Original Research

Language maintenance: Factors supporting the use and maintenance of isiZulu in Soshanguve

Nontobeko T. Mbatha, Yanga L.P. Majola, Zempilo S. Gumede
Literator | Vol 44, No 1 | a1930 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v44i1.1930 | © 2023 Nontobeko T. Mbatha, Yanga L.P. Majola, Zempilo S. Gumede | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 16 June 2022 | Published: 19 January 2023

About the author(s)

Nontobeko T. Mbatha, Department of Applied Languages, Faculty of Humanities, Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria, South Africa
Yanga L.P. Majola, Department of Applied Languages, Faculty of Humanities, Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria, South Africa
Zempilo S. Gumede, School of Education, Faculty of Art and Design, Durban University of Technology, Durban, South Africa


This article aims at investigating how isiZulu speakers residing in Soshanguve report on the use of their ethnic language, isiZulu, and to use the outcomes to confirm how their language continues to be powerfully maintained in Soshanguve. Today in South Africa, there are numerous studies that have investigated the role of English as a dominant language. Other studies have investigated the awareness that there is an extensive shift from using native languages to English. The argument in this article is that in other communities, this shift is counterbalanced by a number of factors. The study adopted a mixed-methods approach, and the data were solicited through questionnaires and semistructured interviews. The sample population in this study comprised 20 participants who were sampled purposively. A purposive sampling technique was used because it suggests that the sampled population should have certain characteristics, and it should be people who will provide information that will assist in achieving the objectives of this study. Language ecology theory and the ethnolinguistic vitality model were incorporated as lenses of analysis. Participants were confident that living in a neighbourhood with a majority of amaZulu provides social unity among them and contributes positively towards using and maintaining their language. The findings confirm that the use of the language in different domains, is the reason why isiZulu continues to be powerfully maintained in Soshanguve as a viable language despite living side by side with other dominant languages for centuries.

Contribution: This study contributes to research on language maintenance and shift by exploring the application of Haugen’s theory of language ecology as well as Giles’s model of ethnolinguistic vitality. It demonstrates how IsiZulu can be studied with the aid of these theories and how observing this language in its context could be regarded as an extension of this theoretical framework. It shows that the speakers of indigenous languages in Soshanguve, such as isiZulu, maintain language attitudes and exercise linguistic choices, similar to speakers of dominant languages. This article also demonstrates how language attitudes can play a decisive role in maintenance and shift outcomes.


Language; language maintenance; language shift; language domain factors; bilingualism; multilingualism


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