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

1 - Researching the intellectualisation of African languages, multilingualism and education

from Part One - African language empowerment: concept formation and intellectualisation


Since 1994, South Africans have conscientiously placed much value on and effort into policy creation at national, provincial and local government levels. This includes the Constitution, policies that are underpinned by the Constitution, policies which dictate how business is to be done, how we receive social welfare and under what guidelines we are to be educated – policies that dictate how we live, how we prosper or otherwise, and what happens when we die. We are now arguably at the point where the country suffers from policy fatigue. We find ourselves speeding along a national policy autobahn highway where there are few rest stops allowing us to pause, to think about the consequences of these policies and how to put them into motion. Our policy fatigue results from the lack of policy implementation. Arguably we are a nation of debaters, a strength proven in our own negotiated political settlement. However, implementation is about getting things done and this is now the challenge that faces language policy and planning initiatives.

The necessity for the intellectualisation of our African languages falls directly within this paradigm of implementation. One must nonetheless also acknowledge that there can be no successful implementation without firm policy in place. According to Finlayson and Madiba (2002: 41), ‘with … a clear policy framework, language intellectualisation … is more likely to succeed’. The chapter starts by discussing what is meant by ‘intellectualising’ African languages, then briefly highlights the relevant policy framework within which that happens. (This is dealt with in further detail in chapters 2 and 3.) Best practice in terms of policy implementation is then discussed against the backdrop of new developments such as the National Research Foundation (NRF) SARChI Chair in the Intellectualisation of African Languages, Multilingualism and Education, as well as the National Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences’ (NIHSS) Catalytic Project in Concept Formation in African Languages.

Defining intellectualisation

The term ‘intellectualisation’ could be considered a controversial one when it comes to African languages. One may well ask: Are not all languages equally intellectualised, underpinned by sophisticated, rule-governed and elaborate grammatical and sociolinguistic systems, regardless of whether or not they are used as languages of learning and teaching (LoLT) or in high-status domain areas such as politics? The answer to this is probably affirmative.