The Eastern Cape launch of Mandla Langa’s latest novel, The Texture of Shadows, was dominated by the “vexed question of language”, the author writes in an article titled “Let’s speak the languages we dream in” for the Mail and Guardian.
Langa, who has just been appointed the executive vice president of PEN South Africa, was struck by the effects of language on the community and the decline of isiXhosa as a language of discourse in the Eastern Cape.
He writes: “Though some black people might find this unpalatable, I believe that we are the main architects of the destruction of our languages. For a reason that’s possibly not hard to find, we have relegated our languages to second-class status. Even in instances where we could have communicated differently, we have opted to use English – even in meetings where almost all members of the community speak one indigenous language or another.”
Langa addresses the matter of black writers who write in English and the little attention paid by government to the promotion of indigenous languages. “There are commissions galore on the question of language, but they have to be harmonised,” Langa says.
Read his article:
African writers must embrace their own tongues lest we drown in an English-dominated world.
It is impossible – unless one is fatally oblivious to one’s surroundings – to ignore the effect of language, of English, when one is faced with an audience that is overwhelmingly black. The Eastern Cape is a region once blessed with an unerring cultural instinct; it gave us Enoch Sontonga, SEK Mqhayi, Tiyo Soga and AC Jordan, and it formed the epicentre of the struggle against apartheid.
Today, in the Eastern Cape, there is no mistaking the decline of isiXhosa as a language of discourse. Whereas KwaZulu-Natal, for instance, boasts a vibrant resurgence of isiZulu, from the initiatives at tertiary institutions to burgeoning isiZulu-language newspapers such as Ilanga and Isolezwe and an isiZulu version of the Sunday Times, the Eastern Cape has lost most of its flagship isiXhosa titles.
The indigenous languages might experience differing degrees of marginalisation, with some possibly getting a better deal, but the stubborn fact is that they are all being marginalised.
» read article