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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


JENKINSON, A G; DE BEER, M  and  ALBERTS, Gino. The role of language regarding the world of business in South Africa: A study in the Free State and the Northern Cape Province. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2008, vol.48, n.3, pp.314-325. ISSN 2224-7912.

The purpose of this article is to report on a research project regarding the language needs and the language of preference in the business world in the Free State and the Northern Cape. The research was done in a systematic and empirical way within the context of a rapidly changing and complex South African environment. Data for these two provinces, whose population represents 7,1% of the total household expenditure in South Africa as reported by Duvenhage (2000), were analysed collectively. These two provinces are characterised by their large Afrikaans speaking population. Previous findings of language audits were kept in mind as well as the ongoing heated debates regarding language issues in South Africa. A literature survey was undertaken as a background to this study. Previous studies showed that Afrikaans speaking communities represent the strongest buying power in South Africa and that they are inclined to "open their pockets" to businesses that speak their language. This empirical study, however, brings new findings and tendencies to the fore that have practical implications regarding the world of business in the regions mentioned and it poses related questions that need to be investigated. Some of the findings were that Tswana speakers became more inclined to being served in Afrikaans than a few years earlier. Afrikaans speakers on the other hand seem to feel more comfortable being served in English when they visit restaurants or when they make use of airlines than a few years ago. Although English dominates the business world, respondents showed that they prefer to be entertained in their home language when educated by means of the radio and television and when making use of taxis for transport purposes. The study showed that respondents who visited businesses where the questionnaires were distributed, were mainly black and coloured women between eighteen and forty years of age. Although Afrikaans represents the biggest home language group in the areas because of the large number of coloured people in the Northern Cape and the fact that some Sotho speakers use Afrikaans as their home language, English proved to have a slight advantage over Afrikaans in being the language of preference in the business environment in the Free State and the Northern Cape. Literature studies show that there is a great shift in income in South Africa with regard to the different language groups and that black communities currently represent almost 50% of income while their earnings in 1960 were a mere 23,3% (Van Wyk 2005). This shift may have an effect on language preferences in the business world. The global context of development in world languages should also be kept in mind when questions are posed regarding the language audit in the Free State and the Northern Cape. Afrikaans speaking respondents represented the largest group in the income bracket above R7 501. Even though it is a fact that language has become politicized in the South African environment during the past decades and that it still causes a ripple effect on the South African system, ideological matters are not discussed, but are kept in mind regarding the interpretation of data within the context of an increasingly complex dynamic society.

Keywords : Multilingualism; businesses; language needs; customers; empirical study; Free State; Northern Cape.

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