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South Africa is a highly multilingual society and recognises 11 official languages and hosts many more spoken varieties within its borders. In this respect, South Africa is typical of our world of complex translocal communities characterised by a linguistic dispensation where multilingualism is the norm. Here, individuals in the global community no longer engage single languages to communicate or think and construct their identities, but instead, they use sets of languages.

According to Aronin and Singleton in the International Journal of Multilingualism, just about “every facet of human life depends on multilingual arrangements and multilingual individuals”. At the same time, multilingual arrangements are in flux and continually being reorganised, and multilingual individuals form a diverse body of speakers. In times of social transformation, language debates on the significance and use of varieties in multilingual contexts take on added importance. 

The languages that are used officially affect people’s chances of participation in state power structures, as well as their access to government agencies and services. Importantly, multilingual sets of resources are unequally distributed and used in ways that transform and reproduce social structures and relations of power. Policies that acknowledge the importance of local, indigenous languages are therefore essential in the politics of broad popular participation in a programme of social reconstruction. We approach the study of multilingualism from a range of perspectives, exploring its implications for education and service provision, its role in literacy, including media, as well as how to formulate a politics of language around multilingual realities.

The Department of Linguistics brings together experts from its various fields and sub-disciplines to address the questions that arise when we seek to understand the role of multilingualism as a resource for participatory linguistic citizenship. Prime among these approaches is Systemic Functional Linguistics and Critical Discourse Analysis.  

The Department aspires to live up to what could be expected of African academia in times of social transformation, namely a serious engagement with diversity on a day-to-day basis, an acute awareness of the importance of history in understanding multilingual dynamics, social relevance and critical engagement with discourses of change and development. To achieve this aspiration, the Department hosts monthly special seminars facilitating discussions with national and international scholars on theoretical and empirical issues around the areas of strength expressed above. Also, senior staff pursue several research projects, with limited scholarships available for postgraduate study. On occasion, the UWC’s Arts and Humanities Faculty advertises postgraduate and post-doctoral scholarships.   

Mission Statement

The Department of Linguistics, Language, and Communication at the University of the Western Cape is dedicated to a socially responsible study of language within a framework of social transformation, individual and group empowerment, citizenship, and voice. In this, the Department is heir to a proud tradition at the University of the Western Cape of putting research and teaching at the service of the local community and its striving for equitable transformation.