Sample Paper on Languages of South Africa

Languages of South Africa (keyword essay)

Many researchers have written on apartheid in South Africa because of unprecedented number of official languages that are recognized in the country. The issue of language is one of the most debated and researched in South Africa because of the uniqueness of the inhabitants of most regions (Prah, 2006).  English and Afrikaans are spoken by most of the inhabitants of South Africa although we have many other languages that are spoken by some minority groups. The whites mainly speak English whereas the blacks and Asian populations speak a much wider variety of the other languages. The other languages that are used in South Africa include; Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho, Swazi, Tswana, Shangaan, Ndebele, Fanagalo, Khoe, Lobedu, Nama, Phuthi, San and Venda among others. Multilingualism is evident throughout South Africa as a result of many languages that are spoken by people from different regions in the country. Many languages in the country are critical for the reason that they expose the inhabitants of the country to a diverse society thus broadening their thinking. South Africa has adopted a policy which makes eleven languages official though English remains the most dominant (Posel and Zeller, 2016).

Makoni argues that it was the outsider group who were mainly missionaries and colonialists who decided the most convenience languages to be used in South Africa (2003). He argues that the indigenous languages of South Africa, for instance, the Xhosa are analogous to the artificial borders imposed by the colonial masters in disregard of social cultural identities. The coming of the missionaries and colonialists had a major impact on the current multilingual status of the country because the colonialists disregarded the social identities of the indigenous inhabitants of the country and imposed some languages that had a great impact on the language of South Africa. South Africa is a unique country because it has people who speak different languages and indigenous languages are still used as official languages unlike other African countries where indigenous languages have faded with time. Each language in the country has a considerable percentage of its speakers though English is the one that is used in business and advertising so as to reach a large target audience.

History reveals that the first ever indentified language in South Africa was the Khoisan which was spoken by the first indigenous people who had settled in most regions of the country referred to as the Khoikhio and the San. The Khoikhoi mainly occupied the southern coastal regions of the country but their language slowly faded away with the contact that occurred between them and other people in the country. Majority of the Khoikoi were multilingual for the reason that they lived in the margins of the Nguni society thus easily knowing the language of the Nguni (Irvine and Gal, 2000). Currently, there are very few people in the country who can fluently speak the Khoisan because of their integration with other people like the Nguni. The click sound that is mainly associated with the Khoikhoi is an aspect that was borrowed from the Nguni. Irvine and Gal argue that linguistic features of any community reflect and express broader cultural images of the people and activities that are carried out in that community (2000). The presence of the Khoikhoi along the boundaries of the Nguni had a great impact in their language, for instance, Khoikoi learned Nguni language and were able to fluently express themselves in Nguni with time.

Afrikaans is another language that is common in the country and comes second after English in terms of the inhabitants of South Africa who speak it. The Afrikaans emerged as a distinctive language in the country in the early seventeenth   century and it is the pressure of nationalism that led to the legal recognition of Afrikaans as an official language in 1925.  The Afrikaans replaced the Dutch as the official language of South Africa after a long time of agitation which led to the emergence of several authors writing in Afrikaans, for instance, Langenhoven, who wrote novels and poems. Currently Afrikaans is the third most common language in South Africa because it is spoken by   more than thirteen percent of the population.

Xhosa is another language that is spoken by approximately sixteen percent of South Africa’s population. Xhosa is characterized by clicking sounds, which are formed by the tongue which was an aspect that is associated with the indigenous people of South Africa. As a result, South Africa is known to be the native land of the Xhosa folk especially in Eastern Cape, where the language is spoken extensively and is used in the schools and other public places.

