09 November 2014

Once more on the Politics of Language

Languages, Part 10

Once more on the Politics of Language

This course was not to teach language. It was to examine and to problematise the politics of language in South Africa.

We have seen that whereas the Constitution enshrines 11 official languages and instructs governments to take care of any others that may be used by South Africans; and whereas institutions have been created for that purpose; yet the 11 languages are not getting equal attention. The weaker ones are getting less attention and the stronger ones are getting more resources.

The net result is that the indigenous South African languages are not being preserved. Instead, the former colonial languages are being preserved.

When we look at the whole continent of Africa, we see that the same tendency for the strengthening of the former colonial or exogenous languages (French, Portuguese, Arabic and English) and the relative decline of African languages, with the exception of Kiswahili, is continuing.

For the purpose of constructing a Pan-African political culture, we are obliged to use these few languages, but South Africans are not learning them - as a rule - with the exception of English.

South Africans will be obliged to develop the learning of French, Portuguese and Arabic, in the first place, and then move to the learning other African countries’ indigenous languages, starting with Kiswahili, if our country is going to play its full part in the anti-Imperialist unity-in-action of the Continent of Africa, as envisaged by the late Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah.


Consequences of the neglect of languages, internally and externally will be that politics are limited. The ideas of politics will be expressed in few languages, most likely the exogenous ones, and hence any migration to politics will have to mean migration away from indigenous language.

Such a migration will set up a contradiction between the politics of liberation on the one hand, and our South African characteristics on the other. Whereas we already known that liberation must embrace South African characteristics if it is to be a real liberation.

Please see the attached document.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: The Writer in a Neo-colonial State, 1993, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, extract.

04 November 2014

Language in School

Languages, Part 9a

Logo of the 10th Language and Development Conference

Language in School

The institution of 11 “official” languages in South Africa, sanctified by the Constitution, is as far as we know based on “human rights” precepts. Consequently, because human rights are passive, what has been done so far has not been very effective in terms of bringing the languages to life.

The teaching of children in the mother-tongue that they have from home, when they enter school for the first time, may be a human right. But if so, then it is not yet being well observed in South Africa. Motivation for change in this regard comes not from “human rights” but from the relatively poor rate of success in attempting to educate people in languages (English or Afrikaans) that they did not learn in the home and therefore do not, in the beginning, know.

Imposing on young children the stress of attempting, at a very young age, to learn in language that they do not understand and have not yet been taught, is a cruelty and of course, it is not successful. On average, children who are presented with this hurdle, do not advance as fast as children who are welcomed into the formal education system in their own language.

Teaching of children first in their mother-tongue, and then teaching them English, using their mother tongue, with this transition taking place over several years of schooling, is now a political demand.

The above paragraphs are taken from our Communist University course on Education. They state the continuing problem sufficiently well for our purposes.

Those paragraphs were written prior to the 10th Language and Development Conference held in Cape Town in mid-October, 2013, where the Minister of Basic Education announced that:

“South Africa has embarked on an Incremental Introduction of African languages (IIAL) policy. The IIAL policy will be implemented incrementally commencing in Grade 1 in 2015 and will continue until 2026 when it will be implemented in Grade 12.”

This quotation is from the Minister’s speech to that conference, published prior to the event and included in the document attached, and downloadable below.

The document also includes remarks about the IIAL by Dr Jennifer Joshua, and remarks about Kiswahili as a lingua franca, by Dr Nancy Kahaviza Ayodi.

The literature on this topic is limited, and probably exists mostly within the academies. Our course must go with what we have got. The next time we run this course, we will have another look for original documents. [2014 – very little to nothing new has appeared in the mean time]. But we have enough in front of us, on language in school, to allow us to have a good discussion.

It is apparent from this and from the earlier Part 7 about the legislation of the Use of Official Languages Act of 2012, that government has committed to considerable funding and employment in the area of languages. What is less clear is the ideological or other kind of motivation that is behind this commitment. The practical need is clear, but there are other, more subjective ideas involved, and these are what we would want to unpack in the future.  

Because, as we have already seen, manifest need, good intentions, legislation and resources may all be present but they may add up to very little in the real world, if the politics of the whole thing do not correspond. Everything finally depends, as always, on the action of the masses.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: 10th Language and Development Conference Programme.

