CoPAL has pressing issues to deal with in 2023

Published On: 7 December 2022|

With the 2nd Vice-Chancellors’ Colloquium on language practices now achieved, real work begins for Universities South Africa’s Community of Practice for the Teaching and Learning of African Languages (CoPAL) in 2023, according to Professor Nobuhle Hlongwa, the new Chairperson of CoPAL, who is also Dean and Head of the School of Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). Professor takes over the reins from January 2023.

“Intellectualising African languages and using them in science, for example, requires a radical transformation of the role indigenous African languages play in academe. But when we are afraid to make use of African languages, they will remain on the periphery.”

Professor Hlongwa (right) has shared her outlook regarding CoPAL’s work when she takes over as Chairperson next year.

“During the course of 2022, an audit was started across the 26 public universities examining what resources and infrastructure they have in place to support the implementation of the Language Policy Framework.” At the VCs’ Colloquium, universities were given a glimpse into the preliminary findings of this audit. “It is a pity SADiLaR [the SA Centre for Digital Language Resources] could not present the full report of this study – a big undertaking – that still continues. We look forward to seeing a comprehensive picture of what universities have done, what resources are available and what should be prioritised.

She wishes to also see SADiLaR being audited in its own right, to see what African language resources they already have available — in the context of their mandate, and how these can be shared across the system. “The one way for the language implementation to be successful is through the sharing of existing resources and knowledge. So, it is imperative that we know what resources are currently available so we can use them effectively,” she said.

Professor Hlongwa says she wants to continue working closely with her predecessor, Professor Langa Khumalo, the Executive Director of SADiLaR, who ends his term as the CoPAL Chairperson this month.

SADiLaR, which is funded by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) as part of the new South African Research Infrastructure Roadmap (SARIR). It supports the creation, management and distribution of digital language resources, as well as applicable software, in all domains of Humanities and Social Sciences, Language Technologies, Natural Language Processing and Computer Science as well as potential end-users in education, business and industry.

She said it would also be vital to bring on board the National Department of Sports Arts and Culture as they have developed resources to support the development of African languages. Furthermore, the department has a budget to support the creation of human technologies. She believes working in digital spaces will serve the agenda of intellectualising African Languanges, notwithstanding the funding challenge that universities face. She also mentioned a possibility of other resources available for universities, which the latter may not be aware of.

Collaborations between universities are vital

Universities, she said, should not set out each time to reinvent the wheel. Collaboration and partnerships are the way to go, she added, citing an example of UKZN, which will be introducing a second African language, Sesotho, alongside isiZulu in their revised language policy, in 2023. The University has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the University of the Free State (UFS), that will allow them to share resources in the two languages that UFS is already teaching in: Sesotho and isiZulu.

“Partnerships are a way to fast track the intellectualisation of African languages. The most important thing for me is to position African languages at the centre of the transformation agenda of the higher education landscape. We have to revitalise African languages. It is more difficult perhaps for the universities of technologies who don’t even offer language degrees but they too have come up with language policies to promote multilingualism. In some ways, they are well placed because they are training their students in professions where they do practical work and they need the working African languages they will be using in the work place communities.”

The other thing that should never be forgotten when it comes to language policies, she said, is the inclusion of student leadership: “They need to be engaged even further regarding language implementation and what it means. They are at the forefront of transformation in higher education and they have to be on board if this cause is to succeed.”

Her assessment of the 2nd Language Colloquium, with its theme Moving the Conversation Forward, Multilingualism in higher education, Harnessing the resources is that its objectives have been achieved.

As she looks forward to a fruitful tenure of office in CoPAL, Professor Hlongwa has expressed her gratitude to Professor Tawana Kupe, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Pretoria, for hosting the colloquium; Dr Phethiwe Matutu, the Chief Executive Officer of Universities South Africa (USAf), Professor Langa Khumalo, the outgoing chairperson and his deputy, Professor Nokhanyo Mdzanga, as well as the entire Steering Committee for organising the event.

Janine Greenleaf Walker is a contract writer for Universities South Africa.