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  • Print publication year: 2017
  • Online publication date: March 2018

Central terms and concepts


Indigenous African languages

In this book and limited to South Africa, the term ‘indigenous African language’, or simply ‘African language’, is used to refer to African languages of southern Bantu linguistic affiliation. Note that ‘Bantu’ is used in its original reference as a purely linguistic term to identify a unit of genealogically closely related languages in which the designation for ‘human beings’ is commonly *ba-ntu or the like, a fact that formed the basis for the internationally entrenched linguistic label ‘Bantu languages’ which was coined more than 100 years ago.

In a wider perspective, the term ‘African languages’ further implies that such languages have originated, developed and been almost exclusively spoken in Africa since the beginnings of human language during the evolutionary history of Homo sapiens, which largely took place on the African continent.

The term therefore automatically excludes Afrikaans, whose origins involve at least one extra-African language (Nederlands) which was imported to Africa from Europe in more recent history. Likewise, the term also excludes Arabic, Malagasy and all other languages of European and Asian origin which, despite their important role in Africa over considerable periods of time, by origin are foreign to Africa. In this book these languages are therefore referred to as ‘languages in Africa’.

Empowerment of languages

The notion of the empowerment of languages refers to a political agenda which targets the status, prestige and usage of formerly disempowered languages (spoken by historically and politically disadvantaged sections of populations) in order to end discrimination and marginalisation of population segments based on language. As a political agenda, it is linked to the sociolinguistic concept of the intellectualisation of languages.

Intellectualisation of languages

The notion of the intellectualisation of languages is the applied sociolinguistic counterpart of the political agenda to empower languages. It targets the usability and actual use of any language in all semantic and pragmatic domains, particularly in education (from grade R to university level and beyond) and aims at establishing any language, in particular formerly disempowered languages, on the same level as so-called international languages of wider communication.