The Role of Youth in the Revitalization of Indigenous Languages: The Case of !Xun Youth in Platfontein, South Africa

Author: Boipelo Bahule (North-West University, South Africa)
Speakers: Boipelo Bahule, Tendayi Garutsa
Topic: Language Revitalization
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL AFALA 2023 General Session


South Africa has 11 official languages and is committed to the promotion of all these languages. Notwithstanding that, some minority language groups struggle to get resources or support for their survival. Some language groups in South Africa like the San, experience even greater challenges as they do not even have official language status. The language groups such as the !Xun in Platfontein, South Africa fall within the latter group and are victim of a myriad of challenges that come with the said status.
Literature indicates that youth can use language or varieties of language to oppose authoritative structures and language power dynamics in their communities (McCarty, 2009; Wyman, 2012). The same can be said of the !Xun youth who are faced with socio-linguistic challenges such as policies that do not support minority languages, the absence of indigenous language teaching in schools, unequal power dynamics between ethnic groups, and the lack of access to job markets due to poor command of languages in the job market. This paper is based on the premise that language revitalization requires a concerted effort from various stakeholders in the society and empowering the youth to drive these efforts can be most beneficial. This study focused on the perspectives of 22 members of the !Xun community.
This study adopted a qualitative approach and interviews and observations were used to collect data. The theoretical underpinnings of this study are Practice Theory and Communication Accommodation Theory. The study concludes that language revitalization efforts such as the !Xun and Khwe radio station broadcasting in the indigenous languages in Platfontein, a language committee committed to producing books in !Xunthali as well as teaching literacy in !Xunthali to the youth, and inter-generational language transmission at home are beneficial. However, the youth are not actively involved due to intergenerational tensions. The study recommends that youth be involved in leadership roles involving language issues as they are the carriers of the language to future generations.

Keywords: Language Revitalisation, Youth and language, minority language communities, !Xun, San languages