Speaking with a forked tongue about multilingualism in the language policy of a South African university

  • Bassey E. AntiaEmail author
  • Chanel van der Merwe
Original Paper


As part of a broader student campaign for ‘free decolonized education’, protests over language policies at select South African universities between 2015 and 2016 belied widespread positive appraisals of these policies, and revealed what is possibly an internal contradiction of the campaign. The discourse prior to the protests (e.g. “excellent language policies but problematic implementation”), during the protests (e.g. silence over the role of indigenous African languages in the “Afrikaans must fall” versus “Afrikaans must stay” contestations), and after the protests (e.g. English becoming a primary medium in some institutional policy reviews) warrant attention to critical literacy in language policy scholarship. Based on a theoretical account of speaking with a forked tongue, this article analyzes the language policy text of one South African university. The analysis suggests, simultaneously, why similar policies have tended to be positively appraised, why students’ calls for policy revisions were justified, but why the changes clamoured for arguably amount to complicity in self-harm.


Language policy Systemic functional linguistics Tactical polyvalence University of the Western Cape South African higher education Multilingualism 



The authors gratefully acknowledge suggestions made by anonymous reviewers as well as funding from the South African National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences. Paul Duncan and Lynn Mafofo are also thanked for comments on parts of the paper.


  1. Andreotti, V. (2014). Critical literacy: Theories and practices in development education. Policy & Practice: A Development Education Review, 19, 12–32.Google Scholar
  2. Antia, B. E. (2015). University multilingualism: A critical narrative from the University of the Western Cape, South Africa. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 36(6), 571–586.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Antia, B. E. (2017a). University multilingualism: Modelling rationales for language policies. In R. Kaschula, P. Maseko, & E. Wolff (Eds.), Multilingualism and intercultural communication: A South African perspective (pp. 157–181). Johannesburg: Wits University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Antia, B. E. (2017b). Shh, hushed multilingualism! Accounting for the discreet genre of translanguaged siding in lecture halls at a South African university. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 243, 183–198.Google Scholar
  5. Antia, B. E., & Brann, C. M. B. (1991). Report on the necessity and means of suppressing local dialects and of generalizing the use of the French Language in France. Being a translation of Abbé Grégoire’s 1794 programmatic report for Post-revolutionary France, presented to the French National Convention. As appendix to: Brann, C. M. B. (1991). National language policy and planning: France 1789, Nigeria 1989. History of European Ideas [special issue on Rise and Development of National European Languages, C. M. B. Brann, editor], 13(1/2), 97–120.Google Scholar
  6. Antia, B. E., & Dyers, C. (2016). Epistemological access through lecture materials in multiple modes and language varieties: The role of ideologies and multilingual literacy practices in student evaluations of such materials at a South African university. Language Policy, 15(4), 525–545.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Antia, B. E., & Dyers, C. (2017). Affirming the biliteracy of university students: Current research on the provision of multilingual lecture resources at the University of the Western Cape. In D. M. Palfreyman & C. van der Walt (Eds.), Academic Biliteracies—Translanguaging and multilingual repertoires in higher education settings (pp. 113–141). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bakhtin, M. M. (1981). The dialogic imagination: Four essays. Austin: University of Texas Press.Google Scholar
  9. Bakhtin, M. M. (1999). The problem of speech genres. In A. Jaworski & N. Coupland (Eds.), The discourse reader (pp. 98–107). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  10. Bamgbose, A. (1991). Language and the nation. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Banda, F. (2007). Study groups and peer roles in mediated academic literacy events in multilingual educational contexts in South Africa. Stellenbosch Papers in Linguistics, 37, 1–21.Google Scholar
  12. Bourdieu, P. (2003). Cultural reproduction and social reproduction. In P. Jarvis & C. Griffin (Eds.), Adult and continuing education: Major themes in education (pp. 173–184). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  13. CHE. (2013). A proposal for undergraduate curriculum reform in South Africa: The case for a flexible curriculum structure. Pretoria: Council on Higher Education.Google Scholar
  14. Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. (1996). Pretoria: Government Press.Google Scholar
  15. Couldry, N. (2010). Why voice matters: Culture and politics after Neoliberalism. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  16. Desai, Z. (2016). Learning through the medium of English in multilingual South Africa: Enabling or disabling learners from low income contexts? Comparative Education, 52(3), 343–358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. DHET. (2015). Report on the use of African languages as mediums of instruction in higher education. Pretoria: Department of Higher Education and Training.Google Scholar
  18. Du Plessis, S. (2005). Multilingual preschool learners: A collaborative approach to a communication intervention. D.Phil. thesis, University of Pretoria.Google Scholar
  19. Du Plessis, T. (2006). From monolingual to bilingual higher education: The repositioning of historically Afrikaans-medium universities in South Africa. Language Policy, 5, 87–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dyers, C. (1998). An investigation into current attitudes towards English at the University of the Western Cape. Per Linguam, 13(1), 29–37.Google Scholar
