Bon Dia, 你好 مرحبا, Guten Tag and Mamukuka tjini

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For those of you who may be puzzled by the headline – Dumela!! For most of us languages have not been a strong point, and if you understood the word Good Day in Portuguese, Mandarin, Arabic, German and Kalanga, congratulations.
Entering the debate on languages is fraught with danger because of the sensitivity surrounding the issue of Setswana and SeKalanga in the country, with demands that SeKalanga and other indigenous languages, such as Mbukushu should be given greater prominence.
The preoccupation with indigenous languages- however noble, is clouded by the pre-occupation with language supremacy, and the perception SeTswana, seeks to dominate and oppress the other indigenous languages. Continuous demands for the recognition the country’s other languages are made in the context that Setswana is the dominant language, seeking to suppress other languages, and in doing so weaken other traditional cultural values.
Language indeed embodies cultural and traditional norms, and all languages must be preserved and nurtured because of their link to unique values and traditions. If a language dies out, the framework which binds people together gradually weakens and peoples’ identity become blurred and then lost.
However, this pre-occupation with language supremacy, and cultural identity, loses the fundamental function and role language plays in society; that of communications.
It is the use of language to communicate ever increasingly complex shared ideas and thoughts which gave homo sapiens the edge over other species and put humankind on its evolutionary journey we are still pursuing.
It is essential that whatever our ethnic backgrounds as Batswana, we should continue to strive to preserve and promote our indigenous languages, and it is sad, and tragic, that an increasing number of our children are growing up without the ability to speak in their mother tongues. In Botswana, as in many parts of the world English is becoming the principle language of communication.
However, despite its ubiquitous presence, English is not the only global language of trade, diplomacy and medium of interaction between nation states. At the United Nations, for example, there are five official languages, and the European Union still uses numerous languages to communicate between its 28 members. Spanish and Portuguese dominate communications in Latin and South America, Swahili in East Africa is the lingua franca which binds over 10 countries together from Mozambique to Rwanda. West and central Africa are dominated by French, and a third of the world’s population speak Chinese.
In Botswana we need to get over our parochial, domestic pre-occupation with language supremacy. If we are to participate more actively in the global economy then we must give the teaching global languages a higher priority.
It is not only diplomats who need the facility to communicate in global languages. Language proficiency is become an essential tool in promoting trade and commerce. The ability to talk to potential investors in their own languages provides an edge in negotiations and greatly facilitates dialogue.
Competency in the languages of global trade must become an essential part of our tool box of investment incentives if we are going to have an edge, and investment promotion agencies must take the lead in promoting the teaching of languages.
“Shi shihou kuajie tanpanle”