages as well as to promote multilingualism. A PanSALB provincial manager had been appointed in each province.
The PLCs functioned across the main PanSALB focus areas of status and language planning; language in education; translation and interpretation; linguistic human rights and advocacy as well as communication and marketing.
In accordance with the objectives of status and language planning, the managers evaluated language policies. PanSALB conducted language rights hearings and many projects had been embarked on.
In the area of language and education, parental involvement had been promoted; a mother-tongue reading competition had been held; creative writing projects had started to encourage learners to create literature for themselves in their own languages; career guidance had been offered to encourage the study of languages; research projects such as the translation of science papers for matriculants had been finalised, and technical Committees had been created to assist the PLCs.
Many projects in the field of translation and interpretation had been initiated. These include the creation of a Khoekhoegowab / Afrikaans Dictionary in conjunction with the University of Namibia; the translation of instructions on ABSA Bank Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) and South African banknotes, as well as a language project for student interns at the Tshwane University of Technology.
In terms of linguistic rights and advocacy, PanSALB had investigated language rights violations. The University of the Free State had started a project called the Language Rights Monitor that would monitor language rights violations. A national campaign had also been launched to create language awareness.
Professor Marivate stated that every opportunity was used to promote PanSALB. Exhibitions had been held, newsletters had circulated, adverts and promotions had been launched, multilingualism awards had been awarded, and PanSALB had assisted in Olympiads and roadshows. PanSALB had also taken part in the celebration of International Mother Tongue Day.
The second structure funded by PanSALB was the National Language Boards. The NLBs were tasked with promoting and developing languages. There had been increased representivity of San and Khoe Members. One of the problems faced was a lack of linguistic skills. PanSALB had therefore launched capacity building projects.
As far as the recording of languages was concerned, PanSALB had targeted three projects. So far only N/u had been recorded with funding from First National Bank. Funding for the recording of !Xam and Koranna was still needed.
South African Sign Language (SASL) also faced capacity problems. Technical Committees to assist with terminology, lexicography and projects had been created. A workshop for parents and learners had been held to educate parents regarding the opportunities for hearing impaired learners. Twenty-two SASL instructors from across the nine provinces had received training at the University of Witwatersrand.
Professor Marivate explained that National Language Boards had been created for all 11 official languages. The NLBs were supported by technical bodies. The technical bodies assisted in standardisation, spelling rules and orthographies; terminology development; the development of literature and media; research studies and development projects; language in education as well as a host of special projects.
Each official language had a national lexicography unit assigned to it. The NLUs recorded and developed languages through lexicographic products. The nine official African languages were targeted specifically.
Each unit had its own independent auditor and would present what they had produced each year. The production of comprehensive standardised monolingual dictionaries featured high on the agenda.
Professor Marivate concluded with an overview of PanSALB’s as yet unaudited financial statements. PanSALB had received R24 million from the government. For the first time, the funds allocated to projects had doubled from R5 million to R10 million because the NLCs and NLBs had been empowered to implement PanSALB projects.
Department National Language Service briefing
Dr Nomsa Mgijima, Chief Director informed the Committee that the Department would be prioritising the nine other official languages for development, since much had already been done to promote and develop English and Afrikaans. There was a great need for South Africa to develop academic training and language practitioners who would be skilled in a wide range of areas such as terminology, translation, interpreting, editing and human language technologies.
Since the use of indigenous languages was very important; translation, interpreting and terminology development services were in great demand. There would also be a long-term project aimed at developing the use of indigenous languages for academic purposes. The scope would extend from primary to tertiary level. Appropriate learning and teaching material such as specialised dictionaries would be developed. Currently a mathematics dictionary was being finalised. Other such projects included a dictionary by the Medical Research Council as well as a dictionary of legal terminology. Some centres had already started working on a dictionary covering Parliamentary language.
The second focus area was related to research. The main focus would be on applied research and would deal with short-term projects that would be relevant and responsive to the needs identified for a particular language.
Another important focus area was the promotion of reading and writing in African languages. Centres would work closely with authors who wrote in different languages in order to achieve this objective. The Minister had launched a National Literature Exhibition the previous week.
