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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

1995. 1992. p.The research team selected five main language to choose within. 155). (Phillipson. Diallo and John). According to the report: the need to combat South African-engineered divisiveness. As the subtitle in Toward a language policy for Namibia suggested English was the only possible choice. 1992. It other words was the aim of the report to replace Afrikaans. Choosing an official language for Namibia had two related purposes. with strong British and African representation. 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. Rasmussen |Aalborg University |English SIS 1st sem. The next step in the process was to decide the criterions which UNIN and SWAPO felt a chosen official language must meet. German. French and English. Zambia spelled out in Toward a language policy for Namibia. one an American. p. one a British Council employee and the third an Indian (Chamberlain. 1981) (Pütz. | Discourse and Society 1 Side 2 . Indigenous languages. 293). Afrikaans.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. English as the official language: perspectives and strategies (UNIN. which where perceived as the language of oppression. and the unity of Namibians. as well as The Ford Foundation financed the publication (Phillipson. The document where based on the work of three named scholars attached to the United Nations Institute for Namibia. 288). which the table below concludes with a high score for English. The document was written after an international conference. p.

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

p. 2001. 305). p. 2001. 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. 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. it would have been a language easy for all the Bantu speaking people in Namibia to learn. 2001. the bantu languages in Namibia. 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. and why are other major Southern African language represented e. 1981. Formateret: Fremhævning Formateret: Fremhævning Formateret: Fremhævning Criterions for the elite According to Phillipson (1992. Maho (1998) argues that this idea of “a domestic war on intra-linguistics”. properly because they never investigated the opportunities mainly because of fear national conflict and the strong support for SWAPO by international NGO’s. but the question is. p. Choosing an African language seems never to been a possibility for SWAPO. p. 305)? ‘If Kiswahili had been chosen. Its spread to southern Africa would also have made the chances that it became an official UN language greater’ (Brock-Utne & Holmarsdottir. p. because of the use of vernaculars as official languages. 298). Rasmussen |Aalborg University |English SIS 1st sem. has never been proven. It seems somehow suspicious that African languages was not left no kind of opportunities competing against four indo-European languages.g. 2001. 306) instead of the one with a sole official language. | Discourse and Society 1 Side 4 . who maybe were lobbying for English as an official language. But likewise. 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. Why are indigenous languages represented by oneself. Kiswahili spoken by 40 Million) (Brock-Utne & Holmarsdottir.’ 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. 292) ‘the languages chosen in the Namibian planning exercise reflect this linguistic “white rule” perspective. or some of the major Sub-Sahara African languages closely related to bantu (e. p. It would therefore have promoted unity. 39).g.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. 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. one for Khoekhoegowab and one for the Bushman languages) (Brock-Utne & Holmarsdottir.

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

because of political reasons. but I can not helped but thinking that it p. Rasmussen |Aalborg University |English SIS 1st sem. you are considered educated. 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.Language Policy in Namibia horrible and is a radical thought within area of language policy and economy.g. Formateret: Fremhævning Formateret: Fremhævning Jeppe B. 2001. 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. indigenous). … both children. teachers and parents prefer English to be the medium of instruction as from Grade one onwards. 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. 2001. | Discourse and Society 1 Side 6 . p. you are considered dumb and uneducated When English was chosen as (Brock-Utne & Holmarsdottir. radical way the language of demolition in a Namibian perspective? The quotation seems horrifying. 296). 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. 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. is 310). it seems like almost status quo on the language policy area. even though you may know several of them and speak them well. in a (Brock-Utne & Holmarsdottir. If you just know Namibian languages. 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.

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

Namibia has one of the highest rates of literacy in sub-Saharan Africa ( Encyclopædia Britannica). The main reason for this is the lack of skilled English teachers and the way the educational system is working. 2001. represented both by pros and cons. the medium of instruction is mainly in the national language Kisuaheli spoken by more than 50 million in East Africa (Tötemayer. According to a UNICEF survey on reading skills of Grade 6 Two-thirds of Namibian learners could not read English. but that demands changing the language policy.Language Policy in Namibia To shorten the pros and cons up I have made a comparable table below. There is little interest among the speakers of these languages to study them at the higher educational levels. for example. instead should the linguistics and language planners accept the policy and work out the best practical solutions. 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. resulting in enormous numbers of teenagers being out of school. As Pütz concludes (p. Rasmussen |Aalborg University |English SIS 1st sem. p.167) it is not possible to change the language policy again. The community downgrades the Namibian languages. 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. even thogh the current one is not the optimal. 4 Grade and u. because they are not allowed to repeat Grade 10 in school but only through the difficult mode of distance learning with Namcol. English as the medium of instruction). | Discourse and Society 1 Side 8 . 2009).. One difference to Namibia is that in Kenyan primary schools. In 2001.. The most recommendable way would be to change English into a foreign languages and teach as a subject. New languages creating (born) in connection with English and the educational system is a grey zone were English has a major effect. Future One could ask themselves:”What is the future language scenario of Namibia”. 20% 310) could read with minimum competency. 2009). 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. since not all schools had opted for mother tongue instruction during the first three years of schooling (Tötemayer. Brock-Utne & Holmarsdottir do in spite this has an argument against: Kommentar [Paul4]: Who? Namibians? Scholars? Jeppe B. than if they teach in the African languages . It is even possible that many of them could not read at all. UNICEF established that in Kenya almost two thirds of Grade 6 learners could read well and another (Brock-Utne & Holmarsdottir. more than half of Namibian Grade 10 learners “failed”. The status for teachers is much higher if they teach history. English an official – effect on the educational system With more than 80 percent of its adult population literate.

your have cited your sources well. 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. I think it might not be possible but definitely a appropriate solution. Formateret: Normal Jeppe B. Hopefully somebody studies this exiting new trend and confirms it is a Creole (Pidgin). Rasmussen |Aalborg University |English SIS 1st sem. Generally. 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. because it gains hope. 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. 2007). but be really clear what is your own work/ideas/arguments. | Discourse and Society 1 Side 9 . 2001. because of the connection with European language English)? Right now there are not any academic studies on creoles/pidgins in Namibia. p. using a few very credible sources. but on the internet right now is a notion of “Namlish” – a combination of mixtures of Northern Namibian languages (mainly Oshiwambo. which there were an article posted in New Era in Namibia (Newspaper) (New Era. 314). so the reader cannot be mistaken about authorship. But as revealed in the grey zone of pros and cons it is possible that new language will be born in connection with English. a little Afrikaans) and English (Iileka. The term went on the internet in 2007 on the open lexica source Wikipedia. 2009).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. One overwhelming fear is as mentioned that English displacing and replacing local languages instead of function as an additionally language. You seem to have a special interest in the situation in Namibia and have researched it well.

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