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Type Journal Article - Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development
Title Language shift or increased bilingualism in South Africa: Evidence from census data
Volume 37
Issue 4
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2016
Page numbers 357-370
In the post-apartheid era, South Africa has adopted a language policy that gives official status to 11 languages (English, Afrikaans, and nine Bantu languages). However, English has remained the dominant language of business, public office, and education, and some research suggests that English is increasingly being spoken in domestic settings. Concerns have therefore been raised about the future of the Bantu languages of South Africa. In this study, we use Population Census data from 1996, 2001 and 2011 to investigate whether there is evidence of a language shift to English, in the sense that English is replacing a Bantu language as the home language. We show that English language prevalence among Africans increased considerably, an increase which derives particularly from the growth in English as L2. The age distribution of L2 reporting in English, however, suggests that English as L2 is often acquired through education and time spent in the labour market, rather than in the home. Moreover, second language reporting of many of the Bantu languages also increased, and consequently, the use of almost all of the official Bantu languages has also risen. The period under review therefore is associated with greater bilingualism rather than the displacement of Bantu languages by English.

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