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The pure and the polluted: language politics in post-Apartheid South Africa

Wednesday 27 May 2020, 4.00AM to 5.15pm

Speaker(s): Dr Peter Gardner, University of York

With South Africa’s transition from Apartheid to democracy in the 1990s, language policy was radically reformed. In the old South Africa, Afrikaans was the main language of state with English and Dutch also officially recognised. The new South Africa was to recognise eleven official languages of state on an equal basis: nine African languages, English and Afrikaans. Alongside this, a new government institution – the pan-South Africa Language Board (panSALB) – was created in order to support and encourage linguistic democratisation. Despite these steps, language politics continues to both reflect and reproduce racial and class inequalities in the new South Africa.

In this talk, Dr Gardner outlines how the structure of racial domination in South Africa’s language politics have continued into the twenty-first century. Apartheid segregated the state on the basis of race and the black population on the basis of language. In the post-Apartheid period, the spaces where the Bantu homelands were once located have been reconstructed as the areas of linguistic 'purity'. Conversely, in the intensely multilinguistic and multiglossic urban centres, these languages have been conceptualised as 'polluted'. Dr Gardner argues that this pure/polluted dichotomy has limited black linguistic agency. Meanwhile, as a result its of economic, ideological and organisational capacity, Afrikaans continues to hold a disproportionately powerful position in South African society.

Peter Gardner is a lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of York.

This seminar will take place on Zoom. In order to join the meeting, input the following details on Zoom:

  • Meeting ID: 995 0053 2291 
  • Password: 188922

Location: Online meeting