03 November 2014

Language, Culture and Content

Languages, Part 9

Language, Culture and Content

Aiming for Socialism with South African Characteristics has to mean that South African things are important to South Africans.

This includes all of their languages. But further than that, it means that each language is recognised as a bearer of culture, and that similarly, all the South African languages must expand to embrace the content of our joint South African reality.

Each language is a medium, and languages as such are media with special characteristics. To illustrate the special character of language as a cultural medium, consider that it appears to be impossible to illustrate with a graphic image, what “Language with South African Characteristics” might be.

Hence, although in all of these interactions there is one, and occasionally more than one, image used to epitomise what is being discussed, yet on this occasion it proves not to be possible to find such an image. Nor will a touristic combination of many images help. Nor will a slogan like “unity in diversity”.

Nothing can compare with a language in the sense of it being a single body, but capable of expressing everything that it needs to express. If it is not capable, then it can borrow or invent new ways, while still continuing to be its unique self as a language.

“In the beginning was the Word”: Human beings are distinguished from other animals by their possession of language. It is language that allows humans to generate a collective consciousness that can create, and continue to create itself.

Kenya's Independent School Movement (extract)

James Stanfield, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, Economic Affairs, June 2005

Following a ban on female circumcision by three missionary societies in 1929, the Kikuyu in Central Province began to boycott mission schools and demanded an end to the monopoly on education held by the missions.  After failing to persuade the government to open its own secular schools free from missionary control, the Kikuyu began to open their own.  During the early 1930s extensive fundraising activities therefore took place, school buildings were erected and self help groups formed. 

Each independent school was governed by a local committee, responsible for the recruitment and payment of teachers, the setting of school fees and other fundraising events.  As independent schools became established joint meetings were organised and at a gathering in August 1934 the Kikuyu Independent Schools Association (KISA) was set up.  While KISA emphasised the need to negotiate with the colonial authorities some independent schools wanted to remain entirely free from direct European influence.  A rival association, the Kikuyu Karing’a Education Association (KKEA), was therefore established soon after. 

By 1939 there were 63 Kikuyu independent schools educating a total of 12,964 pupils.

To help meet the increasing demand for trained teachers both KISA and KKEA agreed to support the opening, in 1939, of Kenya’s first teacher training college at Githunguri, the site of the Kikuyu’s first independent school.  Originally intended to train teachers, the College soon included an elementary, primary and secondary school, with enrolments increasing to over 1,000 by 1947.    It was this independent school/college which Jomo Kenyatta would later become the principle of, providing a base for his future campaign for Presidency.  The rest of course is history.

A police investigation of Mau Mau early in 1952 sealed the fate of the independent schools. When the government declared a state of emergency later that year, both KISA and KKEA schools were closed.

The above account of the Kikuyu Independent Schools poses them as a reaction, not in the first place to colonialism, but to the missionaries’ banning of female circumcision (genital mutilation), a practice that has few open defenders today, although male genital mutilation is having a come-back in the guise of being a prophylactic against HIV and AIDS.

But in fact these schools were part of the resistance to colonialism, and part of a cultural/political movement that helped to preserve the whole Kikuyu culture, quite apart from the question of female circumcision. No doubt they contributed to the health of the language, which is the language in which Ngugi wa Thiong’o continues to write, today.

In the last part of the Course we will use a piece of Ngugi’s writing

How to learn languages?

In African countries, and notably in South Africa, people commonly speak many languages, but very little language-teaching is taking place. So, how are people managing to learn so many languages?

It would appear that informal methods of propagating language-learning are far more efficient than the formal ones, at least to the level of conversation, and oral commerce.

The CU is based on a theory of teaching and learning (in fact, on a pedagogy of the oppressed) in which dialogue is the source of learning, the practice and the method. We see no reason why languages should not also be taught and learned in this same fashion. Collective groups or study circles can be used for language, so that language is learned socially.

·        To download any of the CU courses in PDF files please click here.

27 October 2014


Languages, Part 8

Yo Si Puedo web site for Argentina


“Un Programa Cubano para poner Fin al Analfabetismo en el Mundo”

“Yo si puedo” (Yes, I can) is an international programme for the eradication of illiteracy, dating from March, 2001.

