Home Institution

Cornell University

Publication Date

Spring 2017

Program Name

language, linguistics, South Africa, empathy, culture, understanding, translanguaging, education


In this paper, I examine the role that cross-cultural language study plays in the lives of three Capetonians in order to explore its capacity to foster empathy between people of different backgrounds. Framed in the context of South African history and modern academic discourse around language use in educational and public spaces in the country, I present the stories of my three interviewees and analyze particular experiences that they relayed in order to trace trends of empathy and understanding through their language use.

Through my discussion of this qualitative data, I reach the conclusion that language can be an effective tool to promote cross-cultural understanding and empathy, particularly when the multilinguist engages continually in the use of their language skills and the exploration of cultural contexts associated with such languages.


African Languages and Societies | African Studies | Anthropological Linguistics and Sociolinguistics | Bilingual, Multilingual, and Multicultural Education | First and Second Language Acquisition | Language and Literacy Education | Sociology of Culture



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