Language Policy in Namibia

Language Policy in Namibia
Is English the right solution?
…We live in a world where distances have shrunk, and the global village is a reality. For Namibia, therefore, we had to choose a language that would remove the isolation imposed by the colonisers, which restricted our capacity to communicate with the outside world, restricted our capacity to produce our own literature… Language in Namibia was taught to the majority with only one objective – to give them instructions at the work-place. Isolation imposed on us, by denying most Namibians education in a global language, seems to have been durable. On independence, therefore, we had to choose a language that would open up the world to us. English was the obvious choice. After all, English is the most widely spoken language, spoken by some six hundred million people. There is no corner of the globe where you could not get by if you knew English… Prime Minister Geingob 1993 (Pütz, 1995, p. 176)

Kommentar [Paul1]: Your essay is rather long. Does it go over the limit of 6 pages? Why did you choose this very specific topic?

Approximately ten years before Namibia gained independence in 1991 the decision to implement English as the sole official language in the country had already been determined by SWAPO in 1981 (Pütz, 1995, p. 155). Was the outline as English as only official language the right solution, or “just another natural step spread for the global language of English”? Where the language planners “forced” to take that decision or could it be done I another way? Secondly and as some kind of conclusion I will look, which consequences and risks does the solution have in the Namibian society as well as in the future? Namibia is a country in southwest Africa with only 2.088 (est. 2008) million inhabitants ( Encyclopædia Britannica). Yet the country officially has 14 written languages in Namibia with a standardised orthography. In addition, there are also about 16 oral languages for which have no orthography (Tötemayer, 2009). Of the four European languages (Afrikaans, German, English and Portuguese (Ministry of Basic Education, Sport and Culture (MBESC), 2003)) two are connected to the colonial history of Namibia. Namibia was colonized by the Germans from 1884 to 1914 and German is still an important business language in Namibia. The South African colonization which was supposed to be a Trusteeship lasted until 1990. In this period Afrikaans (a variety of Dutch) became the main official language and the language of instruction from grade 4 upwards. After Independence English became the official language (Maho, 1998, pp. 177-186).

Jeppe B. Rasmussen |Aalborg University |English SIS 1st sem. | Discourse and Society 1

Side 1

and the unity of Namibians. German. According to the report: the need to combat South African-engineered divisiveness. English as the official language: perspectives and strategies (UNIN. Formateret: Fremhævning Criterion 1) Unity 2) Acceptability 3) Familiarity 4 ) Feasibility 5 ) Science and technology 6 ) Pan-Africanism 7) Wider communication 8) United Nations Total Points Indigenous languages _ + + _ _ _ _ _ 6 Afrikaans _ _ + + _ _ _ _ 6 German _ _ + + + _ + _ 12 French + + _ + + -/+ + + 19 English + + + + + + + + 24 Jeppe B. which the table below concludes with a high score for English. (Phillipson. The next step in the process was to decide the criterions which UNIN and SWAPO felt a chosen official language must meet. p. | Discourse and Society 1 Side 2 . Choosing an official language for Namibia had two related purposes. It other words was the aim of the report to replace Afrikaans. 1981) (Pütz. p. one a British Council employee and the third an Indian (Chamberlain. one an American. Afrikaans. Zambia spelled out in Toward a language policy for Namibia. 293). Indigenous languages.The research team selected five main language to choose within. 155). p. 1992. The document where based on the work of three named scholars attached to the United Nations Institute for Namibia. as well as The Ford Foundation financed the publication (Phillipson. with strong British and African representation. 1995. Diallo and John). which where perceived as the language of oppression. 1992. French and English. The document was written after an international conference.Language Policy in Namibia Language policy in Namibia – the selection of English The liberations’ movement The South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) choice of English as the official language was based on a key document produced by themselves in corporation with United Nations Institute for Namibia (UNIN) based in Lusaka. 288). As the subtitle in Toward a language policy for Namibia suggested English was the only possible choice. Rasmussen |Aalborg University |English SIS 1st sem.

