De-creating Language Borders at the University of Cape Town: “The Fall of English” and the Rise of African Languages in Education

Master Thesis


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The salience of English as the main language of instruction at tertiary institutions across South Africa has not been without critique. At the University of Cape Town, henceforth UCT, conversations surrounding language and academic success have become bolstered by the rhetoric of decolonisation, necessitating a review of policy and practice. This in turn has opened up research opportunities pertaining to student and staff experiences of language at the institution. This thesis is a response to the urgent need for ethnographic focus on the language situation at UCT and higher education institutions countrywide, where increasingly light falls on the language question within quests for decolonisation and social justice. Focusing the language question within frameworks of decoloniality, glocalisation, translanguaging and the development of African languages in education, this thesis distills ethnographic data to argue that language borders need to be reevaluated in a quest for conviviality informed by the universality of incompleteness, where fluidity, interconnection, and interdependence are prioritised over the current dominance of English. Grounded in rich ethnographic evidence in the form of student interviews and reflections, meeting at the intersection of social and linguistic anthropology, this thesis grapples with the critical questions: “What is language at UCT? And what does language do?”