Found and Lost Languages: A Survey of the Past and Current Situation of Botswana Ethic and Linguistic Communities

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Andy Chebanne


Botswana is blessed with 26 languages and ethnic communities and RETENG (the Multicultural Coalition for Botswana) (2015) considers this situation as reason to celebrate the country’s rich cultural and language diversity. Isaac Schapera in his seminal study The Ethnic Composition of the Tswana (1952)
indicates that within the Tswana tribal reserves existed other ethnic groups which were either subsumed under the Tswana or were in territories that were otherwise designated Crown Lands, such as the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Accordingly therefore, the groups with territorial and linguistic recognition were
the Tswana or Setswana-speaking. At independence, the same situation was perpetuated. Education Policy practices also ensured that ethnic languages such as Lozi and Kalanga were abandoned in early education. Other ethnic groups and languages such as Shiyeyi, Subiya, and various Khoisan languages, Afrikaans,
Nama, OtjiHerero, ThiMbkukushu, Ndebele, Setswapong and Sebirwa were completely overlooked territorially and linguistically. The objective of this paper is to provide an update on the situation of Botswana ethnic and linguistic communities since Independence in 1966 and discuss their vitality within the current Botswana languages use practices. It will also examine whether, in the 50 years of their absence in offi cial social policy to promote them, they managed to survive. The language situation analysis frameworks expounded
by Batibo (2005 and 2015) will be used to discuss the likely consequences of Botswana language use policy for the posterity of the country’s languages. Only English will be shown to benefi t in this sociolinguistic situation.

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