Thursday marks International Mother Language Day

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Thursday marks International Mother Language Day. The day was proclaimed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 1999.

International Mother Language Day aims to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used around the world.

The day is also observed to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

The date represents the day in 1952 when students demonstrating for recognition of their language, Bangla, as one of the two national languages of the then Pakistan, were shot and killed by police.

Celebrations in KwaZulu-Natal

More than 20 schools from the Ugu District on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast have gathered at Umzinto to celebrate World Mother Tongue Day. There are currently 11 official languages in South Africa:  English, Afrikaans, isiNdebele, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sesotho sa Leboa, Sesotho, Setswana, Siswati, Tshivenda and Xitsonga.

The aim of the gathering is to encourage the proper use of indigenous languages.

Sizwe Mbhele from the KZN Provincial Education Department says various race groups will get a platform to share ideas on their respective languages and cultures.

Mbhele says they will also reflect on history and contribute to the renaming of certain areas that are deemed to have been improperly named.

“The history of our country – SA history – with the coming of the colonies, history was so destructed. The names that were given to the areas were not actually the names – as part of African Renaissance. They have to be renamed, so part of the performance will be for learners to tell the history about the names and how they were named.”

Meanwhile, renowned playwright and author Gcina Mhlophe has expressed concern about the misuse of  indigenous languages.

“My concern about the use of indigenous languages is that we do a lot of mixing at the same time. We are expecting the youngsters to speak the language. Even in the classrooms, they are using language to debate, delivering a talk, and presentation. You know sometimes the children cannot be clear about words. And to speak in a sense of respect when speaking to somebody who is an adult. All has to do with the use of language and knowing the importance of language and communication.”

Progress in the recognition of San people 

The Pan South African Language Board says although it is making progress in helping San people of South Africa to have their languages officially recognised; their efforts are still falling short.

A large majority of the San people live in the Northern Cape and speak indigenous languages such as !Xun, Khwe, Nama and others.

Language Board Provincial Manager Boichoko Moremi says they are engaging universities and language experts in the country.

“We must admit that in 25-years of democracy there have been challenges that delayed us to do exactly what we should have done. But currently, for the past five years, we are on the right track. We are working on developing spelling and orthography rules in the Nama language.”

A leader in the Khwe tribe living at Platfontein near Kimberley in the Northern Cape, Vincent Katjarra has accused government of dragging its feet in recognising their languages.

“We feel very, very disappointed, the way they treat us and manage our things. It’s really a sad life for us. All the programs – it’s not only language – it is tough. The government really sidelines us but we will see what will happen in the future.”

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