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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

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

Abstract

BORNMAN, Elirea; POTGIETER, Petrus H  and  PAUW, JC. Language choices and opinions of Afrikaans-speaking students at Unisa. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2013, vol.53, n.3, pp.361-376. ISSN 2224-7912.

Literature dealing with language choice in multilingual contexts shows the influence of political, social and individual factors. The global status of English influences the way speakers of other languages act in relation to their own languages. Although English is still extremely important globally, the emergence of multilingualism is a feature of postmodernity. According to the British Council s report English Next (Graddol 2006), the global role of English has changed. Language ideologies, local circumstances, power relationships and the persona speakers of other languages project in relation to their own language choices form part of the dynamics of the interplay of languages in peoples' lives. English is on the ascendancy in South Africa in the midst of a pretence to multilingualism. This is also the position at the University of South Africa (Unisa), the biggest university in South Africa. Afrikaans previously enjoyed parity with English as languages of instruction at this institution. However, in recent years more and more modules have been offered only in English. Against this background, the authors undertook an empirical investigation into the language choices and opinions of Afrikaans-speaking students at Unisa. The population that was investigated in 2011 consisted of approximately 32 000 students who had Afrikaans as one of their home languages or who took at least one module in the medium of Afrikaans. A total of 2 749 of these students completed and submitted an online survey. This article comprises a discussion of a selection of the information gleaned from the study. The sample was divided, among others, between students who took modules in Afrikaans (1393, or 50,7% of the respondents) and students who preferred tuition in English (1 314, or 47,8% of the respondents). Questions were posed to gather biographical data and information about the opinions of the respondents. Significant differences were, inter alia, found between the two groups with regard to sex, age and the respective colleges where they studied. Students in the Colleges of Education, Law, and Economic and Management Sciences were more likely to prefer tuition in Afrikaans. Women were more likely to choose Afrikaans as a medium of instruction. With regard to age cohorts, younger and older groups were more likely to choose Afrikaans; groups between 26 and 55 years of age were more likely to choose English. The reasons why younger students (in terms of age and registering for a first degree) were more inclined to enrol for courses in their home language of Afrikaans may be ascribed to the influence of their schools and social networks. The reason why relatively more men chose tuition in English may be ascribed to their greater need to reflect a cosmopolitan persona in the work place. Although the sample as a whole was generally proud of Afrikaans, students who studied in Afrikaans were significantly more proud of their language. Students who chose Afrikaans as a medium of tuition were also highly satisfied with the outcome of their choice. Students who chose English as a medium of tuition indicated the availability of textbooks and the usefulness of terminological knowledge as the most important reasons for their choice. The authors conclude this article by advocating the development of intellectual resources such as textbooks and online platforms in Afrikaans and encourage the government of South Africa to make money available for the development of all the indigenous languages of the country. Multilingualism should be more than an empty gesture.

Keywords : Multilingualism; language choice; identity; higher education; language of tuition; tuition in Afrikaans; language ideology; textbooks; Unisa; language persona.

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