By Chelsea Haith
Associate Professor Mark de Vos and Dr Pamela Maseko are hoping to complicate ideas about multilingualism in the academic and social space at Rhodes University. Using the third Annual Multilingualism Colloquium taking place on 22 September, and the associated Multilingualism Competition, they are fighting the good fight against the hegemony of monolingualism.
The Colloquium is currently calling for posters and exhibitions focusing on multilingual learning experiences and resources as well as the benefits of multilingualism to the academy. Running concurrently is the competition, which calls on Rhodes students to submit music, short stories or poetry on the topic of multilingualism, using one or more of the official languages of the Eastern Cape: isiXhosa, Sesotho, English or Afrikaans.
“Multilingualism as a linguistic theory is something where we can turn the traditional power relations with the North on their head,” de Vos said.
He explained that the variety and linguistic diversity in Southern Africa provides a significant opportunity for growth in the study of linguistics in the global South. This is because one third of the linguistic diversity in the world is in Africa.
The colloquium aims to raise awareness about the diversity of languages spoken at Rhodes University. “It is sensitizing the institution about the issues of multilingualism,” Maseko said. “It’s celebratory as well as conscientising people about other languages, other cultures and respect thereof.”
Challenging the hegemony of English is an uphill struggle for South African Universities. Multilingualism benefits scholars by providing them with different frameworks with which to understand and interpret their subjects. “There are multiple knowledges that can inform learning situations,” Maseko said, explaining how languages provide context to learning environments.
The colloquium also hopes to contribute to the process of transformation currently taking place at Rhodes. “It’s a fact that having a monolingual curriculum is privileging certain students,” said de Vos, acknowledging the privilege inherent in speaking a dominant world language.
“It’s about conscientizing people about these things, it’s about telling people that there’s value in speaking more than one language,” he said.
At Rhodes, students are reluctant to take courses in isiXhosa that are relevant to their degrees, for example the isiXhosa for Journalism course. “I understand why some people don’t like to learn African languages. I disagree with it, but I understand it. There’s a certain kind of arrogance that comes from being monolingual in English,” he said.
Key note speakers at the colloquium will be Professor Kathleen Heugh from the University of Southern Australia and Professor Ana Deumert from the University of Cape Town. They will be addressing issues concerning multilingualism in our day-to-day lives as well as diversity within languages.
Deadline for submission to the colloquium: 21 August
Deadline for submission to the competition: 1 September
For information regarding this event organised by the Language Committee click here.
Listen to the interview in English and isiXhosa here: