College of Humanities

Student Perspectives Examined on isiZulu as an Academic Language

The attitudes of students towards isiZulu as an academic language were scrutinised in research by lecturer in the School of Arts Dr Muhle Sibisi who graduated with a PhD in Linguistics.

Sibisi says the influence of discipline-specific terminology came under special scrutiny.

In response to the constitutional directive of elevating indigenous African languages in South Africa, UKZN has developed discipline-specific terminology in isiZulu for studies in Administration, Architecture, Anatomy, Computer Science, Environmental Science, Law, Physics, Psychology and Nursing.

Sibisi’s findings indicate that the attitudes of isiZulu Home Language (L1) students are directly impacted by two distinct language learning experiences; those with increased exposure to L1 hold positive attitudes, while those with diminished exposure to L1 hold negative attitudes.

Sibisi discovered that the L1 students were not aware of the availability of the discipline-specific terminology in isiZulu at UKZN and that they find the terminology difficult to decipher, irrespective of their language learning experiences. For this reason, there is a preference for loan words in addition to the terminology in ‘correct’ isiZulu.

Discipline-specific terminology in isiZulu should be used consistently throughout the schooling years of the students, according to Sibisi. ‘The terminology lists need to include loan words accessible to students. In this way, isiZulu, and other African languages, will be activated in academic contexts, the heterogeneity of L1 students will be catered for, and the students’ multilingualism will be a resource that enhances their academic performance,’ she said.

‘There is hope for African languages in education, but these languages need to play a prominent role alongside English – a dominant international language in South Africa. If African languages are given a platform, we are bound to witness low dropout rates, high throughput rates, and excellence in African students being unleashed.’

Sibisi said she was grateful for the support she got from family, friends and her supervisor Professor Heike Tappe. The time they allowed me as I journeyed through this phase and the encouragement and love I received, are immeasurable.’

On her future plans, Sibisi said: ‘I intend to stay in academia for as long as possible and hope to see tangible changes in the manner in which African languages are used in education.’