296). 167). but I tried to divide them. was choose in advance. Rasmussen |Aalborg University |English SIS 1st sem. US-Aid and Scandinavian Organizations (Phillipson. which are more suitable for the common Namibians (Pütz. It seems like the language of liberation: English. Jeppe B. which is difficult to avoid. not including choosing a language which is mother-tongue to less than 1 %. 1992. A more sceptic view would lead to questioning oneself whether or not these where right criterions for Namibia. Moreover the score table over which language to choose is in fact a reflection over the hierarchy in how many states and by how many which the respective language is spoken (IBID. The Report designed to identify one official language. p. | Discourse and Society 1 Side 3 . there are three overall critical issues in the report. 293). Thirdly almost all the criterions can be counteracted by focussing on other arguments.Language Policy in Namibia Table 1 – Score table for an official language in Toward a language policy for Namibia. p. 290) The purpose of the report is no doubt aiming at the national issues. did the research team choose the correct languages to examine at all? Secondly the functions of criterions are serving the purpose of the educated elite. and Namibian languages are lumped together into mix named “indigenous languages”. p. Actually there is a conflict between two goals of the report (the need to combat South Africanengineered divisiveness. and it would properly been better to get inspirations from multilingual societies like Canada and India. Somehow these issues are connected to each other. and to choose one official language is not to respect this. contrasting to formulating a multilingual policy. Therefore would another conclusion. but somehow the criterions appear more international than national. p. First of all it is quite notable that the four indo-European languages are given separate treatment. Besides from the currently language policy aiming at one official language and state of multilingualism in Namibia. which is strongly supported by Geingob’s statement in the introduction as English as the language of opportunities. 1992. 1995. 291). The issue is the selection of one official language. be that the criterions seem to have been selected so as to make English emerge as the absolute winner (Phillipson. but as it describes itself is Namibia multilingual society and multi-ethnic country. p. because it was used within SWAPO in exile. (Phillipson. a work that has been strongly supported by UN and over-seas agencies like ODA. 1992. and the unity of Namibians).

305). it would have been a language easy for all the Bantu speaking people in Namibia to learn. 292) ‘the languages chosen in the Namibian planning exercise reflect this linguistic “white rule” perspective. It seems somehow suspicious that African languages was not left no kind of opportunities competing against four indo-European languages. 2001. 39).’ As he points out on pa ge 293 in the quest for criterion in selecting an official language fits to Pattanyak’s analysis on educated persons in post -colonial developing countries often is tutored into western thinking. 2001.g. p.Language Policy in Namibia Choosing the languages – the imbalance between European and African languages It occurs that within all the respective languages only one is African. p. Why are indigenous languages represented by oneself. but the question is. p. and why are other major Southern African language represented e. Maho (1998) argues that this idea of “a domestic war on intra-linguistics”. Pattanyak’s “theory” is that mentioned persons consider: 1) Transnational communication more important than national communication 2) Standardization and uniformity more important than transmissions of knowledge and information within the country 3) Translation and transference of knowledge more important than creation of knowledge Jeppe B. 1981. It would therefore have promoted unity. 2001. because of the use of vernaculars as official languages. p. But likewise. one for Khoekhoegowab and one for the Bushman languages) (Brock-Utne & Holmarsdottir. Related to the question was the arguments against in the report that ’… choosing a local language as the official language could create unnecessary intra -linguistic competition’ (United Nations Institute for Namibia. which is Indigenous languages and they actually is a mix of all Namibia’s own languages and at the same time the indo-Europeans are treated separately – a totally imbalance. | Discourse and Society 1 Side 4 .g. has never been proven. or some of the major Sub-Sahara African languages closely related to bantu (e. 306) instead of the one with a sole official language. Another argument against the choose The cost of constructing educational material in indigenous languages is high both economically and in human effort (Brock-Utne & Holmarsdottir. who maybe were lobbying for English as an official language. Choosing an African language seems never to been a possibility for SWAPO. Rasmussen |Aalborg University |English SIS 1st sem. 305)? ‘If Kiswahili had been chosen. 2001. p. Its spread to southern Africa would also have made the chances that it became an official UN language greater’ (Brock-Utne & Holmarsdottir. Formateret: Fremhævning Formateret: Fremhævning Formateret: Fremhævning Criterions for the elite According to Phillipson (1992. Kiswahili spoken by 40 Million) (Brock-Utne & Holmarsdottir. the bantu languages in Namibia. does this cheaper English educational material fit into the culture and ways of teaching? An additional issue concerning the selecting of languages and language policy is that one would think that an independent Namibia would start thinking a new way by creating two or three language committees (one for the Bantu-languages. 298). p. properly because they never investigated the opportunities mainly because of fear national conflict and the strong support for SWAPO by international NGO’s.

