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University of Arkansas at Fayetteville

Publication Date

Fall 2017

Program Name

South Africa: Multiculturalism and Human Rights


Language is vital for the functioning of societies, from education to economic interactions. Language of education presents challenges in Africa due to colonial linguistic legacies and the diversity of indigenous African languages. While education trains learners for work in the formal economy, the South African formal cannot absorb all the available labor. The informal economy therefore provides vital work and income to millions of South Africans and immigrants. Language use in the informal sector was studied, including the education and work traders had before working as street produce vendors.

Six interviews were conducted: two near the Cape Town taxi rank, one in the Cape Town CBD, one near the Mowbray taxi rank, and two near the Langa taxi rank. Participants were chosen through opportunistic sampling and interviews were semi-structured.

English was found to be a pivotal language in both formal and informal sector work. It seems to be, or is perceived to be, a default common language in Cape Town. Language proficiencies were shaped by both educational and vocational experiences, although to different degrees for each participant. It was not a barrier of entry to the informal sector, but a skill developed through the work. Other descriptions of linguistic value appear to undervalue the cultural and relational value of indigenous African languages. The desire to learn Xhosa cut across the participants’ racial categories.


African Languages and Societies | African Studies | Economics | Entrepreneurial and Small Business Operations | Linguistics | Modern Languages | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies | Regional Economics | Social and Cultural Anthropology


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