Sol Plaatje University’s (SPU’s) Language and Communication department in the School of Humanities rolled out the red carpet for its inaugural SPU International Language Conference. Running from 6 to 8 September 2023, the conference was housed in the SPU Central Campus Humanities building. This year’s rousing theme was “Servants of Africa – African Language in the 21st Century”.
SPU’s Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Prof Andrew Crouch, kicked off the conference with a warm welcome to all attendees and presenters. He took a moment to highlight the theme’s pertinence, focusing on the pivotal role African languages could play in both overcoming challenges and seizing opportunities in the 21st century. Prof Crouch also extended his heartfelt congratulations and thanks to the Department of Languages and Communication for their dedication and effort in organising the event, as well as expressing gratitude to the sponsors for their generous support.
The three-day event featured 60 papers from scholars hailing from across Africa and as far afield as Japan. Topics ranged from language activism and sustainability to linguistics, translation and interpreting.
Five distinguished scholars in the field of African languages took the podium for keynote addresses during the conference. Among them was renowned Northern Cape writer Anzil Kulsen, who delved into Afrikaans as an indigenous language, exploring its various dialects. Prof Niklaas Fredericks from the Namibia University of Science and Technology tackled the status of the Khoe and San languages, specifically Khoekhoegowab/Nama/Damara, while also focusing on themes surrounding identity and decoloniality.
The roster of keynote speakers also featured Linguistics Professor Henry Thipa, who shed light on the complex challenges facing African languages. He outlined ongoing efforts to confront these issues, particularly in the context of Human Language Technologies and Intellectualisation. Dr Eileen Pooe from North-West University centred her presentation on Sol Plaatje, celebrating his multi-faceted contributions as a global citizen, author, creative writer, translator, and interpreter. Linguist and writer Sindiswa Busuku from the University of Cape Town presented a riveting paper entitled “After the Burning Years: Fugitivity and Maneuvering Through Cemeteries of Abandoned Futures.” This poignant work grapples with the crisis of Black histories and possible futures within the current South African cultural landscape, aiming to articulate a language for discussing Black futurities in an era haunted by “futures that failed to happen,” as Mark Fisher so aptly put it in 2014.
The conference covered a sweeping range of topics, including African languages, language activism, teaching and learning strategies, indigenous knowledge, language conservation, language policy planning, sign language, marginalised languages and creative writing.