and how they are relating to the two main purpose of report (disconnect from RSA and unity between the Namibians). 294) this is a Eurocentric approach. because they are important aspects. Therefore it seems reasonable to state that the Namibian language policy is a reflection of the linguistic white rule perspective. (Brock-Utne & Holmarsdottir. Phillipson concludes that the language planning is a function of linguistic imperialistic discourse. and instead serves a higher purpose in connection to the international relations and the fact that choosing English. and one could question whether or not the language planners did that sufficient. In other words it is important to focus on local and district level as well as national level. be represented under one criteria as “international relations”. 1995. A part of an overall language policy is to focus on the educational.g.the educated elite (Pütz. 167). 2001. Though many saw English as "the language of liberation" it was still a language built on European and western culture. thus could they e. proving that there not the big difference between the new language policy and the old in the SA regime. although it sounds Jeppe B. economic and sociocultural factors. p. Rasmussen |Aalborg University |English SIS 1st sem. p. political. and less focusing on the international functions. because it is geared towards favouring one particular social group . which is the exact opposite of creating unity between the Namibian. where oneself can ask the importance of those on national level. and contributed to a more acceptable language policy. which the last four criterions doesn’t. The relevancy of the criterions Criteria which are of extreme relevance but were not chosen are: 1)’ Ease of Learning 2) Nambian Cultural Authenticity 3) Empowering the Under-privileged (which could include Democratization and Self-Reliance)’. | Discourse and Society 1 Side 5 . Somehow there seems to be economical reason for choosing English. because the criterions are irrelevant to the Namibian people. Instead. the functions of criterions are serving the purpose of the educated elite.Language Policy in Namibia Phillipson describes (p. 305) These would contribute to a selection of language which are more relevant for the regular Namibian and help create unity. is besides choosing an agenda connected to the capitalistic world order. The three items above represent the issue of selection of criterions especially the last four (5-8). The reason for independence was to achieve democracy and disconnect with the South African regime. After these “accusations” it is only reasonable to suggest which criterions had been fairer by serving the purpose of the report.

If you just know Namibian languages. 2001. 2001. Rasmussen |Aalborg University |English SIS 1st sem. As concluded in the last passage the one of the main explanation for choosing English was economical possibilities in having a global language as official language. teachers and parents prefer English to be the medium of instruction as from Grade one onwards. 296). because of political reasons. but does that distract the fact the Namibians possibly loose there national identity? Furthermor lack of English skills make you a failure to the Namibian society. even though you are skilled in many other languages (e. p. In this regard they told me that there is a general understanding in society that a person who does not know English is useless and unimportant in society. is 310). but which effects does English as an official language have on the Namibian society? Kommentar [Paul3]: Explain why…is it the quotation that is horrifying or the situation? English as the official language –Consequences in the Namibian Society If you know English well. … both children.g. indigenous). even though you may know several of them and speak them well. Formateret: Fremhævning Formateret: Fremhævning Jeppe B. the official language of Namibia it was at the same time an opening of the struggle between the “cultural damage” and the economic gain in the Namibian society. radical way the language of demolition in a Namibian perspective? The quotation seems horrifying. in a (Brock-Utne & Holmarsdottir. | Discourse and Society 1 Side 6 . but I can not helped but thinking that it p.Language Policy in Namibia horrible and is a radical thought within area of language policy and economy. you are considered dumb and uneducated When English was chosen as (Brock-Utne & Holmarsdottir. you are considered educated. it seems like almost status quo on the language policy area. Kommentar [Paul2]: I don’t get your point here…radical thought and status quo? English was for some reasons choose because it was the language of liberation.

