New language tool for SA’s most endangered language

18 Mar 2016
18 Mar 2016

Pictured above L-R: Katrina Esau, Dr. Matthias Brenzinger, Dr. Sheena Shah, Claudia du Plessis (front,centre) and David van Wyk in Hillside, Upington

The first illustrated Nǀuu-Afrikaans-English reader has been developed by the University of Cape Town’s Centre for African Language Diversity (CALDi), in collaboration with ǂKhomani community members in Upington. Copies of the final product were handed over to Katrina Esau and her community-run language school on Saturday 27th February, by the university’s Drs. Sheena Shah and Matthias Brenzinger. The reader supports the revitalisation and preservation efforts of Nǀuu, South Africa’s most endangered language. 

Pictured left: Gail Coetzee, Rachelle Prins and Mary-Ann Prins reading Nǀuu 

At the age of 83, Katrina Esau (alias Ouma Geelmeid) is the youngest of the remaining three fluent speakers of Nǀuu and has been engaged in promoting her heritage language for more than a decade. Together with her granddaughter, Claudia du Plessis, and more recently with David van Wyk (secretary of the Nǀuu language school board), Ouma Geelmeid is teaching her mother tongue to the younger community members in afternoon language classes. Her engagement in the revitalisation of Nǀuu was officially recognised by the South African government, who awarded her the Order of the Baobab in 2014.

After being considered extinct by linguists, Nǀuu was “rediscovered” in the late 1990s when some 20 speakers revealed their competence in the language. According to UCT postdoctoral research fellow, Sheena Shah, “Today, the ǂKhomani community considers the revitalisation of their language as crucial. The reader will play an important role in the practical implementation of the community’s aspirations to revive their heritage language”. 

The 160 page trilingual Nǀuu-Afrikaans-English reader is the result of more than two years of intense collaboration between CALDi linguists and Katrina Esau, Claudia du Plessis and Mary-Ann Prins. It features twelve thematic areas with phrases and sentences derived from natural conversations in the classroom, as well as games, prayers and songs taught by Ouma Geelmeid. Core cultural terms and basic vocabulary used in the Nǀuu language classes have been compiled in Nǀuu-Afrikaans-English and Afrikaans-Nǀuu-English glossaries. “The reader was tailored towards the community’s needs in their language teaching efforts. We are glad that the reader can now be used in Ouma Geelmeid’s Nǀuu language classes” says CALDi Director, Matthias Brenzinger.

The production of the reader was made possible by grants from the A.W. Mellon Foundation, the University of Cape Town’s Research Office, the Endangered Language Fund, the University of Kiel and the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust. 

Click here to link to the online version of the reader.