On the Dialectics of Policy and Practice: Multilingualism and the Virtual Linguistic Landscape of a South African University

Authors: Busani Maseko (North-West University, South Africa)
Liqhwa Siziba (North-West University, South Africa)
Speaker: Busani Maseko
Topic: Language in Real and Virtual Spaces
The GLOCAL AFALA 2023 General Session


Previous studies on linguistic landscapes have focused on language representation in public signs within fixed physical places. Recent developments on the global stage have brought dynamics of language contestations in virtual spaces to prominence. This study deploys the notion of Virtual Linguistic Landscape to explore the nature of language visibility in cyberspace as a virtual linguistic landscape construction. By conceptualising websites as virtual public spaces, the paper analyses language practices on a South African university’s website to understand how they align with the institution’s multilingual language policy, in a context where websites have become indispensable avenues for communication. As a monologic web 1.0 arena, the university’s website is framed as an important space to scrutinise the dynamics of top-down language policy implementation. The study reveals that language use on the university’s website does not auger with the language policy’s commitment to equitably use, promotion and development of the university’s four languages. The VLL of the university is dominated by English and Afrikaans in varying extents while Setswana remains in a subordinate position. Sesotho is completely invisibilised on the website. The paper argues that these language practices validate pervasive language ideologies that valorise English and devalue indigenous African languages in cyberspace

Keywords: Virtual linguistic landscape, language policy, multilingualism, language ideologies, South African university.