Author reply to peer reviews of paper number 114
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First of all, I wish to thank the two reviewers for their remarks. We seem to agree, at least, that language constitutes an important political challenge in contemporary South Africa. This challenge, at the risk of oversimplifying, brings at least three discursive complexes into play: a colonial discourse in which African languages have first been imagined, by Europeans, as entities that signify ethno-linguistic groups or "nations" (or "nations-to-be"), and then branded as lesser forms, indicators in fact of African mental and cultural inferiority; a racial discourse that in this country employed language, and the associated notion "ethno-linguistic groups", to justify apartheid policies and the creation of ethnic homelands; and, intersecting with and often reproducing the legacy of these, a new discursive orthodoxy we can refer to as neo-liberal globalisation. Together these create a complex situation where language in varied ways is implicated in processes of division, oppression and resistance. Because we basically
on issues, at least as I have stated them in the above paper and these authors have responded on this occasion, I have decided to introduce another, slightly relativising voice (that of Pennycook, 2002) – just to temper any sense of consensus or political satisfaction on our sides. Because of the complex stew of (very often contradictory) discourses, developing language policy is no simple matter – especially not in the domain of education. Just as we are very easily seduced into making English transparent, with some of the effects that I have discussed in my paper, we can also fall prey to simplistic and problematic responses to the hegemony of English. When these responses involve taking for granted the moral and political legitimacy of all forms of support for the mother tongue, we might find ourselves in trouble. Indeed, as Alistair Pennycook (2002) says, "the notions of the mother tongue and mother-tongue education are often held up as political icons like democracy, universal education, or gender equality" (p. 11). Why would this be problematic? According to Pennycook, "the emphasis on mother-tongue education [in colonial history – DP] was interlinked with forms of Orientalism that were aimed at the preservation of cultures as viewed through the exoticizing gaze of the colonial administrator. Viewed in terms of
this attempt to construct and preserve people and their languages clearly connects to more current forms of linguistic and cultural preservation" (p. 16). Pennycook’s point here is "(t)hat both English and vernacular languages could be promoted as aspects of colonial governance by different colonial administrators at different times", and that this "suggests that we cannot consider the support of one language or another as inherently preferable. It depends what they were being used for" (p. 20). Stating the same point somewhat differently: "(O)n the one hand, very similar sounding arguments in favor of mother-tongue education have been made from radically different political orientations; and on the other, quite different arguments about mother-tongue education may be made to support quite similar political orientations. This is by no means a trivial point, for it suggests a certain political naivety if we try to read off political motivations from surface manifestations of ‘good’ political projects – that is, if you support mother tongues, you’re on the right side" (p. 24). It is not necessary to comment extensively on these quotes. Although Pennycook does not contradict what we have written above (and Hofmeyr’s reference to the "in-between", I must add, is certainly also a way to think beyond the dichotomy of mother tongue vs. other tongue), his views do qualify some aspects of the political agenda, even if only implicitly, we have been championing. Pennycook’s views also help me answer, to an extent, Pistorius’s question about future research. While research directly influencing language planning and policy is indispensable, such research often will assume essentialist positions for strategic reasons: that is, it will talk about languages, speech communities, linguistic rights, etc., as if these exist independent of the their particular (and often contradictory) constructions in various contexts. I therefore think it will be important for critical researchers to continue deconstructing various constructions of language and associated topics. This will involve not only the deconstruction of English and its universalist pretensions, but also any all-to-ready acceptance of "African languages" as cultural assets and as required for "healthy" identity formation. Also, such deconstruction will in principle be equally suspicious of people’s desires to choose either
their mother tongue in particular situations. The need to deconstruct the assumed given nature of languages and associated concepts, or the need to "disinvent" languages, as Pennycook refers to it, is perhaps made clearer in the dilemma underlying the argument in the following extract – and this is also offered to acknowledge Hofmeyr’s comment on the absence of Xhosa perspectives in my paper:
Gladwell: You know Xhosa, but you must speak other languages too. Constance: Yes, but then, don’t you think it’s going to cause confusion because like having it (.) if perhaps one is black, okay, and speaks Xhosa at home, and now she must go to an English school and she must learn English. Mawethu: And Afrikaans. Gladwell: I’m not against English. Constance: I’m not against English because English is an international language, so that means broadening yourself into a wider range if you speak English. But for the people (.) that’s why I’m saying they have a choice. They can have a choice. All I’m for is that black schools should have black teachers who teach blacks in their language, Xhosa and Xhosa textbooks. Gladwell: No. Constance: Don’t say no, because everyone should have a choice.
Pennycook, A. (2002). Mother tongues, governmentality, and protectionism.
International Journal for the Sociology of Language, 154
(2002), 11 – 28.
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