Easier access to science and technology .Easier to handle possible conflicts . | Discourse and Society 1 Side 7 . 2001. 312) .Few studying Indigenous language.Easier to attract foreign workforce Cons “mostly cultural” Language death . 2001.English makes the local language superfluous .Easier for NGO’s to work within Namibia Table 2 – English as an official language in Namibia: Pros and cons Is this your own table? Formateret: Skrifttype: 11 pkt Jeppe B. p. p.English is working as concurring language Global language – wider communication .Languages as root to culture .Namibians are becoming global? .Easier to communicate within the UN .No currently sign language acknowledge for deaf people in Namibia (Brock-Utne & Holmarsdottir.Loosing language – loosing traditions . 296).– lack of modern art created in Indigenous language Harder to create own ideas . 2001. only one at UNAM in 1999/2000 (100 in 1995) (Brock-Utne & Holmarsdottir.More direct investments .To have an own language often creates unique ideas Harder competition Languages policy favouring English .Cheaper access to educational material . 297) Lost of cultural identity .National Broadcasting System (NBC) is broadcasting in English (Brock-Utne & Holmarsdottir. p. Rasmussen |Aalborg University |English SIS 1st sem.Language Policy in Namibia Pros “mostly economic” International Trade/ business .

167) it is not possible to change the language policy again. since not all schools had opted for mother tongue instruction during the first three years of schooling (Tötemayer. English as the medium of instruction). 2009). It is even possible that many of them could not read at all. The most recommendable way would be to change English into a foreign languages and teach as a subject. more than half of Namibian Grade 10 learners “failed”. Namibia has one of the highest rates of literacy in sub-Saharan Africa ( Encyclopædia Britannica). Future One could ask themselves:”What is the future language scenario of Namibia”. 20% 310) could read with minimum competency. | Discourse and Society 1 Side 8 . The people feel that in order to get a job you must have a European language and that if you study African languages you have no employment opportunities In the same survey. than if they teach in the African languages . There two possible solutions out of this survey with low standards in the Namibian educational system: Make a greater effort in educating teachers o Change the educational system. The community downgrades the Namibian languages. resulting in enormous numbers of teenagers being out of school. 2001. represented both by pros and cons. One difference to Namibia is that in Kenyan primary schools. 2009). New languages creating (born) in connection with English and the educational system is a grey zone were English has a major effect. Rasmussen |Aalborg University |English SIS 1st sem.. the medium of instruction is mainly in the national language Kisuaheli spoken by more than 50 million in East Africa (Tötemayer.. instead should the linguistics and language planners accept the policy and work out the best practical solutions. for example. UNICEF established that in Kenya almost two thirds of Grade 6 learners could read well and another (Brock-Utne & Holmarsdottir. p. In 2001. As Pütz concludes (p. even thogh the current one is not the optimal. because they are not allowed to repeat Grade 10 in school but only through the difficult mode of distance learning with Namcol. The status for teachers is much higher if they teach history. 4 Grade and u. The main reason for this is the lack of skilled English teachers and the way the educational system is working. There is little interest among the speakers of these languages to study them at the higher educational levels. but that demands changing the language policy. English an official – effect on the educational system With more than 80 percent of its adult population literate.Language Policy in Namibia To shorten the pros and cons up I have made a comparable table below. Brock-Utne & Holmarsdottir do in spite this has an argument against: Kommentar [Paul4]: Who? Namibians? Scholars? Jeppe B. But with implementing English as the official languages the Namibian educational system got a major challenge – even though the educational system went on like before just with English replacing Afrikaans (same system – 1-3 Grade local language. According to a UNICEF survey on reading skills of Grade 6 Two-thirds of Namibian learners could not read English.

