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Language, a vital tool for communication

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Language is a cross-cutting tool that can impact greatly on socio-economic development of the region. It remains the single most important tool for the dissemination of information which is critical to the development of any society.

University of Zambia (UNZA) senior lecturer for language and linguistics Nkolola Wakumelo, defines language as any form of communication used by people to send messages or get messages across to each other.

Unfortunately, most organisations or sectors of the economy operate without any deliberate written policy document that outlines the appropriate or preferred language use.

It is for this reason that scholars and academicians in the department of language and linguistics at UNZA are calling for a national language policy and a language board or commission who should regulate the use of language at national level.

“There is need for a national language policy document that will act as a guide on the use of language in the Zambian society. For example countries like South Africa have a language policy enshrined in its constitution,” Dr Wakumelo clarifies.

She explains that in Tanzania, there is a specific language commission that is charged with the responsibility of updating the local language dictionary, to ensure a standardised system is in use in the various sectors of the economy.

A national body that will be charged with the responsibility of regulating language use could consist of academicians, educationalists, scientists, the media and officials form the department of culture under the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services.

Dr Wakumelo also emphasises the need for the Government to consider sponsoring a national language survey with the view of establishing the various language needs in the country.

Another important step in the formulation of a national language policy is the need to document local languages. It is sad to note the rapid rate at which some vernacular languages used by the minority of the Zambian population are threatened with extinction.

There are languages such as Nyengo, Totela, Bwile, Chokwe, Luchazi,Mashi, Mbowa, Mbukushu, Nkoya, Simaa, Subiya and many others, which have no record of documented grammar.

The Ngoni language in Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique also, risks becoming extinct, due to lack ofdocumented preservation of the language.

At independence in 1964, the Zambian Government adopted English as the official language for use in education, the media, legislature and in all its administration work.

The adoption of English as the national official language is enshrined in Article (5) of the current Zambian Constitution. English was seen as a neutral language that would be acceptable to all the divergent linguistic and ethnic groups in the country as a means to foster national unity.

However, in addition to English as the official language, the Government also recognises seven official local languages namely Bemba, Chinyanja, Kaonde, Lunda, Luvale, Tonga and Lozi, as regional languages to be taught alongside English in the Zambian school curriculum. Read more.