Wits students are now able to submit their research in any of the Wits recognised institutional languages.

Graduate students in the Wits School of Social Sciences (WSS) are now able to submit their research for examination in any of the recognised institutional languages.

The move is in line with the new Wits language policy which states that IsiZulu, Sesotho, South African Sign Language (SASL) and English are the official languages of the university. “I do not see why a student should not be allowed to write a master’s thesis or a piece of research in Sesotho or IsiZulu because this is precisely what the language policy aims at,” said Associate Professor of Linguistics at Wits, Prof Tommaso Milani, one of the academics who participated in the process of drafting the new policy.

Milani said a Masters student in anthropology has already undertaken to write their thesis in IsiZulu. “We desperately need more academic work in African languages to avoid the vicious cycle that says that you can only write in English. This is simply wrong,” he said.

“English is one language in a landscape of languages,” said Professor Dilip Menon of the Wits School of Social Sciences. Menon added that universities need to become places that create a “network of languages rather than a hierarchy of languages,” where English is on top. Students in WSS are being encouraged to think differently about language through the school’s approach to the language policy.

Although the language policy has been passed, it has not been fully rolled out due to a lack of resources. The full rollout of the policy includes changing universities logos, signage and stationary to make it visibly multilingual. This will be followed by training the existing staff and student bodies in the recognized institutional languages and offering courses to build a language skill set.

Those who wish to submit research that is not written in English are faced with the challenge of finding a supervisor with adequate linguistic skills. In addition, the supervisor would have to find an appropriate set of examiners who are also proficient in the language of examination.

Advocates of the new policy have put forward that is important to produce academic material in African languages because it will assist in developing languages that lack terms for certain concepts.