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Somadoda Fikeni gives an inaugural Multilingualism Awareness Lecture

Date Released: Mon, 14 May 2012 12:59 +0200

Political analyst and social commentator, Professor Somadoda Fikeni, will give a public lecture on the challenges of multilingualism in higher education tomorrow (15 May).

The talk, to be hosted by Rhodes University at the Eden Grove Red lecture theatre, will serve as the University’s first annual Multilingualism Awareness Lecture.

Fikeni will also chair a panel discussion that follows the lecture.  Panel members include Prof Rod Walker (Dean of Pharmacy), Prof Chrissie Boughey (Dean of Teaching and Learning), Ms Bulelwa Nosilela (Head of African Language Studies section) and Ms Jeanne du Toit (Lecturer at the School of Journalism and Media Studies).

Prof Russell Kaschula, Head of the School of Languages and chairperson of the Rhodes University Language Committee, said that the lecture will raise awareness about the importance of multilingualism. It will also open spaces for discussion by University staff, students and communities.

Kaschula stressed the importance of language in societies. “Language is at the core of our being. Everything happens through language, whether you are a pharmacist or a botanist. We learn through language,” he said. Developing languages “should be an institutional imperative”.

“We should view our language as a resource, as we do our environment. If we are prepared to preserve a Rhino, we should be prepared to preserve our main resource, language,” he said.  

The importance of language is further highlighted by the distinction between the different sections of an economy of a country. Former President Thabo Mbeki spoke of the first and second economy. The first economy includes people with white collar jobs and who have a good command of the English language. The second economy is occupied by workers such as “gardeners and domestic helpers”, explained Kaschula.

Those who cannot speak the language at all are relegated to the third economy where they are left out of the main economy conduct their business in their indigenous languages, he said.

He added that how well one knows a certain language can be used as a distinguishing factor.  The linguistic fault-line that Neville Alexander referred to is about the haves and the have-nots. The distinguishing factor between the two is how well you speak the English language, he said.

In comparison to other universities, Rhodes is seen as a leading institution in terms of multilingualism. “That’s the reason why we have the only South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) chair (of African Languages) in the country,” said Kaschula.

The School of African Languages has introduced isiXhosa for Law, Pharmacy, Psychology, Journalism and Media Studies and isiXhosa mother-tongue. The School has also experimented with terminology development in the fields of Information Technology and Politics.

The lecture was organised by the Rhodes Language Committee which, amongst others, ensures that the University meets its multilingual and National Education Policy obligation.

The public lecture will start at 6pm.