Harmonisation of IsiNguni Languages in South Africa: An Ethnolinguistic Study of Allegiance and Affiliation

Author: Mbali Dhlamini-Mlondo (University of the Western Cape, South Africa)
Speaker: Mbali Dhlamini-Mlondo
Topic: Language, Community, Ethnicity
The GLOCAL AFALA 2023 General Session


Numerous scholars have argued for unification/harmonisation of some of the ‘now’ official languages in South Africa from as early as the 1940s. Au contraire, these languages were recognised as distinct official languages by the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa in 1996, where they were to enjoy equal status and treatment in all domains. The paper sought to establish the interrelationship between the first language (L1) speakers of the official isiNguni languages (isiNdebele, siSwati, isiXhosa and isiZulu) in South Africa and how they view the status of these languages after they were recognised as official in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. The researcher further solicited how the L1 speakers of the isiNguni languages perceive the notion of harmonising these languages into one standard language in South Africa. The interview schedule as well as the questionnaire were used as instruments to collect data. The findings revealed that majority of the study participants acknowledged the existence of discriminatory practices due to ethnocentrism that exist within this culturally and linguistically interrelated group. The status of isiZulu was considered superior by an overwhelming percentage of the research participants compared to the other three official isiNguni languages. Consequently, majority of the research participants held the view that harmonising isiNguni languages in South Africa would combat issues of discrimination between L1 speakers of these languages and create equal language opportunities for all the isiNguni languages in South Africa. The Ethnolinguistic-Vitality-Theory formed the basis for the investigation of the paper.

Keywords: Language harmonisation, Language status, Ethnocentrism, Nguni people, Nguni languages, Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele, Swati