It was quite difficult to find more the information given below, on the Internet. What we can understand from it is that this is an extremely successful programme, based on a standard methodology, of which we unfortunately have no samples, as yet. We would like to have some pages from the manuals of the “Yo si puedo” programme.

What we would like to know about this programme, for the purposes of our course on languages, is first, how the vernacular languages (e.g. Aymara and Quechua) are protected within this literacy programme, in relation to the colonial language (e.g., in that case, Spanish).

Second, we would like to know how the question of cultural content of languages is handled in the “Yo si puedo” method, and related to this, whether there is any political content, whether intentional or de facto.

[This Cuban, communistic anti-literacy campaign’ slogan “Yo si puedo” is what Barack Obama ripped off for his election campaign (“Yes, we can”).]

Cuban literacy method benefits almost six million people around the world

Almost six million people in 28 countries all over the world have learned to read and write thanks to the Cuban literacy method ‘Yo si puedo’ (Yes, I Can).

According to Enia Rosa Torres, an advisor to the Cuban Minister of Education, 5.8 million people have already learned to read and write using the ‘Yo si puedo’ method, while 723,900 others have benefited from a similar Cuban methodology called ‘Yo si puedo seguir’ (Yes, I Can Continue), which guarantees elementary instruction.

During a press conference in Havana on Wednesday, Torres said that there are currently more than 2,200 Cuban education specialists making a contribution in 28 countries, with priority given to the member nations of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of the Americas (ALBA).

The official noted that, thanks to the efforts of the Cuban professionals and the methodology, Venezuela, in 2002; Bolivia, in 2009; and Nicaragua, in 2011, were declared territories free from illiteracy.

The Cuban ‘Yo si puedo’ method — which received two honorary mentions from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2002 and 2003 — has 14 versions, eight of them in Spanish, one in English, another one in Portuguese, and one in Creole for Haiti. There are also versions in Aymara and Quechua for Bolivia, and in Tetum, for East Timor. – (ACN)

Yo Si Puedo Alphabetization program, Bolivia

Héctor Mediavilla

The Cuban literacy program “YO SI PUEDO” (I do can), approved by the UNESCO, has been successfully implemented in 20 countries all over the world. Bolivian Ministry of Education has the goal of eradicating illiteracy, that affects around 20% of the population, in the next 4 years. This innovative method consists on TV lessons for a group of around 20 people where a 25” TV set, a VHS video recorder and a pack of 65 VHS tape lessons are required. The group is leaded by a competent member of the community during 3 months to complete the Basic literacy course. YO SI PUEDO program was officially opened in March 2006. There are around 12.000 literacy points spread all over the country. Courses have been recorded in Spanish and in native languages such as Quechua and Aymara.

Yo sí Puedo, a Cuban literacy program

In the process of researching the above, we discovered a Cuban Spanish-Language equivalent of Wikipedia, at:

·        To download any of the CU courses in PDF files please click here.

21 October 2014

New Legislation

Languages, Part 7

New Legislation

The attached text is an 8-page re-formatted version of the South African Use of Official Languages Act of 2012. We did not use the government’s PDF because of its large file-size, among other reasons, of a pedagogical kind.

Doing a CU version in this way has allowed us to do is to break up the Act into discrete parts that should make it much more digestible, and allow us to deal with the whole document.

The convention in legal practice is to refer to pages and lines, and we have left the line-numbers in, but we will refer to the pages of our booklet, and not those of the Act.

The original PDF of the Act can be obtained from the Government Gazette office, if required.

The Act is designed (page 1):

“To provide for the regulation and monitoring of the use of official languages by national government for government purposes; to require the adoption of a language policy by a national department, national public entity and national public enterprise; to provide for the establishment and functions of a National Language Unit; to provide for the establishment and functions of language units by a national department, national public entity and national public enterprise; to provide for monitoring of and reporting on use of official languages by national government; to facilitate intergovernmental coordination of language units; and to provide for matters connected therewith.”

The Objects of Act (page 3) are:
(a)   to regulate and monitor the use of official languages for government purposes by national government;
(b)   to promote parity of esteem and equitable treatment of official languages of the Republic;
(c)    to facilitate equitable access to services and information of national government; and
(d)   to promote good language management by national government for efficient public service administration and to meet the needs of the public.

