LINGUIST List 32.2007

Wed Jun 09 2021

Review: Sociolinguistics: Kaschula, Wolff (2020)

Editor for this issue: Jeremy Coburn <>

Date: 15-Apr-2021
From: Shaden Attia <>
Subject: The Transformative Power of Language
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Russell H. Kaschula
EDITOR: H. Ekkehard Wolff
TITLE: The Transformative Power of Language
SUBTITLE: From Postcolonial to Knowledge Societies in Africa
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press
YEAR: 2020

REVIEWER: Shaden Samir Attia, University of Western Ontario


The Transformative Power of Language is an edited book by Russell H. Kaschula and H. Ekkhard Wolff. The book is divided into 4 parts with each part containing multiple articles in addition to an introductory chapter written by the editors. The editors offer an excellent introduction which does only offers a summary of each and every chapter but also provides background information on colonial and postcolonial Africa and the native and colonial-imported languages used. They provide examples of how other languages such as German transformed itself into a prestigious and widely used language and how African languages can do the same. They also underline the ways for creating an educational system that is multilingual, and how African languages can find their way to represent Africans’ knowledge and disseminate it using researchers, poets, reformed educational systems and creating digital portals in native African languages. The editors also underline the importance of literacy in Africa and the need for translation into African languages. The introduction offers an interesting and comprehensive background on the situation in Africa which works as a warm-up for the readers and to help those who are not familiar with the situation in Africa in general and South Africa in specific to understand what is being discussed.

Part One of the book “Mental Decolonization and Cultural Diversity” includes 3 articles, and the first article by Thulani Mkhize discusses the need to decolonize South Africa through the revival and use of African languages and through viewing them as equals to English. He underlines that this can be accomplished through education and the incorporation of African languages into teaching and learning, and he offers different successful examples. He emphasizes that this would be a first step in decolonising the minds and highlights the need for curricula that is African-centred and not Eurocentric, as the European curricula does not fit post-colonial Africa. He finally emphasizes the need to have African culture reflected in universities and the need to rid universities of the colonial symbols and statues that represent a constant reminder for black students of pain and oppression. The second chapter connects to the notion of multilingualism, the idea of African-centred education and mental decolonization. Theordore Rodrigues conducted a study of engineering students, and he examined the benefits of translanguaging, i.e., using more than one language in teaching and learning to help students make use of all their linguistic repertoire. The results of the study show how students' understanding improved when they were shown videos of the material they were studying in their first language using examples from their culture, and how they felt a sense of inclusion. The third chapter in this part discusses the decolonization of mind and language, and Mantoa Motinyane explores how languages reflect attitudes and feelings and can be a means of control. She underlines the connection between mental and language decolonization and highlights the need to raise awareness of such relation to reverse the negative attitudes and images reflected through language.

The second and longest part of the book is titled “Multilingualism and Intellectualization of African Language” and it is divided into 6 chapters. The first chapter by Zakeera Dokrat and Russell H. Kaschula connects to the first part of the book and highlights the importance of bilingualism and multilingualism, and explores this through different law cases. The authors underline contradictions between what policies on languages indicate and what is applied by universities. They also shed light on the role of the people in pushing for multilingualism and the role technology can play in improving higher education by offering students the chance to learn in a language they can understand and speak.

Along the same line of multilingualism, Emmanuel Sithole and Ziyanda Yola explore the situation in Zimbabwe and South Africa and underline the importance of indigenous language in transforming both countries. They indicate the role of technology as well as the cooperation between both countries in developing cross-border languages. Finally, they highlight the need for theory to be put in practice with policies being enacted and creating a real transformation which can only be accomplished through indigenous languages. The following chapter by Zakhile Somlata further discusses the importance of multilingualism and translanguaging and their role in improving students' understanding and excellence academically. He investigated linguistic diversity in North-West University (NWU) and Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) where he found that both universities have similar policies of inclusion for students speaking different languages; however, these policies either need further development at TWU, and are not applied at all at TUT, where English is used exclusively, . He presents the views of students, lecturers and members of executive management and offers recommendations at the end of the chapter to improve the situation at both universities. Chapter 7 focuses on the use of multilingual glossaries to help law students at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), and the study shows the benefit of multilingual glossaries in helping students understand the content which can be difficult to grasp in English. Having online access on and off campus was beneficial to students and they recommended adding a glossary in other African and foreign languages. This study confirms yet again the importance of technology and multilingualism for students and of facilitating the learning process for them. Multilingualism and multiculturalism are the core concepts discussed in Chapter 8 where the authors underline the importance of curricula and the learning and teaching environments that provide inclusion for students from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. The authors underscore the role of educators in providing an inclusive learning environment that allows learners to prosper through understanding the students’ culture and language. The final chapter in this part explores multilingualism in the banking sector and underlines findings reflected in previous studies in this book on how language policies are not applied. The author underscores the need for an inclusive educational system that allows students to use their native African languages up till college to strengthen their first language skills and boost their confidence in their native language.

