A Finland Swede in Bavaria

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

South Africa: Select your preferred language

Good morning! Goeie more! Jambo! Dumela! Sawubona! Molwene! Thobela! Dumelang! Bonjour! Bom dia! Namaste! Salem aleikum!

That's how I greeted the Sub-Saharan audience in Africa yesterday at the Sun Microsystems partner event in Kievits Kroon outside Pretoria. The languages used were English, Afrikaans, Swahili, Sotho, Zulu, Xhosa, Pedi, Northern Sotho, French, Portuguese, Hindi and Arabic, respectively. Or almost, as I left out the Arabic -- I didn't think of the sizable Moslem audience until too late.

There were many more languages than Arabic that I left out. Most importantly (and equally unintentionally), I left out Yoruba and other languages from Nigeria, which represents the most shining star when it comes to growth in today's Sub-Saharan Africa.

Just South Africa alone has eleven official languages. Let's bypass the most known of them -- English -- as it is nearly the same as elsewhere.

Second on my list is Afrikaans. It's second because of many reasons, one of which is that I discussed with numerous Afrikaans speakers. Another is that it's easy to understand for me, as it's so close to my native Swedish. Imagine travelling across the globe to find a sign that says "Gratis parkering", which is not only understandable for a Swede but is also spelt identically in Swedish (and means "Free parking").

Third on my list is Sotho. It comes in two varieties, North and South, and they seem mutually semi-intelligible. It's third as it was the language of my taxi driver on the way from the airport to my hotel, and he gave me a first lesson ("Dumela!" is "Hello!"). And as it happens, my taxi driver on the way to the airport also spoke Sotho, and was both happy and surprised that I knew how to say "hello" in his language.

Fourth on my list is "all the rest". Eleven languages is a lot. It seems that the black South Africans growing up in the townships of Johannesburg is either linguistically talented, or exposed to a very multilingual environment, or both. Or then the languages aren't really all that different from each other, but could be considered dialects. Anyway, of three taxi drivers surveyed, two spoke 8 of 11 languages, and the third spoke all eleven. Regardless of how strong the accent, that's still an impressive feat.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Kaj,

    You letf out two languages, Venda- Ndi Matsheloni( Good Morning) and Tsonga- Abusheni( hello)