On our page 4, you can see that this act expects every government department, entity and enterprise, to have in place within 18 months of the Act (i.e. by April, 2014) a language policy, which it describes, and which demands that at least three of the national languages are to be named for use.

On pages 5 and 6, the Act prescribes the establishment and functions of Language Units at national and other levels.

On page 6, the monitoring of the language policy is given as the responsibility of the Minister of each department.

On page 7, the Act states that each Minister must make a report annually to the National Assembly.

On page 7 also, the intention is given of forming “intergovernmental forums” so as to make the treatment of language matters more uniform across government departments.

Page 8 refers to regulation and mentions the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB), which, as we know, is established under the South African Constitution.


Clearly, this Act is made with the intention of pushing language matters forward by stipulating, in a bureaucratic manner, levels of compliance according to various criteria, in the field of languages.

Up to now (October 2014) we have not heard of a lot of activity as a consequence of this Act. Nor would we expect such response to be even across the many ministries, entities and enterprises. What we would expect is a rush to comply, and a new small industry of consultancy work, set up to provide government departments with paperwork to assist them to pass muster in terms of this Act.

None of this will of itself generate any good consequences to the benefit of the languages and the language-speakers, writers and readers concerned.

This course of ours does not teach any language, but it looks at the way the society deals with language on the whole. In the process, we have today looked at a full Act of the National Assembly.

In contrast to language, which is spontaneously created in the course of its use, a government Act is narrowly confined in a fixed form, and dependent on the existence of numbers of institutions which it requires to give social effect to the formal words of the Act.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Use of Official Languages Act, 2012, text in 8 pages.

15 October 2014

SA Phonetic Notation Key

Languages, Part 6a

SA Phonetic Notation Key

(CU, 2013)

The motto of the coat of arms - !ke e:/xarra//ke - is in the Khoisan language of the /Xam people, and means "diverse people unite", or "people who are different joining together". Click on the link above to hear the pronunciation of this national motto.

This item is to introduce a concept - a possible tool - that could assist South Africans to learn how to pronounce each others’ languages.

The attached document is in the form of a table. In the left-hand column, phonetic symbols based on the “IPA” that we saw yesterday, are listed. The list of symbols is not exhaustive, but it is sufficient to cover the range of the South African official languages.

In the next 11 columns, words are to be put - words belonging to all the SA official languages – so that reading across one can find an example in his or her own language, of that pronunciation.

If completed, it would serve as a key to the pronunciation of all of these languages. Given the phonetic notation of any word, one can read across to find vowel and consonant equivalents, in the different languages.

If used over time, the table would eventually teach the user how to read the phonetic notation without using the table.

Alternatively, the process could be computerised into an “app” (application). On a device such as a laptop, or a smart phone, the pronunciation of any South African word could be read off or played in the form of sound.

The table is not complete, because it turns out to be a large task to compile it in the first place. It is the kind of work that needs to be “crowd sourced”. The work-in-progress should at least be sufficient to convey the idea that means can be found, and put in the hands of the citizens, whereby they can lower the barriers between languages in South Africa to a material degree.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Phonetic notation and equivalent phonemes in SA words (draft form of table, CU, 2013).

14 October 2014

Phonetic Notation

Languages, Part 6

Phonetic Notation

“Phonetic Notation” is a common way of representing the sound, or pronunciation, of words as they are spoken, both within languages and across different languages.

James Tweedie has kindly written a contribution to this course on this topic of Phonetic Notation (attached).

Above is the full chart of phonetic notation of the International Phonetic Association, taken from Wikipedia.

Although it is referred to in Wikipedia as an “alphabet”, this seems to “beg the question”, because if alphabets were truly phonetic, then a general, standardised system of phonetic notation would hardly be necessary. But in fact none of the alphabets are, or could possibly be, truly phonetic.

That is why we are calling this item “Phonetic Notation”, and not “alphabet”.

In the next item, we will introduce the idea of having a single, cross-language chart of phonetic notation for the eleven South African official languages.

The point being that practical steps can be taken that will make it more possible and easier to cross over between the official languages, but that this will have to be done from a general South African point of view. The appropriate vehicle for developing, maintaining and publishing such a chart should probably be PanSALB.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Phonetic Symbols, James Tweedie, August 2013.

