P 10

Doing Language, Ethnicity, and Nation

Panel abstract
The understanding of language as a bounded system, Herderian-type ideologies of ‘pure’ languages and the construction of an inextricable link between language, ethnicity, and nation constitute one of the major inheritances of colonial linguistics. In Africa, languages in this narrow sense keep being entangled with ethnic and national imaginaries that fragment people and stir contested identity politics. And yet, this ethnolinguistic assumption, i.e. the idea that language is inextricably linked to a specific identity and nation in a monolithic way, is rather far removed from the realities of sociolinguistic practices, communication patterns, and complex identity trajectories in Africa. Nonetheless, language in Africa continues to be caught in a complex web of socio-political dynamics involving questions of ethnicity and nationalism. The aim of this panel is to engage with a variety of approaches that tackle the broad concepts of ‘ethnicity’, ‘nation’, and ‘language’ in order to broaden our understandings of contemporary Africa framed in historical, cultural, sociolinguistic, and geopolitical terms. We aim to critically interrogate essentialist sociolinguistic identity politics on the African continent and question terminologies and concepts from the Global North in terms of their applicability.

Time: Thursday, 28/06/2018, 8.30 - 10.30 am
Venue: Seminargebäude, S 205

Natascha Bing (Leipzig University)
Stephanie Rudwick (Leipzig University)

Kateřina Mildnerová (Palacky University, Olomouc, Czech Republic)
Rachel Muchira (Leipzig University)
Lloyd Hill (University of Stellenbosch, South Africa)
Irina Turner (University of Bayreuth)


Paper abstracts

Kateřina Mildnerová
Language and Ethno-Cultural Identity of Namibian Czechs

The paper that draws on ethnographic fieldwork focuses on the construction of ethnocultural identity through language learning and language use amongst Namibian Czechs. These are a group of originally fifty-three Namibian child war refugees who got asylum in the Czechoslovakia in 1985 coming from refugee camps in Angola during the Namibian national liberation struggle led by the SWAPO against South Africa’s occupation of Namibia. The children were educated in former Czechoslovakia in order to become the elite of a future independent Namibia. From 1985 to 1991 they sojourned in the boarding schools in Bartošovice and Prachatice, they learned Czech language, and internalized the Czech culture, its traditions and norms within the process of primary education and institutional care. During their stay in the CSSR, the children created strong relationships with their Czech teachers, educators, and other Czech adoptive families which led to the natural adoption of Czech language as a part ‘symbolic world of meaning’ and a means of everyday communication. The endeavour of disliked Namibian wardens to instil a sense of the traditional Ovambo culture and language in the mind of the children was not only ineffective (the education was not linked to their everyday lives and was imposed authoritatively), but also contra-productive (cultivation of aversion against everything somehow connected with Namibia). Today, the majority of Namibian Czechs live in Namibia, they speak fluently Czech, Oshivambo, and English. They are bearer of a dual identity. Their problematic sense of belonging is best described by their own locution ‘being stranger in both homes’. From a theoretical point of view, we approach ethnocultural identity as socially, narratively, and discursively constructed, as a dynamic and reflexive product of the social, cultural, historical and political contexts of an individual’s lived experiences. We draw on insights from such classical social theorists as (Bourdieu 1977, 1980, 2000, and Foucault 1972), current research on language, culture, and identity (Bucholtz and Hall 2005), and theory of communicative and cultural memory (Jan Assmann 1997) to explain how the ethnocultural identity of Namibian Czechs has been constantly reconstructed within the field of so-called ‘communicative memory’ which is embodied in living autobiographical memories maintained in interpersonal communication. The paper aims to answer the question how our respondents use, maintain, and switch Czech and Oshivambo languages in different social contexts and environments and which role the languages plays in their multifaceted contradictory identities. Does the Czech language represent the strongest identification factor for the majority of our respondents? Which particular language-use strategies have they developed to negotiate their problematic sense of belonging (code-switching, speech stylisation, language crossing, neologism etc.).

