(Sydney is one of several students from UNCW's Watson College of Education who is currently visiting and teaching in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. With her permission, we are reposting from her personal blog.)
I saw this on a poster in the library of the second school we visited with today. Seeing this surprised me because when were initially briefed on the workings of the school we were told that English was chosen as the official language of teaching and learning. The Home Language options the students were offered were both isiXhosa and Afrikaans. But because their were mixed populations of Home Languages English was chosen as the main language of instruction so both groups could be taught in one class. Since English was the main language of instruction I am still unsure the depth of what the students are taught in their home language, especially about the reading and writing it.
The cycle of language endangerment and death begins when a generation of speakers has fluency in two languages, typically one they use in their family settings and another that they use in their professional and educational settings. Because of the split in usage, the language that is spoken in the professional and educational world is seen as the language of power and therefore given a preference over the other language. When this bilingual generation then begins to choose the language that they prefer to instill as their child’s primary language, typically they choose to teach them the language with the perceived power and give them less education about the less powerful language. Through the generations so little of the language that is perceived less powerful will have been transmitted to younger speakers that the language will become scarce and eventually die out.
Based on what I have observed about the attitudes towards language, it is clear that here English is the language with the perceived power and prestige. Leaving the first primary school I was at I ran into a few district supervisors. One of the supervisors quickly told me about how he was so excited to hear children in another township school, outside of the classroom setting, communicate strictly in English rather than their home language. This shows that although the home languages are still being taught in the schools curriculum it is clear that many educators are pleased with their students’ preference towards English. Giving a generation of speakers an affirmation that adopting the language of perceived power could help perpetuate the eventual and endangerment of many of the home languages South African students are currently fluent in.