There’s a thin line separating the influence language has on cultural identity. This is according to a panel of academics  discussing the topic ‘Does language determine your true cultural identity?’

The discussion, held on Tuesday evening, was organised by the Student Development and Leadership Unit (SDLU) and the SRC as part of a series of events organised by the two parties to celebrate Heritage Week.

Language, the verbal form, was broken down as were the identities assumed and stereotypes created by it.

Common stereotypes surrounding South African languages are that isiXhosa is a hybrid of English words and therefore lacks authenticity, isiZulu is a rough language and that Tshivenda is a primitive –sounding language. These language stereotypes tend to also be used to charactarise members of these various tribes.

Nigerian–born African literature post-doctorate fellow, Jendele Hungbo, argued that language can be used for the purpose of solidarity, saying that people naturally attract to those similar to them, especially in language. He also said that globalisation has led to some languages becoming more dominant than others.

Overall he argued that language is not necessarily related to identity but rather to citizenship, and that the concept of identity is a broad concept which is a result of social construct.

Dr Nhlanhla Twala, director of the Wits Language School, defined human language as one of the certain characteristics that separate our species from animals. He acknowledged the enormous role which language has played in our history, but fast forwarded to the present, saying “we were initially coerced to speak English but now speak it voluntarily”.

Twala also said the constituents of identity would have to be broken down in order to assume that language determines identity, but said that language can be used to reinforce identity.

The rest of the Heritage Week celebrations included a Poetry Night and Reed Dance screening on Wednesday night and a traditional dance showcase by Wits societies with a traditional cuisine showcase last night. Celebrations end tonight with a celebration of Muvhenda entertainment and traditional cuisine.