Rachel Muchira
Kenyans Languaging Their Way into a ‘Kenyan Identity‘

The general perception is that Africa’s linguistic diversity and the notion of nation-state are mutually exclusive and that her multiethnolingual composition is the main cause of the strife and tensions straggling many regions in the continent. While this might be true in some cases, I posit that for Kenya, the ethnolingual and national identities do not always present a discordance, but rather a multifaceted identity that is well aware and accepting of its differences and diversities.
In line with Jørgensen et al’s position of ‘humankind as a languaging species that uses language to achieve its goals’ (2011), and by use of concrete examples from the Kenyan urban (linguistic) scene, I will show that Kenyans in Nairobi are using language to create spaces of quotidian, in which no distinction is made between ethnic and national identities; and in so doing, the prevailing narrative of a non-existent ‘Kenyan identity’ is challenged.

Lloyd Hill
Language, Nationalism, and the University: a Theoretical Reflection Based on the Emergence of Afrikaans at Stellenbosch University

In 2018, South Africa’s three oldest universities celebrate centenaries. At the end of World War I, the University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch University were established as autonomous teaching institutions, while the University of South Africa (Unisa) became the nucleus of a new Pretoria-centred system of higher education accreditation. As the oldest of the historically Afrikaans universities, Stellenbosch University has a complex historical association with Afrikaner nationalism.
Afrikaans was developed as an academic medium at Stellenbosch during the decades following the creation of the South African state in 1910. Another important factor was the infusion of mining capital (£100 000 in 1915), which was conditional on the elevation of the ‘de Hollandse taal in zijn beide vormen’ (the Dutch language in both forms) to ensure that it enjoyed ‘geen mindere plaats’ (no lesser place) as an official medium in higher education. Since the democratic transition in 1994 Afrikaans has had mixed fortunes: declining use in the public sphere has been offset by the growth of an Afrikaans cultural industry (including radio, television, movies, print media, and online domains). One particular aspect of public decline has been the rapidly waning status of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction at ‘historically Afrikaans universities’. Since 2015, this process has been expedited by systemic crisis within the higher education sector, manifested most prominently in a series of student protests. The proposed paper has two objectives: (1) to explore the relationship between Afrikaner nationalism and the development of Afrikaans at Stellenbosch over the course of last century; and (2) to use the Stellenbosch context as a platform for reflecting more generally about the relationship between nationalism and languages used as university-level mediums.

Irina Turner
Axing the Rainbow: How ‘Fallism’ Reconfigures Post-Apartheid Nationhood in South Africa

The metaphor of the rainbow nation ― attributed to Archbishop Desmond Tutu ― symbolizes the utopia of forming a multi-national, multi-ethnic, non-racial, non-sexist society. The notion carried South Africa through its transformation and democratization phase in the late 1990s. Today, the concept, however, falls short of serving as a broadly acknowledged identity marker. Most evident from the South African ‘fallism’ movements ― the student-driven protests against neoliberal and neo-colonial structures in academic institutions ―, a critique of the so-called rainbowism, i.e., of the belief that a colour-blind society can be created, is revived in public discourses. In essence, the problem with the concept lies in its tendency to negate the existence of diversified identities and ongoing systemic discrimination in a post-colonial society. The proposed paper asks how deconstructing the concept of the rainbow nation affects a future conceptualization of South Africa as a nation. What is left if a multi-racial society is not the answer? Which alternative utopias are developed? If one sees the fallism movements as a seismographic spearhead of the society as a whole, a close analysis of the discourses emerging from there will give indications about South Africa as a nation in its entirety. This explorative study applies critical discourse analysis in tracing the deconstruction of the rainbow nation and its potential decolonized replacement within a selection of currents texts from mainstream and social media, academia, and politics relating to decolonization and fallism.