The primary objective of the Language Centres was to change the negative attitude towards indigenous languages. Thus, the centres would document stories, folk tales and legends. The preservation of languages was vital. Centres would send researchers out into different regions to gather material. Dr Mgijima said that Africa had a strong oral tradition and the centres would contribute to preserving this tradition.
Universities would have to be made more accessible. The relationship between the community and the Language Centres would be symbiotic in nature – communities were the custodians of language whilst universities had the expertise to record and document it.
The Language Centres would also assist in literacy training outreach programmers in order to bring literacy to the community.
Dr Mgijima emphasised that it was necessary to look at skills development. It was necessary to equip people to function in the global village. One way of doing this would be to learn a foreign language whilst promoting the study of African languages. It was important to align the curriculum with this goal. There were many literature specialists but few who specialised in lexicography. There was a need to open new opportunities for young language graduates.
All the institutions that would have centres had been identified. Some of the centres had been launched. The Department had started searching for funding.
The idea behind the language centre was to increase terminology development work in order to manage and ensure better coordination across the board.
Mr L Zita (ANC) commented that at the moment English speakers were teaching indigenous languages and asked what PanSALB’s view of the teaching of African languages in Model C schools was. The Committee had to be kept on board regarding the direction of the Department of Education. The matter needed urgent attention since a whole section of the African middle class was in the process of being ‘decultured’. He requested public hearings on the matter.
Professor Marivate responded that there had been discussions regarding language issues at Model C schools. A number of unemployed teachers who could teach African languages at these schools had been identified. Schools that could afford to employ these teachers would be encouraged to do so. PanSALB had met with the advisors to Minister Pandor regarding this matter and was awaiting a response from the Ministry.
Another approach would be to offer incentives. The principals of private schools would be informed of the many ways in which PanSALB could assist in the correct usage and teaching of African languages.
Schools could only be charged with language rights violations if complaints were received.
Ms N Mbombo (ANC) inquired about the relationship between the SABC and PanSALB since the SABC very rarely used other languages apart from English. This was particularly worrying with regard to children’s programming.
Professor Marivate commented that this issue had been raised repeatedly with the SABC. Answers were always received via the Ministry of Communication. There had been talk of decentralising the SABC so that each of the nine provinces would have its own programming. The Ministry of Communication should be working with the Ministry of Arts and Culture on broadcasting issues. The Ministry should ensure that all languages were respected and represented. Lexicographies for the nine African languages were being developed to aid representivity.
The Chairperson added that opening up centres in collaboration with universities would also be useful since at tertiary level too, indigenous languages were being taught in English. A ‘mindset’ change was needed. Higher education institutions could be "roped in" to assist in developing dictionaries. He asked how, in the case of bilingual dictionaries, the ‘other’ language was determined.
Professor Marivate pointed out that there were two types of dictionaries – one of them being for minority languages. A list of commonly used words in the education system had been translated. Lexicography units focused on monolingual comprehensive dictionaries. The essence was to ensure that all languages were represented. African languages needed to have a database that was equal to those of Afrikaans and English. Creating lexicographies was the first step towards reaching this goal.
Mr C Gololo (ANC) asked whether there was a dictionary for the blind, since there was one for sign language.
Professor Marivate pointed out that the Act did not mandate PanSALB to open lexicographies for sign language. The technical staff at the Head Office had however trained a sign language national body on issues of terminology and lexicography. In the Free State, a proposal had been submitted for a project to produce material, but unfortunately it was too costly.
PanSALB only co-operated when requested by the SA Library of the Blind to look at issues relating to language. So far co-operation had been based on literature and not dictionaries. The library produced a large amount of literature in audio and Braille format. PanSALB would check on the development of their African Language section.
Mr B Zulu (ANC) commented on the fact that radio and television personalities failed to use correct language. In beauty pageants, contestants were being discriminated against since the question and answer sessions were conducted in English. Job interviews were also discriminatory since they were usually not conducted in indigenous languages.
Professor Marivate stated that PanSALB had tried to ‘sensitise’ pageants. It was difficult to act when people did not complain. Each language body had been informed not to wait on PanSALB to speak on their behalf. Complaints should be made so that they could be acted upon. Regrettably, there had been little change in broadcasting despite a tripartite meeting between the Ministry of Communication, the Ministry of Arts and Culture and the SABC.
