24 August 2004

Language dynamics

I'm afraid that this article might disappear, as it seems that the space is used periodically for a 'presentation.' As a result, I'm quoting the whole thing. I hunted around for the name of the author but could not find one, say my thanks for such interesting work go to the lady in the snap on the page in question. I'm assuming that she wrote the piece.

She speaks about the dynamic nature of African languages in the southern African region: Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, and many others. Don't worry, I'm going to let you read what she says. I would just like to add that the phenomenon she describes about old, traditional words taking on new meaning, seems to me to have been the norm since Eugene Casalis stopped by in 1833. Lekala, for example, is a tree branch, but today also means a branch in a company or in government. Here, enjoy it:

My previous discussion focussed on traditional speech forms, many of which are falling into disuse as tradition and lifestyles change. I have already referred the impact that the early Khoe and Saan people had on the languages spoken by the people with whom they came into contact. Hence the clicks, which form a distinctive part of their languages, were adopted and integrated into some of our southern Bantu languages and became an intrinsic part of the sound system of the borrowers' languages. Khoe and Saan languages have now sadly all but disappeared from our world. So how can we capture and establish a working understanding of the languages that are spoken in our midst today?
Southern Africa is a unique playground where the complexities of globalisation, colonialism and racism continue to be played out in the rich diversity of languages and cultures. The diverse communities that inhabit this region are striving for a clearer understanding of their own multiple identities in relationship with the languages spoken in the region, as well as striving for functional ways in which to manage this relationship. Language may be viewed as a manifestation of the individual in interaction with others. In fact, the self is to a certain extent a social construct governed by current and all previous interactions. I have already discussed the matter of language that is symbolic of the individual or group's identity.
Unfortunately or maybe fortunately, language is a dynamic medium and not something we can control, however much we may try. As we attempt to capture the so-called pure form of our languages, the question may very well be asked, has there ever been a pure language? Many traditionalists are offended by a perceived corruption of the so-called standard form of a language. The urban varieties themselves seem to be threatening the future of the standard languages. However, English itself is hardly a pure language but has borrowed and adapted words extensively.
People in contact, then, constitutes a very broad subject and I have chosen to limit my discussion to some specific features of language contact and change.
By adapting a borrowed word to a language, I mean an adopted word, say an English noun, is adapted to a Bantu language and this would mean that it would have to conform to the Bantu languages' agglutinative structure. For example, as I have already mentioned, the structure of the Bantu languages comprises a root onto which we can add or glue particles of words both before and after the root to change the meaning of the word. Let us take an example such as –thand- i.e.the root for 'love' in Ndebele, Xhosa and Zulu. You may very well know someone with the name of Thandi, or Thando, Thandiwe, Nothando or even Noluthando. In order to say, for example, 'they love each other' I can add "ba+ya" on to –thand- i.e. 'they' at the beginning of the word and then after –thand- add "an+a", 'each other', hence baya-thand-ana, 'they love each other'. So, for a foreign noun to become an integral part of a Bantu language it would need to have a class prefix, and as a verb it could need agreeing particles with the noun and be adapted to the structure of the Bantu languages, hence the noun I-kofu etc.
Note too that the Bantu languages have pure vowels i.e. a, e, i, o, u and they do not have diphthongs, which are 2-part vowel sounds, as in English: a e i o u. Hence 'a train' would become itreyini, and have an open syllable structure, in other words, vowel - consonant – vowel etc. Words generally end with a vowel in our indigenous languages, for example, Afrikaans broek 'trousers' would become ibhulukhwe.
I mentioned in an earlier presentation that the Bantu languages are inherently tone languages. Therefore for a word to become an integral part of a Bantu language, it would necessitate an adjustment to tone in accordance with the tonal rules used in that particular adopting language. English and Afrikaans tonal contours extend over whole sentences and not on each syllable. However, when words are transferred to a Bantu language from English and Afrikaans for example, they are immediately adapted to the tonal system of the adopting language and each syllable is therefore tonally significant.
