!Ui-Taa language shift in Gordonia and Postmasburg Districts, South Africa

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This dissertation presents a case study of the demise of !Ui-Taa languages in South Africa during the 20th century, with particular attention to N|u, the last surviving variety. The geographic focus is on Gordonia and Postmasburg Districts in the Northern Cape province. Drawing on the work of Diamond (1998), the author argues that food producing peoples (agriculturalists / pastoralists / colonialists) typically penetrate the hunter-gatherer territory and break down the ecological setting that sustains the hunter-gatherer mode of subsistence. The changes in ‘language ecology‘ (Haugen 1972) trigger transformations in social relations and place the languages of hunter-gatherers at risk of rapid language shift. This theory is in contra-distinction to the argument put forward by Brenzinger (1992a, b), Brenzinger et al (1991) and McConveIl (2000) that changes in language attitudes are the primary cause of language death. The second aspect of the dissertation deals with the particulars of the identity of the N|u language and its speakers. The speakers of N|u cail themselves N||n≠e ‘home people‘ or Sasi ‘Bushmen / eland'. Drawing on original research and the oral history, the author argues that Bleek’s (1929. 1956) categorisation of two !Ui-Taa varieties, S2 (||Ng) and 82a (≠Khomani), should be reconsidered, as these are dialects of one another. Reconsidering the distribution of !Ui-Taa languages has implications for understanding hunter-gatherer demographics and social organisation in pre-colonial South Africa.

Includes bibliographical references (leaves 338-359).