Compulsory African language learning at a South African university
An exploration of macro- and micro dynamics
While many universities in the world are making provisions to include the English language in their institutional structure, the South African University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) is opposing the hegemony of English in its institution. The University has launched a language policy and planning (LPP) strategy that makes provisions first to incorporate the vernacular language Zulu as language of learning and teaching, and second, to promote it as a subject. In this vein, the institution recently made an unprecedented decision for the South African higher education system. Since the first semester of 2014, a specific Zulu language module is a mandatory subject for undergraduate students who have no proficiency in the language. Although considered a watershed moment among many African language promoters, the mandatory ruling is fiercely discussed and debated in the institution and beyond. Theoretically grounded in Language Management Theory (LMT) and empirically based on semi-ethnographic fieldwork, this article examines the interplay between macro and micro language dynamics at UKZN in the context of the mandatory Zulu module. In juxtaposing interview discourses of language policy stakeholders with those of Zulu lecturers, the study reveals a stark discrepancy between macro and micro language management at this university. The article argues that this mismatch between the language policy intents and actual practices on the ground is symptomatic for South Africa’s language policy in education being shaped more by ideological interests than by pedagogical regards.
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