20 November 2012

Namibia: Labelling English As a Lingua Franca Is Ideologically Dangerous


Labelling English as a lingua franca in Namibia is both ideologically and politically dangerous. According to Phillipson (2008), labelling English as a lingua franca generally seems to imply that the language is a neutral instrument for "international" communication between speakers who don't share the same mother tongue.

Despite English being used for a wide range of purposes, we should not be misled into believing that 'lingua franca' English is disconnected from political and social national domains, in fact English is turning Namibia into a bicultural nation. Being a linguist myself, I would describe English as a socio-economic lingua communication and 'lingua botsotso' or, according to Phillipson lingua economica.

Most of you are probably asking why I am reacting this way when I know for sure that I am a student of the English language. Well, the answer lies in the following words said by an American - Roth Kopf (1997) proclaimed, "It is in the economic and political interest of the United States of America to ensure that if the world is moving toward a common language, it should be English; that if the world is moving toward common telecommunications, safety, and quality standard, they be American; and that if common values are being developed, they be values with which Americans are comfortable with. These are not idle aspirations. English is linking the world."

I am very sure even the intellectually ignorant readers would find the above assertion repulsive and politically abhorrent. Based on Roth Kopf's ideology, English can best accurately be described as lingua botsotso or lingua "diabolica."

This description is necessary as a counter reaction to linguistic manipulative sentimentality which comes with English as a lingua franca or 'international language.'

Yes, I know most of you will not take my arguments lightly.

Similarly, I know and understand that English, from an economic point of view, creates job opportunities for many people worldwide, but the truth should also be told that it also blocks economic opportunities for others (I concur with Phillipson on this argument).

Putz, quoted in sociolinguistics study guide by Talita C Smit (2010), argues that the systematic rejection of indigenous languages in Africa, and the dominance of European languages in official matters, has led to a series of negative consequences, the most of which is a pathetic wide gap between the small group who command an African variant of a colonial language (English, in the case of Namibia).

Moreover, in an independent Namibia, English is placed at the apex of a linguistic hierarchy and all the Namibian indigenous languages are drooping at the bottom while, ironically and at the same time, Namibia claims to be ideologically and politically independent. My little heart bleeds with pain when no one seems to care.

Growing up as an orphan, I have learned the art of fighting solo. I will use every Iota of my being to fight for linguistic justice in Namibia.

The danger of sidelining Namibian indigenous languages from political, economical and other social national domains will cause a brunt on social cohesion and the significance of those indigenous languages. Through language we can identify ourselves who we are, where we come from and where we are going.

But sidelining our languages in the name of economic development, is myopic.

The hegemony we assigned to English poses a threat to the very existence of our fundamental values we cherish as a nation. Tears are rolling down as I write because I can see the impending linguistic doom on the horizon of our beautiful landscape.

I humbly urge those entrusted with the sacrosanct to safeguard our Namibian indigenous languages to do so with resolute. If Namibia fails to protect her indigenous languages, be ready for "linguicide" to take place. Political and economic ignorance directed toward our languages in Namibia signify perceptions that segments of Namibia's indigenous languages are at risk from what Phillipson would call "English monster" (I disagree with him though).

Let's revamp the whole English curriculum, to include practical linguistic elements that promote norms and values in our society; Elements that will contribute to nation building in terms of reinforcing and cementing our cultural values through the teaching of English.

Finally, I love the English language, it is a fascinating language. But English should not be given hegemonic position at the expense of indigenous languages in Namibia.

The media in Namibia have recently been inundated with the impending American "fiscal cliff" but my wish is to see that one day the Namibian media are inundated with what I call a 'linguistic cliff.'

Let's have a national debate on the status of English and indigenous languages in Namibia. On a different note, shame on those who continuously murder women in cold blooded! For comment you can find me at gersindano@gmail.com

• Gerson Sindano is a Master of Arts in English student in the Department of Language and Literature Studies, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Namibia.

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