Languages, to me, define who we are. Our accents categorise us. I’m a Xhosa woman who can speak two other languages, English and Afrikaans. I express myself using different languages. People gossip about me, not knowing that I can understand their language. I gossip about them, knowing who they are and what languages they speak.
In my community English is seen as a fancy language because people think only educated people are known to speak it. In all my school life I have attended white schools. I went to Holy Cross Primary then to Oude Molen. From there I came to LEAP. When I speak English people see me as a ‘Coconut’ or a ‘Cheese girl’. Then they think that I am better than them. It’s irritating to get these comments because they are not true. English, the language, is a borrowed language to me. When I speak it, it’s like I’m trapped inside. It’s like reciting a tongue twister.
isiXhosa is a great language. I speak it without having to worry about my mistakes – like using ‘he’ instead of ‘she’ or writing ‘leave’ instead of ‘live’. I’m a proud Xhosa woman. The language is connected to our culture. There are a lot of things in our culture like initiation for the boys, isiduko (clan names), imbeleko, (done for children), umendo (traditional weddings for women) and so on.
isiXhosa is a language that people undermine. If you speak isiXhosa, most people will say ‘Uliquba’ (not educated) especially if you are from ezilalini (rural areas). Who are they to choose your language? People don’t get the idea that most Xhosa speaking people are very good Xhosa speakers and writers. When people hear the clicks they get irritated because they don’t understand what we are saying. I embrace isiXhosa.
Afrikaans is one of the languages I understand and know how to speak. But when I speak Afrikaans it feels like I’ve borrowed it too. Whatever I say, I don’t mean it, because it is not my language. The irritating thing is that Afrikaans speakers/people are quickly judged. They say that you do drugs, you smoke etc. People say, ‘Jy is skelm.’ How is a person supposed to feel when they hear that?
Afrikaans is a language of Southern Africa derived from Dutch. People should be honoured by this, I know that I am. Even though Afrikaans is not my home language I love to hear people speaking it and I love speaking it myself. Afrikaans is a ‘gevaarlike taal’ as the Afrikaans people say.
When I speak Afrikaans people give me a funny look because I’m black. It is mostly known that if you are black you speak isiXhosa. If you are white you speak English. If you are coloured you speak Afrikaans. I have misjudged people because of the way they look.
One time I gossiped about a person on a camp that I attended, not knowing that he was bilingual. After a day I heard him speaking isiXhosa and I was shocked and surprised. I quickly apologised for my improper behaviour. That taught me not to judge people by the colour of their skin.
Language is a meaningful aspect of life. Everything about you revolves around the language you speak and the culture you come from.
Embrace your language and be proud of it. I am.