Performing the (un)inherited language, identity, performance

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

I will examine how language usage in Post-Apartheid South Africa is central to identity construction and discern in what ways this construction informs my approach to creating performance. I use this paper to offer a frame as to how a relationship to language is socially and historically constructed in post-apartheid South Africa, how this construction affects questions of cultural and linguistic identity, and finally how those identities are performed. This is achieved by exploring how vocal work, text, language and the physical body are integrated to use as material in creating my individual performed vernacular modalities. My research has employed various methodologies to navigate and engage issues of language and identity towards creating a performance. First by using Neville Alexander's research into the history of language and language policy in South Africa, I briefly outline the manner in which languages in South Africa gain dominance and in tum how this affects individual attitudes towards English, Afrikaans and other official vernaculars. As my practice as a performer-creator has been central to the research use the paper to unpack the relationship between notions of language, identity and performance and reflect on my bilingual isiXhosa/English training at The university of Cape Town. I interrogate the manner in which this training is central in shaping my understanding of how the inheritance of, and affiliation with languages, informs identity. I make reference to my own linguistic repertoire as explored through three projects produced within the period of the Masters research conducted at the University of Cape Town (VCT): The Minor Project As Yet Withheld (2011); The Medium Project Four (2011), my one person show created over the December-January period and performed in March 2012. The thesis production There was this sound which at the time of writing is still in production. In my reading of linguistic theories, the use of the terms 'mother tongue', 'home language' and 'first language' are used almost interchangeably to describe the language first learned and used in the home as the primary language . In this research, however, the 'mother tongue', 'home language' and 'first language' are recognised as three different linguistic proficiencies in accordance with linguist Sinfree Makoni' s(1998) understanding of how one engages with language on three levels: inheritance, affiliation and expertise. Thesen's (1997) use of Bakhtin (1988) in relation to identity, is significantly useful in this investigation as it appears to be the most flexible use of Identity Theory taking into consideration, as it does, "life histories and biographies" (Norton, 1997:417) and "seeks to give greater prominence to human agency in theorizing notions of voice" (Norton, 1997: 417). Norton identifies this theory as speaking consciousness - "the individual speaking or writing at the point of utterance, always laden with language of others, from previous contexts and oriented towards some future response" (Norton, 1997:417). Through interviews conducted with black female creator-performers I use their biographies as a means to engage notions of identity and language. Finally, I explore processes of creating the final thesis production There was this sound informed theoretically by the work presented in this paper and produced for the stage by utilizing the actors four major tools "emotion, intellect, body and voice" (Mills, 2009:9) to engage all the languages I have at my disposal as well as learned performance tools, towards creating a new vernacular of performance.

Includes bibliographical references.