Language attitudes as a change agent for language vitality : a case study of two Khoesan languages in Platfontein (RSA).
Jones, Kerry Lee.
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Khoesan languages are considered an endangered language family. This study investigates how language attitudes influence language vitality intergenerationally in a case study of two Khoesan languages, namely !Xun and Khwedam. The case study investigates two extended families, one of !Xun, one of Khwedam speakers, respectively, in Platfontein, South Africa. Language attitudes are defined according to the tripartite model first suggested by Baker (1992:15) consisting of (1) knowledge (contextual knowledge), (2) emotion (emotional reactions) and (3) behaviour (behavioural predispositions). Language attitudes were determined through an ethnographic approach that included interviews and observations over a period of two years. Moreover, extra-linguistic factors were considered in the assessment of language attitudes in this study. Results reveal that both the !Xun and the Khwe family expressed indepth knowledge of the social, political, historical and economical significance of their mother tongues. Emotional reactions towards their mother tongues were strongly positive for both speech communities. However, among the !Xun the ancestral language was especially revered. This difference in attitudes may reflect differences in the family trees of the two extended families investigated: The !Xun family consists of five generations with a number of family members who are older than 60 years residing in Platfontein. In contrast, this older generation is absent in the Khwe family. Perceived language use as accounted for by participants and as observed in the field, revealed that speakers of both languages predominately used their mother tongue in and around the home. A change in lifestyle from nomadic hunter gatherers to a ‘westernised’ sedentary life resulted in the loss of cultural practices, such as traditional wedding ceremonies and traditional trance dance healing practices. Lifestyle changes, furthermore introduced ‘new’ language settings, such as formal education, formal employment, government services, church, media and technology, which are largely inaccessible in Khoesan languages. Hence, strong positive language attitudes towards their mother tongue may not suffice to secure the vitality of !Xun and the Khwedam spoken by these families. Without intervention, a language shift to Afrikaans, the socially and politically dominant language in the area, is likely to occur in these families.