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Between the Local and the Global: South African Languages and the Internet

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image of African and Asian Studies
For more content, see Journal of Asian and African Studies.

ABSTRACT This article addresses some of the potential of the Internet in building a new South African nationhood, especially through language. However, before the Internet can really promote multilingualism and multiculturalism in South Africa, the severe inequalities that mark access to the medium need to be overcome, possibly by sharing resources between minority languages, of which Afrikaans is economically in the strongest position. Within the globalised world order, English is at the top of the hierarchy of dominance. It is the most commonly spoken second language and the lingua franca in the international business, media, scientific and academic worlds. While some welcome English as a means of communication with the potential of overcoming the global tower of Babel, others argue that minority languages might become threatened by 'language death'. For instrumental purposes, English has become the lingua franca in South African public life. While this means that the use of Afrikaans has been dramatically scaled down to occupy the position of a minority language, the other nine indigenous languages are at an even bigger disadvantage. Probably the greatest barrier in the way of indigenous languages gaining a presence on the Internet remains the problem that has come to be known as the digital divide. Access to the Internet is still marred by severe inequalities.


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