The third annual Neville Alexander Seminar was hosted earlier this year by the Centre for African Studies (CAS) at the University of Cape Town.
The event was established at UCT in 2013 to commemorate the life and work of the legendary scholar, who died on 27 August 2012.
The topic of the seminar, “We need a new language: a dialogue with Neville Alexander on the language question”, was debated vigorously by panelists Xolisa Guzula, Blaq Pearl, Wandile Kasibe and Adam Haupt. The panel was moderated by Ana Deumert.
Read more about the seminar:
According to event organiser and CAS research fellow Nkululeko Mabandla, the first seminar was on multilingualism and the role of isiXhosa in higher education. “In 2014, we took stock of work on intellectualisation and language planning,” Mabandla says. “This third Neville Alexander Seminar brought together scholars and activists working on and with language. The theme took its cue from recent discussions around language at UCT, particularly the call for a ‘new language’ which will allow us to imagine and articulate a new, de-colonial world; a language which challenges, as Rhodes Must Fall has noted, ‘the pacifying logic of liberalism,’ Mabandla explains.
Deumert introduced the speakers and said in her introduction:
“An important aspect of Neville Alexander’s last oeuvre is that he always, long before many of us I have to say, recognised the ways in which language is not just a system of sounds and structures but is also always creative material.
“Neville Alexander wrote about the magic of words, the way language is not only a mirror of the world but also an instrument for change.”
Blaq Pearl kicked off the event with a poetry performance that was met with roaring applause. She told a story of when she met Alexander in 2010 and the support he showed towards her studies on Afrikaans language, heritage and identity and the “kind of Afrikaans we speak in the Cape”. She said that meeting him made her feel inspired and empowered to speak her language.
Kasibe spoke on five points: Language and culture; language, race and colonialism; the colour of our language; colonialism carrying the seeds of its own undoing and how a new language is formed by the evolution of politics.
Guzula was the next speaker and reminded everyone that “this was the day that Neville passed away”.
“He wouldn’t have wanted us to be sad; he would have wanted us to celebrate his life,” Guzula said in her opening remarks. “Neville was a pragmatist,” she continued, reflecting on her experience with language and education. “I have learnt through personal experience that people have very strong language ideologies which can be used to exclude, to prejudice and to stereotype others.”
Finally, Haupt, author of Static and Stealing Empire, spoke about his research into hip hop culture and the unorthodox use of English and Afrikaans. “Hip hop is about validating the negating signs of blackness,” Haupt explained. He carried on to speak about the fact that certain languages and dialects of those language have more social capital than others.
“The notion of what is orthodox and what is unorthodox is always contested,” Haupt said.
Listen to the recording of the third annual Neville Alexander Seminar:
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