Presenter to speak on minority languages

Rachel Cross

As society and the workplace become more diverse, it is becoming increasingly important for people to be able to interact with one another using different languages.

On April 9, Thabo Ditsele, an English language specialist and sociolinguist from South Africa, will be speaking at Grand Valley State University about the several languages that exist in South Africa and the significance of having minority voices recognized in society.

Dan Golembeski, associate professor in French, modern languages and linguistics at GVSU, arranged Ditsele’s visit. Golembeski said he met Ditsele at a conference at Leinden University in the Netherlands, where Ditsele spoke about minority languages. This will be Ditsele’s first time coming to the U.S.

Golembeski said in other countries besides the U.S., most people are monolingual.

“In South Africa there are 11 languages, which isn’t nearly as complex as other countries like India or the Congo,” Golembeski said. “Most other countries know English in addition to other languages, but it’s easy for societies to forget about the more complex minority languages that exist.”

During Ditsele’s presentation, he will speak about the benefits of multiple languages in a complex society, the importance of developing a writing system and the significance of managing to teach different languages in the school system.

“Ditsele touches on how, region by region, countries put priorities on certain languages,” Golembeski said. “In South Africa, the main languages are English and Afrikaans, with the other nine being Bantu languages which are not always mutually intelligible, with these people surviving in isolation for such long periods of time.”

Golembeski added that Ditsele has worked on language issues in the South African government and studies and shares examples of countries that have managed languages quite well, while other countries have forgotten these minority languages.

“These countries that have forgotten about minority languages don’t have schools that teach different languages with equal importance,” Golembeski said. “They don’t have newspapers or radio stations speaking minority languages, which is linked to ideas of equality on who gets services.”

When only the main languages are taught, people can lose not only their native language, but their culture and identity, too, he said.

“I like to think of the possibility for a society to exist in which people can learn multiple languages, and they can feel a little bit of both cultures (main languages and native/minority language),” Golembeski said.
By attending this event, students can grasp the importance of speaking different languages and understand what’s going on in the world, he said.

“Once people do have languages acquired, the workplace within the U.S. and outside the country is so much greater economically and people’s knowledge is expanded to see things differently,” Golembeski said. “Especially as workplaces are becoming more diverse and working internationally, it is vital that we go forward.”

Ditsele will speak from 5:30-6:30 p.m. in 103 Loutit Hall on GVSU’s Allendale Campus, followed by a discussion.