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South Africa Is Diverse In Culture But

Could Be Unified In Language Essay, Research Paper

South Africa is diverse in culture but could be unified in language. English should be South Africa s unifying language. It is necessary to understand what nationhood is, so that you the reader realise that a national language does not alter a nation. It binds the nation. I will also discuss South Africa s diverse cultures and how a unifying language can merge these cultures. Lastly, I will demonstrate the links between language and identity.

The concept of a nation is not easily defined.

Nationalism is a deeply contradictory enterprise.

(P Brooker, 1999,148). Our nation is one that has been formed over many years and languages have been brought to us through imperialism, immigrants and time. We have to accept that, for most nations of the world to escape the profound experience of imperialism would be in fact to escape their own actual history (P Brooker, 1999,148). We cannot deny that there is an assortment of language, which abound this nation. However, we need to choose one unifying language, which we can all use. This is essential for purposes of communication and mediation, which I will discuss later. This national language would be the only official language and English would be the unifying language.

Identity is an ever-changing concept. South Africans sexuality, class, gender, race and even language determine our identity.

Contemporary identities can therefore be fluid or consciously delimited. Any number of factors are likely to be under negotiation in either case; whether of religion, nation, language, political ideology or cultural expression (P Brooker, 1999,109).

Our South African identity is one which has changed through imperialism and it is one that has changed through apartheid and it is one which will continue changing in order to progress therefore a national language such as English can become a part of this ever changing south African identity. A national language will not change the identities of South Africans, it will enhance it. People will still speak their different languages however when we are together we will have a common form of communication.

In English-medium schools, for example, English is used as a medium for the study of a wide range of subjects. The students and the teachers come from different cultural backgrounds and many speak different languages at home but they use a common language for educational purposes. This means that an Indian teacher, who maybe speaks Tamil at home, can teach students, who might speak Zulu at home, using a common language, (S.Bochner, 1982,103). This becomes important when one thinks of the costs involved in producing textbooks for these schools. If one national language is used then textbooks can be in one language and therefore alleviate printing costs.

Literature is a means of uniting people. If we in South

Africa use a national language we not only unite the nation, but also take away any confusion.

A national literature is one that takes the whole nation of its province and has a realised or potential audience throughout its territory .In other words a literature that is written in the national language (Achebe. C, 1975,55-62).

I am not saying that our literature must all only be in the official language. I am saying that our literature should include all the diversities of our nation and it should be understandable to all the people of our nation.

Many cultures form South Africa .We may be diverged in culture but we can be united in language. Indeed, South Africa is one of the most hybridised countries on the continent, a collage of interacting cultures (Wade JP, 1999,The Mercury). English, as an official language is essential in order for our different communities to unite. A national language creates constancy, which is essential in forming a national identity. This is possible to accomplish, People speaking from widely divergent standpoints can nevertheless find a common language in which to talk to one another (Cameron D, 1995,116-211).

If one considers the effects of globalisation, it is easy to understand why a common language is important. Globalisation has united countries in that nations are constantly exchanging ideas, goods, etc with one another. If South Africa wants to become a more dominant global force then English is the language South Africans will need to communicate overseas or with other Africans.

Language can cause tensions between individuals in the same language community or in different language communities within a single country, however a National language can provide, a bridge to understanding when used to mediate between persons from different communities (S.Bochner, 1982,100). The use of language to strengthen bonds in common language communities has been published by writers such as:

Marshalls (1968) who has described how talking is an aid to peaceful social relations among the bushmen of south west Africa and Phillips (1965) who has listed a variety of behaviours in tai culture for managing or minimising unpleasantness when social avoidance is not possible (S.Bochner, 1982,100).

We need to form our own South African identity however:

Some now yearn to fold themselves back in to traditional ethnic or racial identities now that colonialism is over, but many others desire instead to unfold themselves to emerging and developing modern South African identities that, while less certain, look to a progressive future for their articulation that opens itself to the world s complexity (Wade JP, 1999,The Mercury).

Languages are ever changing and so English that was brought to South Africa by the British is no longer British English, it is now South African English, our own national language. Look at the case in Singapore where:

English in Singapore is regarded as an international language which is highly functional to economic progress. There is also increasing evidence that it is developing into a lingua franca which mediates between different ethnic groups and that it is supporting the emergence of a Singapore identity (S.Bochner, 1982,105).

South Africa can form a South African identity using English as its national language.

Critics may argue that English as the official language of South Africa will mean a loss of culture however Kachru (1980, 127) notes that English has become a part of the culture of south Asia .He argues that the language has been south Asianised and that it has a marked effect not only on south Asian languages but also on south Asian literatures. Therefore, it is possible for south Africanised English to be formed. Our South African English will be the unifying language for our nation this does not mean that the other languages will be ignored. People from different cultural communities will still speak their languages.

In conclusion, it is quite clear that south Africa has a wide variety of cultures and that these cultures need to have a national identity. A national language will help to merge the variety of cultures in South Africa and this unifying language will help to create our South African identity. English could be the unifying language, which helps to form a national identity.


+ Achebe, C. (1975) The African writer and the English language in Morning Yet on Creation Day London: Heinemann, 55-62

+ Bochner, S. (1982) Cultures in Contact Studies in cross-cultural interaction: Pergamon Press, 99-125

+ Cameron, D. (1995) Civility and its discontents: language and the political correctness in Verbal Hygiene London: Routledge, 116-211

+ Kachru, B. (1980) The pragmatics of non-native varieties of English , Macmillan, 194-210

+ Wade, JP. (1999) The idea of an African Identity ignores the facts , The Mercury, 5 November 1999