The Chairperson stated that there was a rumor going around that suggested that someone was trying to develop a dictionary of colloquial language. This person was determined to make tsotsi-taal the next official language. He asked how people could protect their languages from being overtaken by such ‘crazy passions’.
Professor Marivate said the National Lexicography Units would not support the creation of slang dictionaries. They were charged with protecting and promoting indigenous languages and not ‘bastardized’ versions. PanSALB was aware of the dictionary of tsotsi-taal, but was more concerned with the teaching of languages and ensuring correct language usage in education, the media, etc. She emphasised that since it would have to be approved by the Board, there was no way that tsotsi-taal would become the twelfth official language.
She mentioned that PanSALB was working in close cooperation with the House of Traditional Leaders since the Chiefs were a rich source of information. PanSALB encouraged everyone to assist in recording the correct language usage.
The Chairperson stated that Afrikaans had been rigorously and ruthlessly developed during Apartheid and was now an African language spoken by Africans. South Africa was becoming a global player. He asked whether people should come to South Africa and speak their own languages, or whether South Africans should speak their own indigenous languages as they conducted business with other countries. He stated that language was something that people were identified by. The Committee needed to be firm as it took this matter to institutions.
He continued that the "ruthlessness" of Afrikaans-speaking people needed to be copied but without imposing on the rights of other languages. He said that addressing this issue was an astronomical responsibility. The will to address these issues was lacking, but they nevertheless needed to be addressed urgently.
Mr C Gololo echoed the Chairperson’s comment that South Africa was becoming a global power. He was very surprised to learn that Swahili was being taught at a university in Prague. Would other African countries demand to learn more of South Africa’s indigenous languages as the country became increasingly involved with other African countries? Many countries in East Africa were eager to learn isiZulu - was South Africa ready to teach its languages to the world?
Dr Mgijima responded that the Department and the University of Cape Town were taking part in a continental project involving a number of African countries. This project, which was in its initial phase, would address five issues. These included issues surrounding terminology as well as training and capacity building.
She said that there were also proposals on the table for cross border projects between South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana and Swaziland. Some European languages, such as Portuguese and French, were spoken in Africa and it might be useful for South Africans to learn these languages. Interaction was inevitable, especially since South Africa hosted the Pan-African Parliament.
Ms N Mbombo (ANC) commented that the youth used tsotsi-taal and that the older generation felt forced to use that language too. The youth did not want to be taught ‘proper’ language; teachers from rural areas were often taunted for their ‘old-fashioned’ use of language. She said that people who could not speak tsotsi-taal often found that they were discriminated against.
The Chairperson responded that institutions, laws and people power should be used to deal with that mindset so that the older generation would not fall victim to the language used by the youth.
Dr C Mulder (FFP) questioned how it was possible to expect children to respect their language when they were not being taught in it. He acknowledged that the Department of Education had been taking steps to address the issue of mother-tongue education, but felt that more should be done to accelerate the process. There were many issues that needed to be discussed and he suggested a day-long workshop.
Ms D Van der Walt (DA) agreed that a workshop was needed. It was important to view language as everyone’s concern. Although there were many policies and ideas, implementation was lacking. She mentioned that she had attended a conference in Pretoria where it was suggested that the official languages should be reduced and that dialects be ‘killed off’. Was this feasible? She also requested a hard copy of the PanSALB presentation.
The Chairperson requested the presenters to speed up the process for the development of previously disadvantaged indigenous languages. He said that although he was certain that the Government, by legislation, considered Afrikaans to be an indigenous language, it was not previously disadvantaged. The speakers of all languages had a duty to build and develop the languages of South Africa. All government schools should promote, and all pupils should be obliged to learn South African languages.
Meeting on Robben Island
The proposal had been approved and the meeting would take place on Friday, 10 June 2005.
Ms Van der Walt (DA) pointed out that on Friday morning, there would be a joint sitting of the House and wanted to know if this would affect the meeting on Robben Island. The Committee Clerk said this would be investigated and reported back to the Committee.
Adoption of Minutes
The Committee Clerk’s minutes of 6 April 2005 needed no corrections and were adopted. The minutes of 31 May 2005 were adopted after a few minor adjustments.
The meeting was adjourned.
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