MY LANGUAGE, MY HERITAGE
By: Khethukuthula Lembethe
You will find that people automatically define others by the language they speak. When you meet someone for the first time, that person’s accent helps you figure out a few things about them such as where they could be from. This of course could go either way as multilingualism is the order of the day in South Africa.
Growing up my friends and I used to dream of being able to speak English with the twang that we heard on TV. When playing, we used to roll our tongues when communicating, and although we had no idea what the other was saying – we were convinced it sounded exactly like how English is supposed to.
Now this problem carried on even when we started primary and progressed well into high school. There was this silent pressure among my peers and I to perfect this language. How you spoke the Queen’s language set you apart and gained you praise. Now there is definitely something wrong there.
As a born free, having the liberty and privilege to attend schools where English was the medium of teaching was great, especially considering that it is the language of business worldwide. I wouldn’t want that opportunity taken away however I still think my home language should have been factored in the mix.
In some households there are strict curfews of when children should stop speaking ‘other’ languages; my friend’s father told her and her siblings that when they get back from school and take off their uniform – the speaking of English halts too. It is easy for one to get lost in what’s been termed as Eurocentricism, discard our own beliefs in favour of what seems more socially accepted. I think while the banning of speaking anything other than one’s mother tongue during set periods is a tad bit extreme, I fully understand the logic behind it.
Language forms an integral part of our heritage which is why the provincial Department of Arts and Culture has a committee set aside to focus on the preservation of the various tongues and culture.
The Department also plans to reintroduce the Language Bill.
The English language does serve an important purpose, but home languages are equally as important and shouldn’t be sidelined. Take advantage of it, be proud of it, love it and enjoy it.