Analyzing university language policies in South Africa: Critical discourse and policy analysis frameworks
At the dawn of democracy, Higher Education in South Africa was in dire need of change. One of the essential initiatives in response to transformation in Higher Education was the mandate from the Ministry of Education for each university to develop a language policy. Along with other initiatives, the language policies were intended to address issues of access and success in Higher Education, especially given the unequal opportunities people of colour had been given to access Higher Education in the country’s apartheid past. Although there is widespread acknowledgement of the barrier which language poses to epistemological access, and concern that in Higher Education the linguistic dimensions of transformation are yet to be institutionalised, the explanation commonly offered hinges on the non-implementation of university language policies. The relevant discourse presupposes that existing language policy instruments are otherwise adequate to transform language practices in the country’s universities. As a consequence, there has been relatively little research problematizing the texts of university language policies from the standpoint of policy design and those interests which conceivably make language transformation difficult. Against this backdrop, this thesis draws on work in policy analysis and critical discourse analysis to analyse the language policies of Stellenbosch University and of the University of the Western Cape. The detailed textual analysis to which both language policy documents are subjected draws on experiential analysis, demodalisation, activation, the use/non-use of conditional clauses and modality. The analysis reveals that even though the policies express unequivocal commitment to the country’s multilingual heritage and to the promotion of Afrikaans, English and isiXhosa, they betray a pattern of differential commitment to English versus Afrikaans and isiXhosa. Together with the key informant interviews, the analysis suggests that many of the concerns regularly expressed around a transformation of language practices are issues of policy design which have their origin in both the discourses around the language policy texts, and the policy texts themselves.