  21. Eggins, S. (2004). Introduction to Systemic Functional Linguistics (2nd ed.). New York: Continuum International Publishing Group.Google Scholar
  22. Foucault, M. (1990). The history of sexuality. London: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  23. Grin, F. (2010). Managing languages in Academia: Pointers from education economics and language economics. Paper presented at the professionalising multilingualism in higher education conference, Luxembourg, February 4, 2010.Google Scholar
  24. Gross, A. G. (2010). Systematically distorted communication: An impediment to social and political change. Informal Logic, 30(4), 335–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Habermas, J. (1984). The theory of communicative action (Vol. 1). Boston: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  26. Halliday, M. A. K. (1994). An introduction to functional grammar (2nd ed.). London: Edward Arnold.Google Scholar
  27. Hart, C. (2014). Discourse, grammar and ideology: Functional and cognitive perspectives. London: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
  28. Hornberger, N., & Johnson, D. (2007). Slicing the onion ethnographically: Layers and spaces in multilingual language and education policy and practice. TESOL Quarterly, 41(3), 509–532.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Iedema, R. (2000). Bureaucratic planning and resemiotisation. In E. Ventola (Ed.), Discourse and community: Doing functional linguistics (pp. 47–70). Tubingen: Narr.Google Scholar
  30. Iedema, R. (2003). Multimodality, resemiotization: Extending the analysis of discourse as multi-semiotic practice. Visual Communication, 2(1), 29–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kaschula, R. (2013). Multilingual teaching and learning models at South African Universities: Opportunities and challenges. Seminar Presentation at Rhodes University, March 2013.Google Scholar
  32. Luister. (2015). Available at:
  33. Makalela, L. (2018). “Our academics are intellectually colonised”: Multi-languaging and fees must fall. Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, 36(1), 1–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Makalela, L., & McCabe, R. (2013). Monolingualism in a historically black South African university: A case of inheritance. Linguistics and Education, 24(4), 406–414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Martin, J. R., & White, P. R. R. (2005). The language of evaluation: Appraisal in English. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Miller, H., & Miller, K. (1996). Language policy and identity: The case of Catalonia. International Studies in Sociology of Education, 6(1), 113–128. Scholar
  37. Ministry of Education. (2002). Language policy for higher education. Pretoria: Ministry of Education.Google Scholar
  38. Mkhize, D. (2018). The language question at a historically Afrikaans university: Access and social justice issues. Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, 36(1), 13–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Mwaniki, M. (2018). South African higher education language politics post #RhodesMustFall: The terrain of advanced language politics. Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, 36(1), 25–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Prior, P., & Hengst, J. (2010). Introduction: Exploring semiotic remediation. In P. Prior & J. Hengst (Eds.), Exploring semiotic remediation as discourse practice (pp. 1–28). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Quirk, R., Greenbaum, S., Leech, G., & Svartvik, J. (1985). A comprehensive grammar of the English language (1st ed.). London: Longman.Google Scholar
  42. Ravelli, L. (2000). Getting started with functional analysis of texts. In L. Unsworth (Ed.), Researching language in schools and communities (pp. 27–64). London: Cassell.Google Scholar
  43. Scambler, G., & Britten, N. (2001). System, lifeworld and doctor–patient interaction. Issues of trust in a changing world. In G. Scambler (Ed.), Habermas, critical theory and health (pp. 45–67). London, New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  44. Stroud, C., & Kerfoot, C. (2013). Towards rethinking multilingualism and language policy for academic literacies. Linguistics and Education, 24(4), 396–405.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Tollefson, J. W. (2006). Critical theory in language policy. In T. Ricento (Ed.), An introduction to language policy. Theory and method (pp. 42–59). Malden, MA: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  46. UWC. (1989). UWC: A University in Action. Bellville: University of the Western Cape.Google Scholar
  47. UWC. (2003). University of the Western Cape language policy. Approved by Council, June 2003.Google Scholar
  48. Van Leeuwen, T. (1996). The representation of social actors in discourse. In C. R. Caldas-Coulthard & M. Coulthard (Eds.), Text and practices: Readings in critical discourse analysis (pp. 32–70). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  49. Van Reenen, D. (2018). Communicative rationality in conflicted language ecologies post #RhodesMustFall at the University of the Free State. Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, 36(1), 57–71.Google Scholar
  50. Van Rooy, B., & Coetzee-Van Rooy, S. (2015). The language issue and academic performance at a South African university. Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, 33(1), 31–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Varga, C. (1971). The preamble: A question of jurisprudence. Budapest: Maison d’éditions de l’Académie des sciences de Hongrie.Google Scholar
  52. von Fintel, K. (2011). Conditionals. In K. Von Heusinger, C. Maienborn, & P. Portner (Eds.), Semantics: An international handbook of meaning (Vol. 2, pp. 1–34). Berlin, Boston: de Gruyter Mouton.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of LinguisticsUniversity of the Western CapeBellvilleSouth Africa
  2. 2.Department of Applied Language StudiesNelson Mandela UniversityPort ElizabethSouth Africa

Personalised recommendations