Language and id are inextricably interlinked. So what occurs when a language dies, or is suppressed?
When Katrina Esau spoke to her older sister, Griet Seekoei, they spoke in N|uu. It’s a language that solely they – and their brother, Simon Sauls – might perceive. “Griet was a beautiful individual,” Esau remembers. “Strict, however fantastic.”
Ouma Griet, as she was recognized, died in Might aged 87. Now there are simply two remaining audio system of N|uu. “It makes me very unhappy. No language is extra vital than one other language,” Esau advised the Mail & Guardian, talking from her dwelling in Upington in South Africa’s Northern Cape province.
!Honkia. Gla kye !aba? (N|uu for Howdy. How are you?)
The decline of N|uu dates all the best way again to 1652, when the primary Europeans arrived by ship on the Cape of Good Hope. They spoke solely Dutch, and made little effort to assimilate with the thriving, complicated Khoikhoi and San communities who had been already dwelling within the space. As an alternative, it was the locals – who themselves spoke a wide range of tongues, together with N|uu and Khoekhoegowab – who initiated communication.
Autshumato, the chief of the Goringhaicona, taught himself Dutch and labored as a translator between the white folks and the indigenous neighborhood; his niece, Krotoa, grew to become Jan van Riebeeck’s private translator. Between them they lay the foundations for a brand new language, Afrikaans, primarily based on Dutch however borrowing closely from indigenous phrases and grammar.
Over the centuries, this language – together with English, one other import – grew to become a device of oppression towards South Africa’s Khoikhoi and San communities. Indigenous languages had been marginalised, their audio system discriminated towards, whereas Afrikaans was enforced because the language of training, authorities and work.
Esau herself has spoken beforehand about her upbringing on a white-owned farm within the Northern Cape. Though N|uu was the language she spoke at dwelling together with her dad and mom, the farmer threatened to shoot them in the event that they had been caught talking it in public. Slowly, the language disappeared from Esau’s on a regular basis life. Afrikaans dominated.
Even when South Africa threw off white rule in 1994, little modified. The brand new South Africa recognises 11 official languages, however N|uu will not be amongst them. Neither is Khoekhoegowab, which though nonetheless endangered is rather more extensively spoken. This omission is painful, mentioned Esau.
Esau runs a small faculty from her dwelling in Upington to show N|uu to youthful generations. For her efforts in conserving the language alive, she was awarded the Order of the Baobab by former president Jacob Zuma in 2014. “We are going to lose data if the language dies out. That’s the reason I train N|uu to kids within the space,” she mentioned.
Kakapusa (Khoekhoegowab for Erasure)
N|uu will not be useless but, and the youthful technology gained’t let it die with out a battle. Claudia du Plessis is Esau’s granddaughter. She is studying to talk the language. “I didn’t hear it [growing up]. The whites advised my grandmother to not communicate N|uu as a result of it was an ‘ugly language.’
“My grandmother speaks it with me, and I’m studying books about it. I can write it properly, however the language may be very tough to talk. However once you get it proper, then you definately get it proper.”
Together with Deidre Jantjies and Nadine Cloete, Du Plessis is making a movie in regards to the N|uu-speaking neighborhood’s practices round menstruation, exhibiting how the taboos that exist right now round a girl’s physique had been by no means a part of indigenous tradition. That is an instance of the sort of data that would die out together with a language.
Katrina Esau is a advisor on the movie, to ensure the actors get the phrases and pronunciation proper. She will not be a stickler, encouraging them to “introduce our personal flavour”, particularly relating to writing: “The writing was invented by the colonists. Ouma [Katrina] mentioned to jot down it such as you perceive it,” Du Plessis mentioned.
Additionally combating to maintain an indigenous language alive is Toroxa Breda. When he was born, his mom referred to as him Denver. She was Khoikhoi, however gave him a reputation that might assist him to slot in. He grew up in Cape City, talking Afrikaans, and recognized as “colored” – a racial classification formally outlined by the apartheid authorities as an individual of combined European and African ancestry. For many years, Khoikhoi and San folks have been subsumed into this classification – and, all too typically, erased by it.
