Original Research

Ethnolinguistic vitality in Thulamela Local Municipality: A case of Xitsonga

Rhulani S. Mashwele, Itani P. Mandende, Moffat Sebola
Literator | Vol 45, No 1 | a1966 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v45i1.1966 | © 2024 Rhulani S. Mashwele, Itani P. Mandende, Moffat Sebola | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 09 September 2022 | Published: 05 April 2024

About the author(s)

Rhulani S. Mashwele, Department of Applied Languages, Faculty of Humanities, Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria, South Africa
Itani P. Mandende, Department of Applied Languages, Faculty of Humanities, Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria, South Africa
Moffat Sebola, Department of Languages, Faculty of Humanities, University of Limpopo, Polokwane, South Africa

Abstract

The use and status of a language in a given speech community can reveal the prospects of its elevation or lack thereof. Furthermore, one can determine whether a language will be elevated or undermined in a community by exploring the perceptions of its speakers towards its status and use. Hence, this article investigated the status and use of Xitsonga at the Thulamela Local Municipality (TLM) in the Limpopo Province of South Africa, with particular interest in the Vatsonga’s perceptions of the ethnolinguistic vitality of Xitsonga in the TLM. Guided by the Ethnolinguistic Vitality Theory, this article probed the demographics of Xitsonga in the TLM, explored the role played by the TLM authorities in promoting Xitsonga as a language, and highlighted the implications of the perceived ethnolinguistic vitality of Xitsonga in the TLM. The study employed a qualitative method to collect data through face-to-face semi-structured interviews from 13 Xitsonga L1 speakers who participated in the study. It was found that Xitsonga speakers preferred to be addressed in their language during the municipality’s formal gatherings – a courtesy they believe is both effective in and necessary for the preservation and promotion of Xitsonga at the TLM. Also noteworthy, despite Xitsonga being dominated by Tshivenḓa in the TLM, Xitsonga speakers nevertheless maintained positive perceptions towards their language. This is commendable, considering that the TLM is located in Ṱhohoyanḓou, the economic hub of Vhembe District, where there is a university, malls and shopping complexes – spheres that encourage acculturation and language shift.

Contribution: The findings of this study may contribute to the ongoing discourse on the equal use, preservation, and promotion of indigenous languages in South Africa.


Keywords

language shift; Xitsonga; minority languages; language perceptions; vitality

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