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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

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


KOTZE, Ernst. Afrikaans as property, and the question of restandardisation. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2014, vol.54, n.4, pp.635-655. ISSN 2224-7912.

In this article, some key aspects of the public discussion regarding the notion of possessing a language, in casu Afrikaans, are highlightedfrom a sociolinguistic perspective. The multifarious nature of this language community, consisting ofspeakers of diverse regional varieties, is related to the notion of a central standard language, and the representation of lexis (and grammatical forms) from these varieties in the standard serves as a challenge to be investigated. If the language as a whole is to be regarded as the property of the entire language community, this is a valid moot point. The article culminates in a comparison of various strategies of increasingly incorporating the varieties of Afrikaans both lexically and grammatically into a generally accessible common standard (which would have to be subject to the requirements of usage in various domains). The point of departure which is addressed, is the perception that (a) the standard form of Afrikaans is a user-based variety, and (b) by implication that it will only be deemed to be communal property if it has been linguistically restandardised by prescriptive means in order to expand ownership to all speakers. At the basis of this perception there are, however, certain fallacies regarding the nature of language, the process of standardisation and the ways in which variant forms obtain recognition over a wide(r) spectrum in the community. The article is firstly aimed at investigating the concept of possessing language (or a language), individually or collectively, from various perspectives, and secondly, at describing the position, function and materialisation of the standard form as a variety used for particular functions by speakers of different varieties, and thus representing communal property. The central question for which an answer is sought, is how possessing the language (collectively or individually, in all its varieties) can be linked to, and is compatible with, the concept of "standard language". An aspect of the nature of language which is important for this discussion is the distinction between instrumental (or functional) and symbolic (identificatory) values. These values often operate in a supplementary fashion, for example when the use of one language for purposes of wider communication reinforces the status of the language. On the other hand, the insistence by speakers on maintaining the symbolic value of a particular language could impede its usefulness as a lingua franca. These values may also operate separately, for instance, the development of a standard register (such as terminologies for scientific purposes) would enhance the instrumentality of a language, while creative contributions, distinguished by the form in which they are presented, such as in the field of literature, play an important role in strengthening its symbolic basis. While the link between language and culture overlaps with its value to the speakers, a further dimension is to be found in the consideration of language and culture as intellectual property. Examples of individual manifestations of language, ranging from individual words as trademarks to integrated units such as literary creations or scientific articles could be cited in this regard, but for languages as a whole there is no judicial tradition of reification. The link between a language and its speakers in terms of possession could be viewed from either a liberal or a mother-tongue based perspective (Hutton 2010), where a distinction is made between a right to possess and the relation with the object being possessed. While the liberal view does not distinguish between language and a (specific) language, and hence a particular speech community is not defined, the mother-tongue based tradition regards language as the collective property of a group of speakers who are defined in terms of history, culture and linguistic features. As alternative approaches, each of these views represents an ideal type on a complex continuum in which the abovementioned factors all contribute to how possession of a particular language could be interpreted. In terms of (especially) the symbolic value of a language, the mother-tongue based approach is followed when a language community has reason to suspect being threatened. To its speakers, the idea of language rights represents one form of recognition of language as property, and this model makes it possible for the speakers, in a multilingual country such as South Africa, to form agencies who act on behalf ofthe users of a particular language. The recognition ofofficial languages in the South African Constitution, although an ostensible safeguard against discrimination, is stymied by the evident inability of the State and the judiciary to concretise (or reify) language, and hence deal with it as in the case of other items of value. Hence the reaction as referred to above. The community of mother-tongue speakers, are, in this view, defined, not only by using a common language, but also by the intricate set of norms which determines the choices to be made in each context of use, in order to communicate according to the demands of comprehensibility and appropriateness. In this sense, one could state that speakers of Afrikaans find themselves under the "jurisdiction" of the language, and that they receive, not ownership, but a measure of stewardship, to enhance the value ofthe language by increasing its instrumental value for the benefit of its users. In the light of the geolectal diversity of Afrikaans, which is often exacerbated by racially based differences, the existence of the standard form could be linked historically to the inequalities of the past. Hence the question: Whose property is Standard Afrikaans? From a sociolinguistic viewpoint (and also within the liberal tradition of ownership of language), the standard represents a domain-specific register of use, and is the "property" of whosoever has occasion to utilise this register (especially) informal contexts. In practice, standardisation occurs from day to day at the level of language use, and in particular as the outcome of the work of language practitioners, who apply the norms of usage as determined by the particular domain. Although it is often assumed that the Language Commission of the South African Academy serves as a standardising body, it is largely restricted to the formulation of rules of orthography, and its published word list (Afrikaanse Woordelys en Spelreëls) contains a small percentage, seen against the total available lexis, of lexical items for purposes of exemplification, acceptance of neologisms and guidance. The possibility of the restandardisation of Afrikaans has been suggested as a way to address differences in accessibility to the standard register, in the sense that vernacular speakers of various geolects should be enabled to recognise much more of their own lexis (andpossibly grammar) in what is regarded as Standard Afrikaans. In this way, the symbolic value (and status) of the vernaculars would be enhanced. As in the case of standardisation, which is an ongoing process and at the same time the cumulative effect of norm application in formal contexts, a bottom-up approach (instead of a top-down) approach, by means of exposure, cultural promotion and publication, which is already noticeable, is the most effective process to expand the lexicon in the relevant domains. Restandardisation based on the selection of a new matrix dialect would lead (according to Hendricks 2014) to an implosion of the language as a whole and accelerate destandardisation. On the grammatical level, reference could be made to a forthcoming project in which a standard grammar of Afrikaans (which could include variation on various levels of description) will be compiled for internet access. While the symbolic value of users ' varieties (especially regional) plays a key role in the acceptance of the standard variety as collective property, an important aspect of standardisation is the enrichment of the standard variety, also by way of lexical expansion from the regional varieties, in consonance with international models.

Keywords : language as property; language and culture; language and the law; Standard Afrikaans; user's variety; usage variety; language norms; language standardisers; Language Commission; democratisation; restandardisation; destandardisation; language planning.

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