Working Papers in Educational Linguistics (WPEL)




South African higher education is at a critical juncture in the implementation of South Africa’s multilingual language policy promoting institutional status for nine African languages, English and Afrikaans. Drawing on more than a decade of short-term ethnographic work in South Africa, I recently engaged in participant-observation and dialogue with faculty, administrators, undergraduate and post-graduate students at the University of Limpopo and the University of KwaZulu-Natal to jointly assess current implementation and identify next steps and strategies for achieving truly multilingual teaching, learning and research. Concurring with Hymes that ethnographic monitoring of programs can be of great importance with regard to educational success and political consequences, I undertook my work from a collaborative stance, in which the participants and I jointly sought to describe and analyze current communicative conduct, uncover emergent patterns and meanings in program implementation, and evaluate the program and policy in terms of social meanings (Hymes, 1980). Hymes often reminded applied and educational linguists that despite the potential equality of all languages, differences in language and language use too often become a basis for social discrimination and actual inequality. While scholars may take these insights for granted after decades of scholarship, we nevertheless have our work cut out in raising critical language awareness in education and society more broadly. “We must never take for granted that what we take for granted is known to others” (Hymes, 1992, p. 3). Ethnographic monitoring in education offers one means toward not taking language inequality for granted.