Preserving Culture Through Language

With the recent anniversary of the 1976 Soweto Uprising, South Africans are all too aware of the importance of preserving language, and how the loss of a language can lead to the loss of a culture. So when we hear about an African language on the verge of extinction it should make us stand up and pay attention. For Hanna Koper and her two sisters, their native tongue, N|uu, stands an excellent chance of being lost forever, unless somebody does something about it. The three women are thought to be the last remaining speakers of the San language, which is considered to be the most indigenous language of southern Africa. N|uu, which has 112 distinct sounds, was passed on orally down the generations but never written down. Now Koper and her siblings are working with linguists to design alphabet charts with consonants, vowels and 45 different ‘clicks’ that are typical of San languages, as well as rules of spelling and grammar. Matthias Brenzinger, Director of the Centre for African Language Diversity at UCT,  is also overseeing the teaching of N|uu at a local school, where pupils learn basics such as greetings, body parts, animal names and short sentences.

Let’s hope through their collective efforts they manage to save the N|uu language, and contribute to the continuation of the San culture.



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