How much is enough? Language revitalization in the Global South


Seminar by Justin Brown (Huma, UCT)

How much is enough? Language revitalization in the Global South

Date: Thursday, 19 May 2016

Time: 13:00 – 14:30

Venue: 4th floor, Neville Alexander building


This paper reports on ongoing research on Khoisan cultural and language revival activities in Cape Town. More specifically the paper examines notions of ‘enoughness’ (see Blommaert and Varis 2013) within the context of Khoisan cultural and linguistic revival. Just how much language is needed to be considered enough? And by whom? The paper explores a South African language revival movement and contrasts it with other examples of language revival and heritage language activism, many of which are situated in the Global North. The paper argues that among Khoisan language and cultural activists there has emerged a vision of language revival (and of language itself) that is quite unique. As Brown and Deumert (forthcoming) argue, “purity and unification, the hallmarks of European concepts of nationalism, give way to respect for, and acceptance of, diversity and practices which allow for various forms of bricolage, heteroglossia and translanguaging”. This means that questions of what is enough, in terms of language, are being answered in very interesting ways and this in turn sheds new light on what may be regarded as a ‘successful’ language revival movement. Khoisan language revival offers an alternative to other revival movements which have focused solely on narrow notions of linguistic purity and linguistic competence. Within Khoisan revivalism there is a pronounced emphasis on the phatic, the cultural and poetic uses of language in a way that sets this movement apart from many of its international counterparts.



Justin Brown was born in Cape Town, educated at local schools and at the University of Cape Town. He worked as a school teacher before returning to UCT in 2008 for postgraduate study receiving both his BA (Hons) and his MA under the supervision of Professor Rajend Mesthrie. In 2011 Brown was awarded a four year doctoral fellowship by UCT’s Institute for Humanities in Africa (HUMA). He is currently a PhD candidate in the Linguistics Section of UCT’s School of African and Gender Studies, Linguistics and Anthropology and is in the final phase of writing up his thesis under the supervision of Professors Ana Deumert, Shamil Jeppie and Dr Ilana van Wyk.

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