Saturday, September 19, 2020

What about Kalanga?

It is the largest minority language in the country, spoken not just in the north east of the country, but also in various parts of the Central District. PhDs and academic papers have been written on aspects of its syntax, morphology, and grammar.

Songs, poems and now the Bible can be found in this language. It has been supported by organisation such as SPIL. It has also engendered hostile discussions on the media on its national position and because of persons militating for its teaching, defunct associations like Pitso ya Batswana were formed. At the University of Botswana it is not taught, although there are a horde of experts in the language.

Now the question must be asked: why has there be no traction in Kalanga language teaching and linguistic development? Currently there is much funding flowing towards research into San languages, especially from the Norwegians, and UB has approved the establishment of a Centre for San Studies, which amongst other things will engage in research into San culture and language. Additionally, recent developments have seen the establishment of the Confucius Institute at UB dedicated to the teaching of Chinese language and culture. Developments are also underway to establish a Portuguese Institute at UB that would be responsible for the teaching of the Portuguese language.

The introduction of Chinese and Portuguese is of strategic importance to the internationalization of the university. However, there is wide national neglect of the development of local languages including Kalanga. Some assume that much development has been focused on Setswana when actually Setswana is poorly developed linguistically, especially considering that it was one of the first sub-Saharan languages to develop a fully fledged writing system. The level of neglect towards Kalanga is saddening.

The question: what about Kalanga? is therefore a legitimate one. It appears that campaigns for the development of Kalanga language have been stuck in the political mud, since previous attempts at revitalising the Kalanga language have previously attracted very divisive and hostile publicity. Those fighting for the development of Kalanga therefore need to adopt a different strategy.
First, there is a need to develop an inventory of materials in Kalanga. What exists in and about the language? Are there grammar books, story books, PhDs, academic papers, dictionaries, religious material, albums, poetry compilations, etc.?

Are they fairly accessible or they have run out of print? Once that has been achieved, there is a need to make an inventory of intellectual capabilities that could aid in the development of the language. Who knows what? Who has done or is doing research in Kalanga grammar, general linguistics and various aspects of Kalanga linguistics? How good are they and how useful is their research?
The approach to this probing should be not to tribalise the question. In other words, the question is not: which Kalangas are doing Kalanga linguistic research? The question should be open and look for intellectual expertise from everywhere; literally all persons who have contributed to Kalanga research.

We should obviously avoid opportunists who know nothing about Kalanga language and linguistics, who however are loud and are likely to spoil the Kalanga language development process. Once we have established an inventory of works in Kalanga as well as an inventory of Kalanga expertise; we can then ask: what can we do with the expertise that we have?

How can we bring them together to achieve a single goal? How can we energise communities around the Kalanga language while we engage academics, language and cultural experts? Throughout this strategic development there will be tribalistic booby traps and landmines which must be avoided, lest they derail the linguistic development. It is important not to see the Kalanga linguistic development as competing against Setswana and other local languages.

Kalanga linguists and cultural activists must also avoid the temptation to apportion blame to Setswana and other language groups on any matter ÔÇô be they tribal or cultural groups. Instead, they should woo them and attempt to get them on their course. Setswana promoting groups like Tomela ya Puo have supported works in Sekgalagadi and Kalanga development will benefit greatly from an association with them.

If the development of Sekalaka is seen, not in a political light and not in as divisive, it has a greater chance of success. At the UB, Kalanga linguists need to put a proposal together for the development of an Institute for Kalanga Studies (IKS). Such an institute will be responsible for the teaching of Kalanga language and culture.

It will also bring together researchers who are currently spread across a variety of UB departments and faculties. Currently there is a need to bring together all the groups that are fighting for the development of local languages, so that they could speak with a single voice on linguistic development.

The tribalistic bickerings of the 1990s have delayed much progress since people engaged in time wasting and useless wrestling bouts which came to nought. Let’s face it, whenever local language activists bicker endlessly, foreign languages win as compromise languages.
My hope is that Kalanga as the country’s largest minority language will benefit from the experts that are currently available nationwide.


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