Language struggle

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The notion of a language struggle or a language movement

Language has long been a very contentious issue, and still is, in South Africa, part of the search for identity and recognition by the various communities and cultural groups. An important element in this has been the various efforts over the years to Anglicise or enforce the use of English in the country - notably under the British colonial rule in the 19th century, the early part of the 20th century and again under the new democratic dispensation after 1994, when English was gradually being pushed as a lingua franca in the country.

Root causes

Various efforts to enforce language use

Efforts at Anglicisation

Enforced Afrikaans in schools

[[English as lingua franca

The reactions

The Afrikaanse Taalstryd ("Afrikaans language struggle")

The "language struggle" referred to here, is the Afrikaanse Taalstryd (="Language Struggle for Afrikaans") of the late 19th century and early 20th century, in which the descendents of the Dutch-speaking population in the country fought to have the local version of Dutch (originally termed "Kitchen Dutch", as it was spoken by slaves and "backward" farmers, but gradually named Afrikaansch [*?] or Afrikaans) accepted as an official language, instead of or alongside English (in this case rather than official or "High" Dutch). The battle was finally won in 1925 when a motion by C.J. Langenhoven was approved in parliament, declaring Afrikaans one of the two official languages of the The Union of South Africa, replacing Dutch.

The arts - including a vibrant theatre - were employed actively and consciously to attain these ends.

In history books it has become traditional to divide this into two periods or taalbewegings ("language movements"), Die Eerste Taalbeweging and die Tweede Taalbeweging, which began in 18** and ended with the acceptance of Afrikaans as an official language, alongside English, in 1925. There are those who see this as a somewhat artificial periodisation. There are strong signs of a new struggle emerging, even a new language movement, particularly in Universities and other tertiary training institutions, since 1990, coming to a head with riots and protests in 2015-2016 and evolving further into the 2020s.

The Eerste Taalbeweging

The Tweede Taalbeweging

The Derde Taalbeweging? (1990-)

Other language struggles

Preservation of the Xhoisan languages

The South African English language movement

The battle to establish South African English (SAE) as the local version of English, to argue for recognition of English Speaking South Africans (ESSAs) as a distinctive cultural group, and to recognise writing in English by South African authors. Key figures here included Jean Branford, William Branford Guy Butler, Stephen Gray, Jack Cope,

A number of bodies have involved themselves in the issues surrounding SAE

  1. The English Academy of Southern Africa
  2. The Dictionary Unit for South African English
  3. The 1820 Settlers' Foundation
  4. The Grahamstown Foundation
  5. The Institute for the Study of English in Africa

Another influential

Kaaps and the "Coloured" identity

The recognition and preservation of the African languages

The Anglicisation of Education under the new democratic dispensation 1994-)


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