One overwhelming fear is as mentioned that English displacing and replacing local languages instead of function as an additionally language. 314). that even though languages and cultures in Namibia dies out new will be born! Kommentar [Paul5]: Why? I have given your essay a gade 12. You seem to have a special interest in the situation in Namibia and have researched it well. using a few very credible sources. 2009). which there were an article posted in New Era in Namibia (Newspaper) (New Era. | Discourse and Society 1 Side 9 . Actually there might become a new Creole (pidgin. Instead should the “undemocratic” selection of English as an official language teach us new methods in language planning and policy. but on the internet right now is a notion of “Namlish” – a combination of mixtures of Northern Namibian languages (mainly Oshiwambo. Hopefully somebody studies this exiting new trend and confirms it is a Creole (Pidgin). a little Afrikaans) and English (Iileka. because it gains hope. The term went on the internet in 2007 on the open lexica source Wikipedia. Formateret: Normal Jeppe B. because of the connection with European language English)? Right now there are not any academic studies on creoles/pidgins in Namibia. but be really clear what is your own work/ideas/arguments. p. I think it might not be possible but definitely a appropriate solution. Rasmussen |Aalborg University |English SIS 1st sem.Language Policy in Namibia It might be a wiser choice to strengthen the teaching of English as a foreign language through giving more time in school to the study of English as a subject and strengthen the Namibian languages as languages of instruction (Brock-Utne & Holmarsdottir. Generally. 2007). But as revealed in the grey zone of pros and cons it is possible that new language will be born in connection with English. 2001. your have cited your sources well. A local languages should have chance to represent oneself instead of being mix up in Indigenous languages and being challenge in a imbalanced way against global/European languages. so the reader cannot be mistaken about authorship.

(1997).). Pütz (Ed.Language and Education .). F. New Era . (1992). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company. 223-249). pp. Many Tongues: The Languages of Namibia. Ministry of Basic Education. H. Retrieved November 18. (1998). Toward a language policy for Namibia. Retrieved November 16. Namibia. B. Few People.eb. Berlin . R. Windhoek: Upgrading African Languages Project (AfriLa).newera. Language Policy for Schools in Namibia: Discussion Document. A. (2009. Pü April 02). Windhoek: GAMSBERG MACMILLAN PUBLISHERS (Pty) Ltd. (n. No.d. Oxford: Oxford University Press. In M. constraits and consequences (pp. (2007.php?articleid=7944 United Nations Institute for Namibia.Language Policy in Namibia References Encyclopædia Britannica. Informante (Namibia) . Globalisation. from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: http://search. New York: Mouton de Gruyter . J. 47. The Choice of English as Medium of Instruction and Its Effects on the African Languages in. 2009. Namlish: A language for Northern Namibia. Iileka. July). Discrimination through Language in Africa?: Perspectives on the Namibian Expiriences . Rasmussen |Aalborg University |English SIS 1st sem. B. New Era. Namibia ( 2009). from http://www. M. & Holmarsdottir. Linguistic Imperialism. Herlach-Jones. 2009.. Sport and Culture (MBESC). B. 293-322. (1981).). Namibia’s language policy and its effect on education. August 17).com/eb/article-9109713 Brock-Utne. (2001. English as the official language: perspectives and strategies. (Ed. Maho. | Discourse and Society 1 Side 10 . (1995). Jeppe B. (2009. Phillipson. 'Namlish' Goes Wiki. October 30). 3/4. Tötemayer. Looking at means and ends in the language policy in Namibia. Language choices: Conditions. International Review of Education: Vol. (2003). Lusaka: UNIN.-J.

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