African languages must take rightful place

Image: 123RF/ iqoncept

Why, as Africans, are we still allowing a language hierarchy in which the language of the coloniser is regarded as the most prestigious language that has power and influence over the administrative and mercantile structure of each colony?

Why do we continue to allow African languages to be firmly placed at the bottom of the language hierarchy and receive auxiliary status all the time?

This stops the opportunities for functional development of almost all the African languages. This also brings to a standstill linguistic competition between languages for access to new domains. European languages delay the extension of existing African languages.

Why, as educated Africans, do we continue to raise our children in the colonial language rather than in an African language?

It is about time that African languages dominate as the medium of instruction and the standard for subsequent development. We need to commit ourselves to developing and promoting our indigenous languages so that they can meet the standard of languages such as English.

African languages are in a state of collapse and their speakers are failing to find new writers in their languages. Speakers of these languages are often humiliated.

Colonisers made them feel ashamed or lose respect for themselves as native speakers of these languages and, at its worst, this manifests itself in xenophobic attacks. This is the result of the mindset that was installed in them during colonisation.

Today, children are not interested in advancing African languages but rather in hiding their identity. They cannot be blamed because there is a lack of encouragement from their parents. It is also seen as socially acceptable rather to speak English.

Native speakers of these languages must start using or insisting on the use of their languages as a medium of instruction in institutions. More leisure books must be written and made available to the public.

Currently, the only writers we have who write good books in vernaculars write for the school curriculum - the only books are those prescribed at school.

Africans must introduce different decolonial programmes in African languages and I hope and believe they will go a long way in helping to undo the stereotypes that were left by colonisation. Many of our people will then proudly use their language without fear of being called hurtful names.

To be honest, we have moved from physical colonisation to what I call soft colonisation.

The English language has successfully built its territory in our territories and continues to dominate our indigenous languages. We seem determined to apply ourselves to becoming adept at English, at the expense of perfecting our skills in our mother tongues.

The birth of democracy came with 11 official languages, but only one is given official status.

It is time to give indigenous languages as much clout as we do to the coloniser's languages.

- Hlungwani is a student of 'Decoloniality: Africana Thought, Discourse and Critique' at Unisa, and a mentor of the WritePublishRead programme

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