NWU students awarded PanSALB Language Scholarship Grants

Annette Willemse -- Mon, 11/17/2014 - 09:48

NWU students awarded PanSALB Language Scholarship Grants

Seven North-West University (NWU) language students recently received the Dr Neville Alexander Language Scholarship Grants from the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB) in cooperation with the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund (NLDTF).

In 2013 PanSALB launched the Dr Neville Alexander Language Scholarship aimed at encouraging and promoting academic interest in disciplines related to the promotion of multilingualism, mother tongue education and the development of language in education at all levels of learning.

The South African Constitution provides that all official languages must enjoy parity of esteem and must be treated equitably and PanSALB’s mandate is to promote and create conditions for the development and use of all official languages. In fulfilling this mandate, the scholarship aims to provide financial support to students pursuing studies in indigenous languages; provide financial support to researchers who wish to contribute in the development of indigenous languages; increase reading material in indigenous languages; and to create conducive conditions for the equal use of all official languages.

Prof Bertus van Rooy

Dr Daniel Thokoane , PanSALB

The winners and representatives from the  NWU,
PanSALB and the Department of Higher Education.

The undergraduate recipients receive a R60 000 scholarship, while postgraduate/research recipients receive a R75 000 scholarship. Three students from the Vaal Triangle Campus, 3 students from the Potchefstroom Campus, and 1 student from the Mafikeng Campus qualified for the scholarship. The bursary is awarded for one academic year at a time and on proof of academic success the bursary may be renewed each year ntil the recipient of the scholarship has qualified.

Dr Alexander, after whom the scholarship is named, passed away in 2012 at the age of 75. Recognised as a leading linguist, Dr Alexander was as the forefront of multilingualism in post-apartheid South Africa and one of the major advocates on linguistic diversity and mother tongue education. It is due to his commitment to the development of indigenous languages, that PanSALB commemorates his legacy by the naming the scholarship after him.

What are the prospects for African Languages?

According to Prof Bertus van Rooy, director of the UPSET Research Focus Area (Understanding and Processing Language in Complex Settings) on the Vaal Triangle Campus, English clearly has an important role for development, but needs to go beyond just “a language”, to also include specific registers that need to be fostered in the homes and schools.

There are limits to the extent that English is able to function as a unifying language at present, and to the extent that it is offered as a competitor to other languages, it will not be able to function as an instrument of social cohesion.

At present African languages are primarily used in the context of conversations, with some noteworthy development into other areas such as religion and social relations. But book publications in African languages remain relatively limited, especially for adult readers. For language to be used for exchange of information there needs to be a vibrant community of readers and writers, a community that is not only adequately literate in a language, but also chooses to engage in written exchange in the particular language to support a market.

Prof van Rooy cautions that we need a sober understanding of the conditions under which languages develop to perform certain functions; otherwise good intentions are doomed to failure.

Developing indigenous languages into ‘languages of workplaces’

Dr Daniel Thokoane, Acting Corporate Services Executive at PanSALB, confirmed the importance of a grant such as the Dr Neville Alexander Language Scholarship Grant. The enrolment numbers of students in African languages at universities and even the number of kids who are sent to English medium schools instead of their own mother tongue is worrying. Though parents and university students make this choice with good intentions and job prospects in mind, the choice is to the detriment of many indigenous African languages today.

Students have a hard time performing well in subjects like mathematics and science despite being fluent in English, according to Dr Thokoane, a former mathematics teacher. Getting the essential information in their own mother tongue is essential for students to be able to master the work. Previously most bursaries available to students focused only on degree programmes in natural sciences and left those students wanting to study languages out in the cold.

Dr Thokoane referred to the Afrikaans language and the decision made in the early twentieth century to develop it as a language of work places. In similar fashion he believes the various indigenous languages of South Africa must be developed. Therfore, only students committed to using the bursary from their first to their third year of language study are awarded the bursary in an effort to boost and expand knowledge and research of the different indigenous languages.

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.
Nelson Mandela