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

3 - Language planning in South Africa: a history

from Part Two - Language planning, terminology development and dictionaries


Defining language planning

In this chapter, we cover three themes. In this section we introduce and define language planning. In the next section, we present a brief history of language planning in South Africa prior to 1994, building on the material provided in chapter 2. In the final section, we discuss post-democratic language planning in South Africa.

Language planning has been practised for many years. However, as an academic discipline, language planning began to develop in the 1960s, generally located within the field of sociolinguistics. Today it is a discipline that boasts mainstream peer-reviewed journals such as Current Issues in Language Planning (see Kamwangamalu [2001] for an article on South Africa's language planning situation), Language Problems and Language Planning (see volume 28 number 2, 2004, for a special issue on South Africa) and Language Policy. In South African and other journals, there are numerous articles on the language planning situation in South Africa, with special attention being paid to the post-apartheid era during which the country's official language policy has been transformed from legislating only two official languages (English and Afrikaans) to legislating eleven official languages (English, Afrikaans and nine African languages), a transformation driven by the country's Constitution.

We now offer a definition (or definitions) for the key term ‘language planning’. Various definitions have been offered. For example, Cooper (1989) refers to at least 12 definitions of language planning, noting that in some literature, language planning, language regulation, language management and language engineering are used synonymously. For the current chapter, we take language planning to be a ‘deliberate, systematic, and theory-based attempt to solve communication problems of a community by studying its various languages or dialects, and developing an official language policy concerning their selection and use’ (Crystal 1992: 220). Applied to the case of South Africa, language planning entails a systematic and theory-based attempt to address the country's linguistic communication challenges. Among other things, this means taking into consideration the linguistic profile of the entire nation and coming up with appropriate language policies for particular domains, such as education, the South African Broadcasting Corporation or the military.