Missionaries, Africans and the Emergence of Xhosa and Zulu as Distinct Languages in South Africa, 1800-54
Arndt, Jochen S.
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In 1853, the South African Auxiliary Bible Society issued a “Circular” designed to take stock of “the progress which had already been made in translating, printing and circulating the Word of God in the different Native Languages or Dialects of South Africa.” In his reply, William Shaw, the head of the Wesleyan-Methodist Missionary Society in the Eastern Cape region, argued that the various African communities residing between the Cape Colony and Delagoa Bay spoke dialects of a common ‘Caffre’ language. Accordingly, he proposed the idea of jointly producing a single ‘Caffre’ translation of the Bible that would lay the basis for a single, unifying standard language. Although the members of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in the Natal-Zululand region had previously promoted similar initiatives, they categorically rejected Shaw’s proposal in 1854. Since this rejection resulted in the bifurcation of ‘Caffre’ into separate Xhosa and Zulu languages, the year 1854 ranks as a crucial moment in the historical development of two of South Africa’s major languages, language communities and ethno- linguistic identities. This dissertation explores the genealogy of this bifurcation. Following constructivist interpretations of missionary linguistics, it argues that this bifurcation did not result from the differences that existed between the speaking practices of these two regions but from missionaries’ conflicting discourses about these differences. However, it is argued that these conflicting discourses did not depend primarily on the contemporary fascination with natural history, the demands of the colonial state, or Herderian notions of the relationship between language and Volk as existing constructivist scholarship argues. Instead, these discourses resulted in important ways from the complex entanglements between European and African ways of knowing. By drawing attention to these entanglements, this dissertation shows that the development of Xhosa and Zulu as distinct languages cannot be explained by unidirectional constructivist interpretations but must involve an African-centric approach that is sensitive to the ways in which knowledge, even under asymmetric relations of power, is mutually constitutive.
Date available in INDIGO2016-02-17T17:21:56Z