(Mr_Fin / Flickr)
(Mr_Fin / Flickr)
There’s no greater example of Mzansi’s diversity than our linguistic range. There are a total of 34 South African languages that are native to this country, with 11 of them being officially adopted as our “official” tongues.
However, as learning methods change and our culture
A handful of languages are now facing the same fate as these four predecessors. You may have heard of them, or they may be completely alien to you. Either way, there is something tangibly tragic about a South African language dying out – it signals the end of a culture in many ways, as knowledge is lost to the annuls of time.
We’re going to look at two categories here: Languages that are “nearly extinct”, and ones that have been identified as “decreasing” in their popularity – that includes one of the big fish, too…
Just three people residing in the Northern Cape are allegedly the last trio who can fluently speak N|u. They are all aged 80 or above and face a race against time to preserve their mother tongue. They are currently trying to teach the younger generations how to speak it, but this is a difficult task – there are 112 sounds and 45 clicks to master.
It’s estimated that just 87 people are able to speak Xiri in South Africa – a language used near the Namibian border. Around 100 more people speak it in other countries, but the Cape Hottentot dialect is facing a battle to survive.
Despite being one of the pillars of our linguistic community, Ethnologue believes that the number of Afrikaans speakers is dwindling. They have made the language one of the two dialects that’s suffered a decline in popularity over the years. That, despite having approximately 17 million native speakers in Mzansi.
Perhaps their calculations do add up. More institutions are turning their backs on using Afrikaans as a language of instruction. And, despite a rich cultural history, the appeal of learning Afrikaans for non-native speakers is decreasing as well. “Extinction” is still past the horizon in this case, but it will be a troubling sign for the traditionalists.
A language that borrows from both English and Afrikaans is now only officially spoken as a second language. There are no more “native speakers” of Gail, which is believed to take its roots from Polari – a dialect common amongst sea-faring and circus-travelling Brits. About 20 000 South Africans can speak Gail, to varying degrees of fluency.