“Whenever you’ve grown up on the Cape Flats with this colored id, I ponder what does this imply, who am I linked to? What connects me to those folks, to this land, to Africa? I solely communicate the language of my former colonisers, [so] who am I?”
Breda started to reply that query for himself. However Khoikhoi language and tradition is so marginalised that it was not straightforward to search out the knowledge he was searching for; typically, he might hint his personal roots solely by trying to find colonial slurs like “hottentot” and “bushman”.
He started to show himself Khoekhoegowab. It’s a sluggish however rewarding course of. “It’s solely once you hear the sounds of your ancestors in your tongue that you just really feel a way of belonging and the sense of being an African,” he mentioned. “While my tongue was rooted in Europe, which is Afrikaans and English, I might by no means really feel African.”
Nor might he join this id together with his given identify. “I realised I wanted to decolonise the identify. There was no Denver in our neighborhood. That may be a coloniser identify. I gave myself the identify Toroxa. Which means combating spirit.”
||Hui !Gaeb (Khoekhoegowab for Veiled in Clouds)
Whereas N|uu could also be at imminent danger of extinction, there are nonetheless greater than 200,000 audio system of Khoekhoegowab – largely in southern Namibia, the place it’s typically referred to as Nama. Dr Levi Namaseb, a linguistics professor, has been educating Khoekhoegowab on the College Namibia for 35 years.
It’s, he says, a exceptional, distinctive language; the number of clicks used as consonants in Khoekhoegowab and its dialects usually are not present in another language, besides once they have been borrowed (the clicks in Xhosa, for instance, come from Khoekhoegowab). “It’s fascinating how far human nature can go in an effort to create communication,” he mentioned.
Namaseb believes that human dignity and language are inextricably linked. “You lose your dignity once you communicate the foreigner’s language,” he mentioned. He thinks that the federal government – each in South Africa and Namibia – must play a way more lively function in defending indigenous languages. “You want the fingers of the federal government in an effort to deliver down our language or deliver it up.”
South Africa’s authorities is paying some consideration. Sometimes, earlier than the president delivers the annual state of the nation deal with, he’s ushered into the Nationwide Meeting by an imbongi – a poet who sings the president’s praises, normally in Xhosa or Zulu. In 2019, Cyril Ramaphosa broke with custom by asking the Nationwide Khoi and San Council to appoint a Khoekhoegowab-speaking imbongi. The chair of the council nominated Bradley van Sitters.
“He mentioned put in your skins, make us proud, make the nation proud,” Van Sitters remembers. And so he did. On the night time, historic Khoikhoi prayers echoed off the partitions of the Parliament constructing in Cape City, and Van Sitter sreceived a standing ovation.
Van Sitters grew up in Cape City, talking Afrikaans. However as he learnt extra about his roots, he felt more and more alienated by his mom tongue. “After I go to the Cape Flats and ask the neighborhood, ‘What language do you communicate?’, they are saying they communicate Afrikaans. So I ask them: Do you name your self an Afrikaner? They are saying no, we aren’t Afrikaners. There’s one thing fascinating in that. We’re talking the language, however there’s a full dissociation from the id hooked up to it.”
He resolved to search out his personal id by studying Khoekhoegowab. He traveled to Namibia, the place the language was taught at college – Dr Namaseb was his trainer – after which centered his personal analysis and energies on conserving the language alive. In Cape City, he arrange courses, and inspired everybody he knew to name town by its Khoikhoi identify: ||Hui !Gaeb, that means ‘veiled in clouds’.
When he spoke to his mom about it, she mentioned that she remembered her grandmother talking Khoikhoi, with different elders, below a tree, however that the youthful generations by no means realized. This was the primary he had heard in regards to the Khoikhoi roots of his family. By rediscovering his language, Van Sitters was rediscovering his id.
“The genius of individuals, their secrets and techniques, their oral traditions, are all intermingled into the character of the language. There are such a lot of layers throughout the language itself. It’s intergenerational fact that’s being handed on, via the medium of language. We’ve misplaced that connection, having gone via slavery, oppression. Language was my means to make that connection once more,” he mentioned.
This function first appeared in The Continent, the brand new pan-African weekly newspaper designed to be learn and shared on WhatsApp. Get your free copy right here.