09 October 2014

Other languages in South Africa

Languages, Part 5b

AUM sign in Tamil script

Other languages in South Africa
In the Wikipedia (see extract below), we saw that there are many other significant languages used in South Africa.

We saw that the South African Constitution says that the Pan South African Language Board must:

...promote and ensure respect for –
  (i) all languages commonly used by communities in South Africa,
including GermanGreek,GujaratiHindiPortugueseTamilTelegu and Urdu; and
  (ii) ArabicHebrewSanskrit and other languages used for religious purposes in South Africa.

This part of our course is a reminder of the importance of these languages.

Other significant languages spoken in South Africa (Wikipedia)

Other languages spoken in South Africa, though not mentioned in the Constitution, include FanagaloLobedu (Khilobedu)Northern Ndebele (Sindebele)Phuthi (Siphuthi)Lobedu has been variously claimed to be a dialect of Northern Sotho and an autonomous language. Fanagalo is a pidgin often used as a mining lingua franca.

Significant numbers of immigrants from Europe, elsewhere in Africa, and the Indian subcontinent means that a wide variety of other languages can also be found in parts of South Africa. In the older immigrant communities there are: GreekGujaratiHindiPortugueseTamilUrduYiddish, and smaller numbers of Dutch, French and German speakers.

These non-official languages may be used in limited semi-official ways where it has been determined that these languages are prevalent. More importantly, these languages have significant local functions in specific communities whose identity is tightly bound around the linguistic and cultural identity that these non-official SA languages signal.

The fastest growing non-official language is Portuguese - first spoken by white, black, and mulato settlers and refugees from Angola and Mozambique after they won independence from Portugal and now by more recent immigrants from those countries again - and increasingly French, spoken by immigrants and refugees from Francophone Central Africa.

More recently, speakers of North, Central and West African languages have arrived in South Africa, mostly in the major cities, especially in Johannesburg and Pretoria, but also Cape Town and Durban.
·        To download any of the CU courses in PDF files please click here.

08 October 2014

Arabic, Portuguese, French, English

Languages, Part 5a

Arabic, Portuguese, French, English

The map above, found via Google Images, was labelled “Business Languages in Africa”. There are no indigenous African languages mentioned. All are exotic languages, except that Ethiopia’s language is referred to as “Other”. Kiswahili is simply ignored.


What one can note is two things. The first is immediate and tactical, pointing to practical necessity in politics, as much as in business.

This is the practical necessity for South Africa, if it is to have an effective political relationship with the rest of the continent, to have good translation into English from French, Arabic and Portuguese.

This means a cadre force of translators who are not politically neutral, but who are editors in their own right, and capable of discriminating and selecting from the available material.

Similarly, these translators need to be at work translating South African material into those other languages, and publishing it by all available means.

So that the net result is a continuous two-way flow of ideas and dialogue between SA and the rest of the continent.


The second matter is to note the dominance of the languages of previous colonists, and to put in place measures that will inexorably work to turn this situation around.

What are these measures?

As South Africans, we have to begin at home. We have to have dictionaries in all of our languages. That is, monolingual dictionaries. The movement towards an inter-lingual communication begins with the consolidation of the individual languages. Otherwise, the colonisers’ languages will continue to dominate, as a strong mediator between weak indigenous languages.

With that groundwork of dictionaries in place, then a superstructure of translation has to be created. Even if it is technically sophisticated, it will still be labour-intensive. That is to say, output will be in direct proportion to human effort applied. This is the paradox of IT. The more it becomes frictionless by computerisation, the more direct is the relationship between human input and practical output.

That means that there need to be plenty of linguists. Modern language departments at universities need to grow enormously. The number of academics needs to increase or even multiply, as well as the numbers of students.

Africans need to own the language business of Africa. The map has to look different. The whole concept has to change.

·        To download any of the CU courses in PDF files please click here.

07 October 2014


Languages, Part 5

Kiswahili in 11 countries


Why is Kiswahili special?

Kiswahili is unique. It deserves all of the attention that it gets. This item in our series is to say why that is, and to say why South Africans should take an interest in the Kiswahili language and its history. Kiswahili can show South African languages the way forward. Kiswahili is a success.

