South Africa: The Language of Lockdown - Excuse Me, Do You Speak Covid?

analysis

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, a whole new set of terms entered our lexicon. Broadcasters, translators and language practitioners had to scramble to find ways to translate them into indigenous languages.

The proverbial biblical tale of the Tower of Babel doesn't come close to conveying the somersaults expected of indigenous language practitioners called upon to translate Covid-19-speak from English into the other 10 official South African languages.

"The information coming from the World Health Organisation, the National Department of Health and the Institute for Communicable Diseases came in English; so the first call was to translate the information into indigenous languages," says Dr Napjadi Letsoalo, a language professional based at Unisa.

Prof Franz Kruger, head of Wits Journalism and director of the Wits Radio Academy, says "de facto, English has become the pre-eminent national language in all sorts of respects, whether it is in the president's speeches or whether it is in court, whether in schools or in broadcast.

"There is a lot of discussion to be had about how to safeguard and give due respect to all the other languages that are spoken, particularly the smaller ones, in terms of language."

The Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB), NGOs...

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