“Language continues to be a barrier to access and success for many students at South African higher education institutions,” notes the the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) in their revised Language Policy Framework for Higher Education. This policy framework emphasises the importance of developing multilingual environments at South Africa’s public higher education institutions as part of an ongoing effort to remove barriers to access and success in higher education in our multilingual society. SADiLaR is pleased to be working closely with Universities South Africa (USAf), through its Community of Practice for the Teaching and Learning of African Languages (CoPAL), to support the higher education community in the effective implementation of the framework.
“Multilingualism in the academy has obvious potential,” says Professor Langa Khumalo, Executive Director of SADiLaR and CoPAL Chair. “Multilingualism in our higher education institutions will mean greater access to learning, student success, social cohesion, transformation and decoloniality.”
The policy framework was promulgated in 2020 for implementation in 2022, and mandates that universities and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges begin to take tangible steps to develop all South Africa’s 11 official languages as languages of scholarship, teaching and learning and administration.
While there is flexibility in how institutions achieve this, the policy is unambiguous in the statutory expectation that they work towards the goal of having all South Africa’s languages function equitably across the domains of higher education, including teaching and learning and administration.
The Language Resources Audit as a step towards implementation
SADiLaR, established as a dedicated research infrastructure under the South African Research Infrastructure Roadmap, is uniquely positioned to support higher education institutions in the development of strategies that will enable access to resources that are required to implement the policy. SADiLaR’s mandate is to stimulate and enable digital research and development of all South Africa’s 11 official languages, with a focus on those lesser resourced languages.
“Implementation of this framework will require significant resources, these include language technologies like grammar editors and spell checkers, language terminologies for academic disciplines and special skills and expertise to support multilingualism,” says Khumalo. “Without these resources and a way for institutions to pool resources and share strategies and expertise, this framework will be a non-starter.”
This audit will begin later this month with two pilot visits, first to the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal and then to North West University, then it will be rolled out to all 26 universities of South Africa from August 2022 until March 2023.
The goal of the pilot visits is to begin to lay the groundwork for the audits.
“At this stage,” explains Lebogang Boemo, Project Manager at SADiLAR, “we will be engaging with management, staff and students of the different universities to get a view of the progress that universities have made towards the implementation of the DHET’s New Language Policy Framework for Public higher Education Institutions.
“The goal of the language audit is to get a sense of what is available, what is the state of the art across the academy,” says Khumalo. “Then we can begin to develop a strategy to fill in the gaps on the one hand, and ensure that we effectively use the resources available across the academy, so that no institution gets left behind.”
SADiLaR’s Tshivenda researcher, Mr Phathutshedzo Maxwell Ramukhadi, specialises in literature and making use of digital tools. He finds the field of literature particularly interesting and continued by saying:
“I want to familiarise myself with the field of Human Language Technology”
In the current Covid-19 situation and national lockdown Mr Ramukhadi is working on two articles named:
How to develop a Tshivenda digital literary corpus
The portrayal of children Character in Tshivenda play
Analysis of Tshivenda lemmatization tool
He says that he is planning to finish the two articles that he is currently working on, within the next few months, to submit them for review.
“I also want to start working on my PHD proposal”.
Mr Ramukhadi argues that digital humanities makes a greater impact in the African context because African languages has been under development for so long. In conclusion he says:
“Digital Humanities will contribute a lot to make sure that our languages are being treated and have the same standard as the European languages”.
At SADiLaR, Mr. Respect Mlambo is the Xitsonga researcher. Respect specialises in lexicography, translation and terminology.
Currently he is keeping himself busy with the writing of papers and blogs for SADiLaR in his various fields of research. While the current Covid-19 situation and national lockdown is impacting the whole of South Africa and its workforce Mr. Mlambo plans to keep on writing and doing research projects in his field.
Upon asking Mr. Mlambo about his field of interest, in terms of research, he kept it straight forward and answered – “Lexicography”.
Mr. Respect Mlambo concluded by sharing his thoughts on the contribution that Digital Humanities can make within the African context by saying
“Digital Humanities will improve the functionality of African languages in various modern fields”.
Mrs. Valencia Wagner is SADiLaR’s Setswana language researcher. She finds sociolinguistics, phonetics, phonology and digital humanities particularly interesting within the language of Setswana.
Currently she is working on the writing of articles and organising virtual workshops. Other projects that is currently consuming Mrs. Wagner’s time is focusing- and working on her PhD studies. She is also planning to write more articles within the next few months. Furthermore Valencia will be working on two projects:
The Setswana and IsiXhosa grammar portal
The speech data collection project
Upon asking her what she thinks about the contribution that Digital Humanities can make in the African context she had the following to say:
“Africa still has a limited exposure to various digital tools, resources & methodologies, therefore, many African researchers and scholars still rely a lot on traditional methods of conducting research. Digital humanities can transform traditional humanities by creating and integrating digital technologies into African research. Research that would have taken years to complete manually, will be much easier to undertake with the use of digital tools.”
She concluded by saying that these digital platforms could also help us to share information and grow our indigenous communities.
Mmasibidi Setaka is the proud Sesotho researcher at SADiLaR. She is passionate about her research into the digital sphere of this language as well as research area of lexicography.
As a researcher at SADiLaR, Ms Setaka is always working on a variety of different projects, but she is currently focusing her research on picture dictionaries. She also has a few projects that she is planning to work on in the future which includes writing articles about the different aspects of picture dictionaries, checking different methodologies and working out strategies to collect her research results, without making physical contact with the children whom the dictionaries are aimed for.
Since one of the main focuses of SADiLaR is to do research into languages within the context of Digital Humanities, this is also a big part of Ms Setaka’s research. When it comes to Digital Humanities, she states the following: “Digital Humanities brings different fields together thereby making collaboration for African scholars possible.”
Ms. Nomsa Skosana is the isiNdebele researcher at SADiLaR. She finds the research fields of terminology development and lexicography very interesting, but specializes in translation (most of her research papers are based on translation).
She submitted a paper for Euralex 2021 with an abstract accepted for poster presentation (which was postponed due to COVID-19) and is finishing up a paper for ALASA 2020. During the period of national lockdown Ms. Skosana also started on a new paper, based on Autshumato Machine Translation.
Ms Andiswa Bukula is the isiXhosa Researcher for SADiLaR. As a researcher, she is passionate about her field of research and works towards a better future for the isiXhosa language in a digital learning space.
She is currently working on two articles. One with Dr. Roald Eiselen on the use of Named Entity Recognizers in the isiXhosa. The second article which she will be submitting for the writing retreat in June, is with a colleague from UNISA, Mlamli Diko, which will be looking at the representation of female characters in the isiXhosa drama book, Indlala inamanyala.
The Virtual Institute for Afrikaans (VivA) held a public symposium titled “Vloek met flair (en voorbehoud)”1 in Pretoria on Friday, 15 November 2019. The symposium aimed to stimulate a conversation about the use and academic study of swear words and their use in Afrikaans. The symposium was also part of the launch of a research project about cursing in Afrikaans of which more information is available on the project website.