Mashatile urges South Africans to use their mother languages

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21 Feb 2014

Arts and Culture Minister, Paul Mashatile, calls upon South Africans to speak, preserve and promote their mother languagesthis.This media release is also available in other languages

Wishing South Africans well during the International Mother Language Day (IMLD) that is being celebrated across the world today, Mashatile urged South Africans to take pride in their mother languages.

“We call upon South Africans to take pride in their diversity including languages as this is a strength rather than a weakness. As a country emerging from a past of colonial conquest ad racial domination, it is important that parents not only teach children their mother languages but also encourage them to use these languages in their interactions with family members, friends and everyone else”, Mashatile said.

International Mother Language Day was proclaimed by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in November 1999. On 16 May 2009 the United Nations General Assembly resolved to call upon Member States "to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world". By the same resolution, the General Assembly proclaimed 2008 as the International Year of Languages, to promote unity in diversity and international understanding, through multilingualism and multiculturalism.

Since 2000, IMLD has been observed every 21 February to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. The date represents the day in 1952 when students demonstrating for recognition of their language, Bengali, as one of the two national languages of the then Pakistan, were shot and killed by police in Dhaka (near High Court), which is the capital of present day Bangladesh.

South Africans are celebrating the IMLD against the backdrop of our country celebrating twenty years of progress towards a better life for all. Significant progress has been made in the recognition, preservation and promotion of indigenous South African languages with pieces of legislation like the Use of Official Languages Act, South African Language Practitioners Council Bill and Pan South African Language Board Act having been enacted and implemented and/or bills being in the process of being enacted.

These pieces of legislation aim to ensure that our mother languages, particularly of the majority of South Africans, are recognised, are promoted (as they have historically been systematically suppressed) and that the use of these languages contribute to nation-building and social cohesion. The efforts of promoting our languages will be strengthened by the establishment of the South African Language Practitioners Board that aims at professionalising the language practitioners industry through registration/accreditation and training of practitioners.

Recently, the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) in partnership with the University of the North West and Meraka Institute (CSIR) developed an Open Source Translation Software (Autshumato) for Indigenous Languages with a workshop to train translators in Parliament on the use of this software held at Parliament for language translators as part of a series of them scheduled to introduce the software to language practitioners in government departments.

This marks the beginning of a new phase in a project that commenced in 2007, when DAC embarked on a number of Human Language Technology (HLT) projects. HLT refers to technology that can process human language. It enables checking and correcting spelling, translating a document into another language, speech recognition and converting it into text. The Department of Arts and Culture adopted HLT to support its work in the domain of language development and promoting access to information and multilingualism.

Technologies, developed as a result of this collaboration, include spelling checkers for the 10 official indigenous languages, speech recognition and speech synthesis for the 11 official languages, and a range of translation tools, including machine translation functionality from English into isiZulu, Sepedi and Afrikaans. Development work to add other languages is underway.

In addition, our National Assembly (Parliament) has is also providing facilities for Members to listen to and participate in debates in their mother languages.

The initiative by the University of Kwazulu-Natal to offer isiZulu as one a compulsory subject to all its students is a welcome development and we urge other institutions of higher learning to follow suit as this will go a long way in ensuring that students are exposed to cultures and languages that they would not necessarily would have been.

“All these efforts should be supported because languages are the most powerful tools of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage”, Mashatile said.

“We urge South Africans to get involved in initiatives to promote the use of mother languages as this will boost linguistic, multilingual and cultural diversity and multilingual education and enhance understanding, tolerance and dialogue amongst and between South Africans and the peoples of the world”, Mashatile concluded.


Issued: Ministry of Arts and Culture

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