Language and Academic Discourse at Stellenbosch University

Sunday, 10 July 2016: 13:30
Location: Hörsaal 5A G (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Lloyd HILL, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
This paper explores key aspects of the post-1994 taaldebat (language debate) at Stellenbosch University. Situated near Cape Town, Stellenbosch is the oldest historically Afrikaans university in South Africa. It is also a historically white institution with a paradoxical status in the post-apartheid higher education landscape: on the one hand it is a prestigious international research institution (ranked no. 2 in Africa, QS 2015), while on the other hand it is perceived by many as relatively untransformed, given that its undergraduate population is still predominantly white. In 2015 a series of protests organised by a new and predominantly black student movement – Open Stellenbosch – brought the complex intersection of race and language at Stellenbosch into the national spotlight. Open Stellenbosch and other interest groups have campaigned for the use of English as a medium of instruction at Stellenbosch. These protests came in the wake of the appointment of a new vice chancellor and the adoption of a new language policy. For political reasons explored in the paper, the term “bilingual university” is not used, but the December 2014 policy change nonetheless commits the University to using both English and Afrikaans as “languages of undergraduate teaching.” The paper explores the controversial role that communication technologies and ideas about communication have played in affecting this shift to institutional bilingualism at Stellenbosch. I focus particular attention on two “tensions” evident in the production and consumption of academic discourses at Stellenbosch: firstly, a tension within the realm of identity politics between a discourse on “multilingualism” and discourses focused racial discrimination and race consciousness; secondly, a tension between pedagogies that foreground “languages” as (parallel) channels for knowledge production and those that foreground “discourses” and “discourse practices” in global academic fields.