The linguistic influence from English and Afrikaans as a result of the colonial history, neocolonial apartheid and modernisation in general has impacted dramatically on our indigenous languages.
It is well known that contact in the rural areas began in the first part of the 18th century between the Xhosa and the Dutch-speaking settler farmers in the Eastern Cape. In the first half of the 19th century the influence of the English lifestyle pervaded through the Eastern Cape and it was extended to Natal where the Zulu speakers came into contact with the English-speaking merchants and later with the Cape Dutch people. The Southern Sotho, Tswana and Northern Sotho-speaking people came into contact with the Cape Dutch (Afrikaans) Voortrekkers during the 19th century in the Free State and the erstwhile Transvaal.
Afrikaans originated in the Cape Province. The language spread as its speakers moved further into the interior of the country. The most important movement was probably the Great Trek in the 1830s and 1840s.
It was in the rural areas that language influence was initially most prevalent and hence naturally words relating to rural artifacts and a rural way of life were adopted and in most cases adapted to the language system of the borrower. Consider for example the syllable structure of Northern Sotho in sekotlelopulugu; from Afrikaans skottelploeg, 'disc-plough' and iheke meaning 'gate' in Xhosa from the Afrikaans 'hek'. So also from Afrikaans 'stoel' we have in the Nguni languages isitulo and in the Sotho languages setulo. The 's' of 'stoel' is perceived as being the prefix isi- in the Nguni languages and prefix se- in the Sotho languages and the root then is –tulo. European languages, for example French in the case of Southern Sotho and German in the case of Northern Sotho, have also played a role as source languages, albeit it more of a minor nature.
However, during the latter part of the 19th century, with the growth and development of the Witwatersrand region, the adoption of words related to the industrial, commercial and technological fields took place, such as imatshini and imoto. Further, in order to capture modernized concepts, some traditional words have been retained and their meanings adapted to suit modern concepts. For example, in Southern Sotho: ho mema originally referred to the calling together of a tribal meeting as in ho mema pitso, but today it is used in the sense of 'to invite' (as to a wedding or party etc); thuto originally meant 'education in tribal matters' but is now used for education in the urban sense. So too in Xhosa for example, isebe means a 'branch' but can now also refer to a 'department' (e.g. a department of education etc); umsila is a 'tail' but is also used now to mean an 'academic degree'. Many such examples exist and are being adapted and incorporated into the lexicon daily.
However, through the centuries English and Afrikaans/Dutch have played major roles as source languages i.e. languages from which items have been adopted.
In the sphere of domestic and farm life, Afrikaans has been the major source language while English, prior to 1948, exerted its major influence on the vocational, educational, commercial and technological spheres. After the change in political government in 1948, Afrikaans became the major source language in government and civil administration and in education.
It is worth noting that the standardisation of Afrikaans was given momentum after unification took place in 1910. The creation of technical terminology was one of the challenges to be met and now more than 127 technical language publications have come out (van Rensburg & Jordaan 1995).
We are all aware of how the media in the form of radio and TV and the film industry have been important instruments for the dissemination of new concepts, ideas and new words. Here once again English especially has played a dominant role and we have words such as iTV, ifilimu etc.
I have referred to the process of rapid urbanisation and the heritage of apartheid planning constructs in South Africa. This has resulted in large townships that have developed on the peripheries of the major industrial centres. In their search for work and a better life, people from different speech communities have increasingly flocked to the cities and smaller urban areas. For example, Soweto, which is part of the greater metropolitan Johannesburg, similar to Botshabelo on the periphery of Bloemfontein and Mamelodi and Attridgeville in Pretoria, have over the years become major townships. People, representing different language groups originally broadly separated on the basis of a mother tongue classification system, now interact on a daily basis in these urban residential areas. These urban residential areas are the most multilingual in the country. In a way similar to one of Daniel Moynihan's classic works, Soweto for example has over the years functioned as one of South Africa's most active and sociolinguistically important "melting pots".
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