Kiswahili is spoken in 11 countries and has official status in 5 of them: Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Union of the Comoros (where it is known as Comorian). The other countries with first-language Swahili-speaking populations are: Somalia, Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique. In most of these countries there are much larger populations of second-language Kiswahili-speakers, who make use of the special, useful and convenient characteristics of this great language.

As we will see in the next item, only four other languages have comparable international reach in Africa, and they are all languages that originated outside the continent. They are Arabic, Portuguese, French and English.

Of the hundreds of indigenous African languages, only Kiswahili has been able to grow in the modern period to compete with the former colonial languages. This is why we can say it is unique and that it shows the way forward for other African languages.

Kiswahili is a modern language

The rise of Kiswahili has taken place in modern times. Kiswahili is contemporary in this respect to two other languages that have established themselves in the modern world: Modern Hebrew and Afrikaans. All of these three languages have ancient origins, but became what they are today in a deliberate phase of modern development starting in the 19th Century, and consolidating in the 20th Century.

Kiswahili has many dictionaries

As far as we can ascertain, Kiswahili first broke through the missionary barrier in 1981 with the publication of the “Kamusi ya Kiswahili sanifu” (Standard Kiswahili Dictionary) in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. This dictionary has been revised and re-published at least 43 times to date. It can also be downloaded from the Internet.

The publication of “Kamusi ya Kiswahili sanifu”, known as KKS, was met with great pride and joy by Kiswahili speakers everywhere. It has been followed by many more monolingual Kiswahili dictionaries, some of them derived from the KKS and others being substantially new projects. One publisher alone offers five different monolingual Kiswahili dictionaries (see here).

Kiswahili has literature

Kiswahili-language publications are abundant in all aspects of literature from school and university books, to newspapers and magazines, to poetry and novels and comics. Swahili language appears in drama and in song.

Kiswahili is still growing

Because Kiswahili is a living language, with speakers, writers, readers and dictionaries, it is able to expand its vocabulary and its usages to accommodate modern life as it develops.

Kiswahili by comparison

There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of indigenous languages spoken in Africa. Many of them are well known. We can mention Ovambo, Luba and Lingala, Yoruba, Wolof and Ashanti, Baganda, Luo, Masai and Kikuyu, and many Central and Southern African Languages including the nine indigenous official languages of South Africa.

In none of these cases does it appear, as it does with Kiswahili, that the major problems have been solved. On the contrary, in all cases it appears that the commanding heights of the literary and most conspicuously, political world are generally occupied by the four principal former colonial languages: Arabic, Portuguese, French and English.

Projecting forward, it is hard to see how the indigenous African languages will avoid a decline, or find a turning-point in that decline. It is only with Kiswahili that we can see anything like an international challenge to the former colonial tongues. That challenge rests upon the vigour of scholarship and on its products, the monolingual Kiswahili dictionaries, and upon the literary culture that is in turn buttressed by the existence of monolingual dictionaries.

·        To download any of the CU courses in PDF files please click here.

02 October 2014


Languages, Part 4c

The Rosetta Stone: One text, three languages


An example

Hugh Tweedie has contributed the following link: http://www.njas.helsinki.fi/salama/index.html

The linked web site appears to present an automatic generator of dictionaries, which would in principle be a good thing, and a very good thing.

But it is not very clear as to whether these are what it calls “monolingual” dictionaries (i.e. proper dictionaries that define words in the language itself), or whether they are dictionaries which are definitions of words in English. If the latter is the case, then one would want to look elsewhere, because the mediation of languages via English translation is not really what we want in the post-colonial time.

This would seem to be confirmed on the Salama web site under “dictionary compilation” where it says:

“Application to other languages

“The system can currently be applied to the compilation of dictionaries between Swahili and any other language, provided that a conversion dictionary between English and the target language is available.  Using an electronic conversion dictionary, most of the English glosses can be converted into the target language. Manual editing is needed for checking and correcting the result, because only part of lexical data can be converted in this way.”

The English language therefore becomes the medium and the yardstick of the other language. Which is not such a good thing, after all.

The Rosetta Stone

The rediscovery in 1799 of the “Rosetta Stone”, by a soldier in Napoleon Bonaparte’s invading force in Egypt, with one text on it in three ancient languages, led to the deciphering of two ancient Egyptian scripts, arranged in a very early form of “Cross-Language”.

