The Language of Education in South Africa and its Influence in the Future of Previously Marginalized Languages

Author: Celimpilo Dladla (University of the Witwatersrand (Wits University), South Africa)
Speaker: Celimpilo Dladla
Topic: Applied Sociolinguistics
The GLOCAL AFALA 2023 General Session


Choices of official languages in South Africa are based on political decisions as this can be traced from the era of colonization to the apartheid era and the current democratic era. Thus, South Africa has eleven official languages recorded in the constitution of the country. Additionally there are policies in place, promoting the use of previously marginalised languages in all cultural centres, including education. The Language in Education Policy (1997) affords learners an opportunity to choose a language of education among the official languages when they register at school, but South African learners are only taught in their mother tongue from early grades up to grade 3. From grade 4 there is a transition to English save for Afrikaans medium schools that continue to teach in Afrikaans. University education is also provided in English and Afrikaans. The current position makes the language choice a bureaucratic choice rather than a practical choice, and this is a continuance of the dogma of the English hegemony given that the latter language continues to be the preferred language of education in the country (Webb, 2004).

As a step towards correcting the injustices of the past pertaining previously marginalised South African languages spoken by black people, the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture, the South African Centre for Digital Language Resources and several universities are working tirelessly to intellectualise previously marginalised languages for their sustainability and for their use as languages of trade. Their projects range from developing language courses, terminology development, translation of educational resources, lexicographic practices to developing language technologies in previously marginalised languages. This paper investigates the impact of the South African language/s of education on the future of previously marginalised languages and encourages the promotion of education in all official languages not only for language sustainability but for affording learners an opportunity to acquire education in languages they understand best. This will not only elevate the status of their languages but will also help them perform better in the classroom (Charamba, 2017).


Charamba, E., 2017. Language as a contributing factor to the academic performance of Southern Sesotho Physics learners. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. UNISA. [Online] Available: http://hdl. handle. net/10500/23453. [2021, March 02]

Department of Education (DoE). 1997. Language in education policy. Pretoria, South Africa.

Webb, V., 2004. African languages as media of instruction in South Africa: Stating the case. Language problems & language planning, 28(2):147-173.

Keywords: Language of education, Hegemony of English, intellectualisation of African languages