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Burma, 1942 by Clayton R. Newell, Center of Military History

By Clayton R. Newell, Center of Military History

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That only accrues to the people who write in English (and Afrikaans). Often mediocre poets in those languages are celebrated, but you can’t even get photographs, you can’t find the birthdates of good poets who write in indigenous languages. HT: All of this is so deeply politically charged, is it not, in the context of South Africa?  Antjie Krog, Rosalind C. Morris, and Humphrey Tonkin AK: But what I don’t understand is, if it’s politically charged, why are indigenous languages not part of it?

No one is assumed to get a position, a job without in some way displacing someone else. No one gets power without displacing someone else. English offers itself as a kind of pure medium for that; but on the other hand, the ANC has eighty years of a different discourse, a non-racialist discourse. AK: But the ANC is not dominating the discourse. The ANC is not even participating in the discourse. And then you have somebody like Neville Alexander saying the ANC never had a real non-racial ethos, so we cannot simply accept the ANC’s self-representation as non-racialist.

I become part of their world, instead of only accommodating those sounding like myself. HT: And isn’t there something significantly arbitrary about selecting the eleven languages named in the constitution, in that they overlap linguistically in all kinds of ways? We know where English begins and ends because it’s been codified, because it’s been standardized. We know exactly where the boundaries are. If you’re dealing with a language like Zulu or Tswana, that isn’t so. AK: That isn’t so – but, you actually can also change that codified English, to express where it is coming from.

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