Zulu, this is another common language that is spoken by about ten million inhabitants of South Africa and is used in institutions of learning that are found in Zulu speaking regions.  Zulu is the home language of about twenty-two percent of South Africans; while as many as half of the local population understands it. Xhosa and Zulu are considered to be mutually understandable by many people in the country because the two groups of people can easily converse with each other. The Zulu adopted many of the sounds that make up the modern language from the San and the Khoikhoi because of the contact that the Zulus had with the Khoikhoi. The Khoisan lived off the abundance of the land thus forming a vital part of history and heritage of the country. The evidence of the existence and the activities of the Khoisan remain in the modern Zulu language, for instance the clicking sound that the Zulu produce when mentioning some things. The missionaries taught the locals to read and write, created a written version of their tongue and also noted down interesting facts about this language using a Latin alphabet. South African English has adopted many Zulu words into its vocabulary, for instance, ubuntu (humanity), donga (ditch), indaba (conference) and muti (medicine).

Multilingualism is vital in the country for the reason that it exposes the inhabitants of South Africa to a diverse society which has helped most of them to broaden their thinking. This has helped them to be able to readily interact with others and master other languages with easy as compared to people from other countries. Knowing more than one language is always an advantage because you can talk and understand more people and thus make new friends and acquaintances. You can learn new things like the cultures of new people that you meet easily as compared to those people who only know one language. South Africans who more languages have an advantage because they are able to interact with many people thus makes many friends. Students in South Africa who know many languages easily carry out research through the country because they can easily converse with many people. It is an advantage to know more than one language as a student for the reason that you have to do loads of research for tasks thus is it important to be multilingual. Clyne argues that multilingualism would become the desirable cooperative goal of all nations in the near future (2004). Understanding only one language has a negative effect in the lives of many people because it makes it difficult for them to communicate with a variety of different people in different cultures and communities. Secondly it also makes them to be uncomfortable to be in a company of friends who speak a language that you are unable to comprehend. It is also difficult to those who take part in sport to be able to understand the language that the rest of the team talks.


Multilingualism also comes with its own limitations to most of the inhabitants of the country, for instance difficulties in raising a child. Raising a child in an environment that is characterized by many languages is a commitment for the reason that more effort is needed from the parents of the child. The parents of the child who is being raised in an environment that is characterized by many languages have to put in more effort for the normal socialization of the child unlike those parents who raise their child in an environment where only one language is spoken. t feels a bit awkward at first if parents introduce a new language into the family so as to help the child to easily master the language when he/she hears other people speak. Parents who have to raise children in an environment that is characterized by many languages agree that the benefits for their children are well worth the effort that they had to suffer when raising the child. In addition to requiring extra effort to raise a multilingual child, children who grow up in a multilingual environment, run the risk that they do not speak the language properly and thus get a lot of problems in the school system. It is evident from most regions in South Africa that those people who grow in a multilingual environment do not speak either of the language well and thus get it very difficult when they join learning institutions which are vary away from home.

English remains the dominant language of business, public office and education and its use is increasingly becoming important because it is being spoken not only in public domains but also in the private arena of the home. Most of the inhabitants of the country can converse in more than one language because of the multilingual environment in which they have been brought in. Many countries around the world have embraced some of the languages that are used in South Africa and have incorporated them in their syllabus. Findings from studies that have been carried out in South Africa reveal that the Bantu languages remain languages of identification and retain their cultural capital even where the instrumental value of English is recognized. Students in institutions of higher learning in the country find it easy to carry out research because of their multilingual status. These findings over the stability of the other Bantu languages show that Multilingualism is likely to persist in the country in the near future.

This topic is of great importance to me because it will help me in my research. It will aid me in my research because I am likely to work with people who are multilingual. During my research in future, I may encounter and interact with people who converse in different languages and thus I will be prepared for such eventualities because of the knowledge I have acquired in regards to this topic.



Irvine, J.T& Gal, S. (2000). Language ideology and Linguistic differentiation.  In.P.V. Kroskrity(Ed) .Regimes of language ideology, polities and identities. Santa Fe: School of American research press.

Prah, K. K. (2006). Challenges to the promotion of indigenous languages in South Africa. Cape Town: The Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society.

Posel, D., & Zeller, J. (2016). Language shift or increased bilingualism in South Africa: evidence from census data. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 37(4), 357-370.

Makoni, S. (2003). From misinvention to disinvention of language: Multilingualism and the South African Constitution. Black linguistics, language, society, and politics in Africa and the Americas, 132-53.