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Afrikaans, one of the youngest languages in the world, will be extinct in less than a century from now.
Yes, a lot of liberal intellectuals and some popular Afrikaans writers and public personalities will choke on their braaivleis while reading this statement and probably brand me a verkrampte conservative, pessimist and other ugly names.
But if we are honest, if we put aside our anxiety of offending all the messiahs of political correctness (or, in the South African context, social bigotry), we will see that the king is in fact naked – his clothes stolen by rising militant organisations, aided by the apathy of mother-tongue speakers, especially those in important educational positions.
You just need to look at the ailing vital signs of the patient (whose survival, as history has proved time and again, depends on its academic capability) to know the end is near: dwindling numbers of Afrikaans schools, the eradication of Afrikaans at tertiary level, the subsequent drop in important academic outputs, and the decline of the language as a percentage of the total population, all facilitated by the hostility towards its speakers by a desperate government attempting to keep up with populist opposition rhetoric.
We've seen some incredible things happen in the course of Afrikaans's demise as a rich academic language, which includes the renaming of the word intolerance and calling it liberation and the way irony prevails in our society as we strive to "decolonise" our country from an indigenous language by substituting it with one spoken by the greatest colonisers in human history.
But probably the most significant outcome is the fact that we've attained a unique skill – the skill of killing a language.
It might sound somewhat odd at first, but if we think about it carefully, it can be quite useful expertise to have as we move on to our next imaginary enemy.
Using Afrikaans as a case study, we can see a very clear sequence of events which can serve as a reference.
Here follows the step-by-step manual to kill a language:
* First and foremost, include the specific language in the constitution and say it is “official”. This will seem like a counter-productive move, and initially it might actually be just that, but do not stress, for later, when the speakers become worried about the marginalisation of their mother tongue, it will serve as an artificial way to allay their fears and render them incapable of responding when they need to.
* Drift further and further away from the ideals of a noble former leader – one with moral principles and who supported democracy, including the right to be educated in the language of one's choice. Criticise him, preferably once he is dead and unable to defend himself. Begin slowly: start by questioning some of his actions – the small, immaterial ones at first, and manoeuvre your way till you create doubt about his overall character. Your aim is to delegitimise him, especially his views on the enemy's language.
* Give the language a face. It's always easier to incite when the target has a profile. Make it a white male, mid-forties, and one with a grave track record – that always works. It doesn't matter if the majority of the speakers don't look like this person. Remember: in the war against language, facts never matter. The cause is the only thing of concern.
* If the language forms part of the national anthem, mobilise people to stop singing those specific parts. This will instil an emotional disregard for the language and its speakers, which will come in handy later once we target the tertiary institutions. If the truth comes out that the lyrics are actually apolitical, sing struggle songs to mute out any objections.
* Infiltrate or intimidate academic management. As previously mentioned, the speakers of the language are normally its biggest enemy. By paving the way up the academic hierarchy for someone who talks the enemy’s language but is a henchman or prone to submitting to political pressure, it makes our job so much easier. Let them say all the right things during graduations and mass meetings, but once they have to implement it, force them to go back on their word and scrap promises of equality. If the enemy protests, which they will, smother them with magniloquence.
* Create social-media groups and other social movements that support our cause. In both cases, apply a militant and sometimes even violent approach. Because our followers are far fewer than everyone thinks, always give the opposite impression. Never allow discussions on language, simply make demands – it takes a lot less effort and is far more effective than diplomacy.
* Once public gatherings are held at universities where the language policy is discussed, get a speaker who subtly demands the death of the language by playing on everyone's feelings. Let the person tell the audience how he loves it and can even speak it, but that in the spirit of inclusivity it should take the back seat. If anyone asks whether it is democratic or whether developing countries can afford for some groups to exclude themselves from playing an active role in society, ignore the question and simply keep on sharing the speech on social media – emotive words are always more effective than rationality.
* Initiate reports on language as a medium of instruction at tertiary institutions, but ensure that the majority of “experts” feel the same about the enemy’s language as we do. The university management will always refer back to “independent” studies when speakers of the language complain of ill-treatment, and therefore a subjective conclusion will give us the mandate to crush any resistance.
* Never settle for parallel-medium education – go for the throat and demand the destruction of the enemy’s language by claiming that the implementation will be "too expensive".
* Last but not the least, when the language has stopped breathing, claim that it is in fact alive and well. Give numbers and figures to assure the few speakers left that everything is fine, when, in fact, it needs urgent resuscitation. By doing this, nobody will jump to the rescue, and once someone eventually does, it will be too late.
- Constant van Graan is a writer and lecturer in forensic accountancy and only 29 years old (therefore not “old” and “verkramp”)