Wits University is tabling a multilingual policy that will incorporate Sesotho and isiZulu as co-languages, along with English as an official part of campus life, in and outside the classroom.
The policy also proposes that SA Sign Language be included. The new policy proposal comes as a recommendation from the Strategic Planning Division which conducted a surveyed study of Wits students, academic staff, professional and support services staff and employees in outsourced services.
The study indicates that the number of Sesotho and IsiZulu speaking members of the Wits community are more or less equal.
“This has prompted the shift from a bilingual to a multilingual policy, the languages don’t compete, they are just used by speakers differently,” said Milani.
“We need broader visibility in the public space of our local languages in places like logos for instance.”
The previous language policy was adopted in 2003 where the university commited to developing Sesotho as a medium of instruction together with English. This meant researching and developing teaching resources along with developing the linguistic abilities of staff and students alike.
The translation of key documents such as application forms and rules, translation services in disciplinary hearings as well as multilingual and multicultural practices at ceremonies like graduations were some of the measures planned under the policy.
However, despite the plans the Sesotho language policy was never implemented by Wits.
“The need was identified but on the whole, no real concerted efforts were made,” said Deputy Vice Chancellor for Academics Prof Andrew Crouch.
Associate Professor of Linguistics Tommaso Milani said the previous policy was a ‘symbolic policy’, and no real progress was made on the ground to develop and implement Sesotho on campus. He said the policy was a document that indicated the university’s “good intentions” in relation to multilingualism but was never translated into real actions.
According to Milani, to avoid the pitfalls that struck the previous language policy, the university would have to make sure financial resources were allocated for the implementation of the new language policy. Any policy would remain “symbolic” if no or too little money is set aside for its implementation, said Milani.
Crouch agreed the project to make Wits multilingual would have to be budgeted for if it was to be successful.
“You don’t have to lose culture in the sea of economics,” Crouch said.
Talks on this multilingual language policy will continue until August and students and staff are encouraged to voice their opinion. Milani said that he hopes the policy will “espouse equality in a truly genuine way.”
Multilingualism is already part of the curriculum for Wits Medical School were students have to complete a local language course for them to graduate.
According to Karabo Ramugondo, MA African languages and Linguistics, said the new policy would “ensure a multilingual institution where more than one language can be used for conceptualisation, thought and knowledge production.”
“We live in a multilingual and multicultural environment and this shift in policy allows for the development of the African languages beyond them being used as languages of communication at home,” said Ramugondo.