·        To download any of the CU courses in PDF files please click here.

01 October 2014

MIA Cross-Language

Languages, Part 4b

MIA Cross-Language

MIA is a large archive of literature in many languages. Its nature allows the MIA operators to create an extra category called “Cross-Language” (X-Lang) so that readers can easily move, for example, directly between a work in one language, to the same work in another language.

What this points to is the possibility of, through the Internet, effectively publishing one work in many languages.

Seeing the way that the requirement for publication in all official languages is handled (e.g. by the SA National Planning Commission) in South Africa, it is clear that there is no standard. The way the NDP is published is in full in English, with Mickey Mouse versions for everybody other than English-speakers.

Probably the best option is for each column in a South African “X-Lang” table, representing one of the languages, to be edited by separate agencies accountable to their language groups.

So, for example, if the a document like the NDP is not published in any given SA official language, then an agency responsible for that language would have the resources to go ahead and make and publish a translation.

X-Lang in Political Education

Language is an issue when it comes to political education. The above diagram can show how it will be possible to compile parallel material for the Communist University, for example, in all of the official languages, and to run the Communist University as a simultaneous multi-lingual provider of political-education reading material for discussion.

What a pleasure it will be to sit in a study circle, having a discussion in Zulu, Pedi, Sotho or Xhosa, about Marx or Lenin or Agitprop, or about African Revolutionary Writers

Language is a revolutionary issue.

·        To download any of the CU courses in PDF files please click here.

30 September 2014

MS-Office Translate

Languages, Part 4a

MS-Office Translate

In MS-Office, in Word, under “Review”, the above icon can be found with the word “Translate” under it.

Clicking it leads you into a process of translation of your document. This is done via the Internet, through the browser Internet Explorer, which must be available on your computer.

The controls appear in a panel on the right of your screen. You choose from drop-down menus which language you want to translate from and to. When you click “Translate the whole document”, the browser opens and you will soon have a translation.

The number of languages it offers is less than Google, and it does not include any indigenous African languages at all.

It is an effective instrument for translating from French to English, and vice-versa. As such, it is a help to Africans.

But this Internet translator is another example of the regrettable dominance of the same dominant languages, even with this tool that is capable of redressing the balance.

It may be that government action would be required, say in the form of subsidy to service providers or academics, so that automatic translation services in and between all of our South African official languages is made available.

But the history of PanSALB does not encourage an expectation that this could happen easily, or soon.

·        To download any of the CU courses in PDF files please click here.

29 September 2014

Google Translate

Languages, Part 4

Google Translate

In 2013, “Google Translate” would translate text from and to the following languages:

These languages are 71 in number, and they include only one indigenous African language: Swahili.

In 2014, the number of languages on the “Google Translate” list has increased to 81, but still there is only the one indigenous African language on the list: Swahili.

The advent of free, online, automatic translation services is a great boon and a help to people a lot of the time. In our continent, where hundreds of languages are spoken, it opens the prospect of people being able to communicate much better than before across language barriers, if they have written text.

Printed text can be scanned and rendered into digital text using Optical Character Recognition (OCR). Once in that form it can be translate by Google Translate or by similar software.

But none of this works for Africans, within Africa, if only one African language is available.

Whereas automatic translation is in general progressive, the absence of indigenous African languages works regressively for these languages. It means, at this stage, that the selected, languages are even more privileged than before, and the African languages relatively even more disadvantaged than before. The “playing field” of automatic translation is less level than before.

Machine translation

Computer translation is a great assistance, but it is not perfect. Computer translation has to be corrected, because it always contains errors, and serious errors at that.

Computer translation assists because it quickly gives you a draft to work on.

To correct, you must apply your own knowledge of the languages, or use an old-fashioned dictionary, or the computer equivalent of an old-fashioned dictionary.

Translation is an art. Computer translation cannot complete the artistic function of the translator.

South Africans have not come to terms with translation, yet. This is not only true in terms of the eleven official languages, and other languages spoken in South Africa, but also in terms of international languages used in other parts of Africa such as French, Portuguese, Arabic, and Swahili.

This becomes at some point a political problem, because politics relies on communication, so that anything that inhibits communication can have a political effect.

·        To download any of the CU courses in PDF files please click here.