Digitalization and Democratization of Knowledge is the title of the third part which includes 4 different articles. The first article discusses the role of technology in creating African communities of knowledge and information. The author highlights in the article the role that technology can play in disseminating African culture, language, literature, etc and how websites such as Wikipedia can have a big role to play in presenting and preserving African languages and culture. Chapter 11 further discusses Wikipedia’s role in the intellectualization of African languages and how South Africans have an important role as knowledge workers in creating and preserving their native languages. The article highlights hurdles and opportunities in using technology and underlines the importance of bottom-up approaches, like using Wikipedia, in creating language content, in addition to top-down approaches represented in language policies. Connected to the idea of creating content to enable and disseminate South African languages, Langa Khumalo underlines the importance of corpora in intellectualizing languages. He highlighted the amazing work done in the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) in creating the IsiZulu National Corpus (INC) pointing to the vital relation between computational tools and the development of corpora. The last chapter in this part also discusses technology and is mainly focused on lexicography and the creation of digital dictionaries. The chapter offers examples of different digital dictionaries and calls for the need for more South African dictionaries which reflect an African-centred version versus a European-centred one.

The final part of the book includes 4 different articles under the title “Interlingual and Intercultural Cross-Fertilization” and the first article in this section discusses orality and the presence of different forms of knowledge emphasizing that no form of knowledge is superior to another. It underlines the importance of orality and how technology can be of great help to sharing such knowledge with the rest of the world. Finally, the article reconnects to education, curriculum and technology and the need to digitize oral languages, traditions and culture to underline the richness of such South African sources of knowledge. The following chapter by Herculene Kotzé and Kim Wallmach focuses on interpretation and translation and their role in decolonization. The authors conducted a systematic literature review highlighting the research’s focus on translation compared to interpretation and researchers’ and students’ preferences to publish in English. They underline the need for multilingualism and creation of South African knowledge and theories instead of merely using and following European and international trends in research. Chapter 16 further elaborates on the importance of translation and the availability of academic texts and articles for both lecturers and students at the Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) investigating Rhodes University and focusing on both students’ and lecturers’ perspectives. The article also draws on the concept of intellectualization of African languages which can be achieved through translation and the creation of academic texts in native South African languages. The last chapter in the section focuses on teaching translation in a foreign language, German in this case, and underlines the value of using reflective practices to foster students’ critical thinking and improve language learning.


The book presents a great collection of articles focused on language and higher education with each article providing research background on the topics discussed and implications for improvement of the current state of education. The introductory chapter and background information offered in each article were especially helpful for those with limited information on the South Afrcian context. The articles are also written by researchers who are either South African or knowledgeable of the South African context who demonstrate genuine interest in improving the linguistic situation in South Africa, offering not only theories but practical suggestions for improvement.In addition, the chapters highlight possible future research gaps that can benefit researchers in investigating and possibly assisting in transforming the linguistic and educational situation in South Africa.

The chapters in the book are very well-connected to one another not only by the themes under which they are grouped but also through the authors who are either native to North Africa, currently living there, or well aware of South Africa. The articles also flow very well as the first group of articles discusses mental decolonization and how to decolonize t minds; and then the second group of articles sheds light on the need for multilingualism and using African languages to represent knowledge. The following group of articles discusses knowledge and using and putting African language out there through digital resources. The final discusses the importance of translation and the use of students’ first language to learn and academically achieve better. In addition, the articles provided research and recommendations for different schools, including law, education and technology. It was interesting how the editors included articles that tackle language in different fields, e.g., education, banking, law and information technology, using different research methodologies, qualitative and mixed methods. It would have been beneficial for some of the qualitative articles to include more direct quotes from participants and not merely provide summaries of what was discussed in the interviews. In addition, article 14 needed to further discuss education and curricula in the body of the article instead of leaving the discussion of these two points to the conclusion.

Finally, the book is suitable for different audiences including policy makers, executive managers, student teachers, and educators, especially those working in Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) and those working in South Africa. The language of the book is also accessible and is clear for students at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The book provides an excellent starting point for researchers, students and educators who are interested in themes related to the power of languages in education, inclusion, the importance of education using the first language and those who are interested in the South African context or similar contexts.


I am a second-year PhD student at the Faculty of Education at the University of Western Ontario specializing in applied linguistics. I finished an MA in TESOL and my research interests are adult education, discrimination in education and TESOL. I plan to continue in academia teaching and conducting research in the field of education.

Page Updated: 09-Jun-2021