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It is an honour to be here with you today. An honour, because while we as government were finalising the National Language Policy Framework, you, as members of the Multilingualism Action Group, had already started with co-ordinated efforts to actively promote multilingualism in all spheres of life. Therefore, in a certain sense, I am today the preacher who preaches to the converted.

The National Language Policy Framework consists of a policy statement, an implementation plan, the South African Languages Bill and ensuing regulations, as well as legislation with regard to the South African Language Practitioners’ Council. The National Language Policy Framework aims to promote the equitable use of the 11 official languages and in the process facilitate access to government services, knowledge and information through the use of the previously marginalised languages.

We believe that collaboration between all language communities and language workers will ensure that the actual interests, needs and aspirations with regard to multilingualism in the country are indeed addressed. The management of these collaborative partnerships will be very important for the development of our languages in the economic and political domains of life.

The policy expects national government departments to publish its documents in all official languages. Where documents will not be available in all 11, it must be published simultaneously in at least six languages. Provincial and local governments will be guided by their regional linguistic profile. In an effort to manage this publication programme, the policy makes provision for the establishment of language units for each national government department and for each province.

Human capacity in the language industry will be crucial because the implementation of the language policy will increase the demand for translation and editing work and interpreting services, especially in the indigenous languages. Our implementation plan therefore makes provision for training and a language code of conduct for public servants as mechanisms to facilitate successful implementation in terms of human capacity.

But developing human capacity in isolation will not be sufficient to deliver the goods. Development of the language practitioner’s tools, namely terminology and technology, will be just as important for successful implementation. Terminology does, after all, form the building blocks of translation, editing and interpreting. By language technology we mean the software used by the translator or terminologist, but also new technologies that make use of our languages, for example machine translation software and speech recognition systems.

With regard to co-ordination, we identified the need for a directory of language services in the country as well as an information databank as a common platform dedicated to collecting and disseminating information on language policy implementation matters and other initiatives and trends in the language field.

I am sure, ladies and gentlemen, that you are aware, just as we are, of the tremendous work that still needs to be done. It is therefore heart-warming to know that there are organisations and individuals such as yourselves who realise and actively promote the importance of multilingualism in our society.

The South African Languages Bill aims to incorporate the policy statement and implementation plan in such a way as to provide an enabling framework not only to promote our country’s linguistic diversity and to create an environment conducive to respect for all citizens’ language rights, but also as the basis of building and consolidating our democratic nation through the acceptance of diversity, social justice and equal access to public services.

In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, we are working towards enacting the South African Languages Bill before the end of this year. Your valuable comments will enable us to make the Bill the cornerstone of well-managed multilingualism in South Africa.

Our collaborative efforts should thus ensure

  1. that we have a legal enabling framework for multilingualism in our country, and

  2. that we maximise our resources by minimising unco-ordinated projects.

In this way, I believe we will further and promote multilingualism in all spheres of life. We will promote a culture of understanding between different language groups and awareness of language rights. We will promote the use and status of the previously marginalised official languages and empower people by facilitating mother-tongue education. We will actively implement multilingualism and engage the public and private sector to this end. We will improve the quality of life of communities by encouraging the use of their languages.

In short, ladies and gentlemen, we will achieve not only the objectives of the Multilingualism Action Group, but also those of the National Language Policy Framework.

* Address given on Augustus 21st, 2003 at the launch of the Multilingualism Action Group in Langa.


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