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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:The Roots of Ethnicity: Discourse and the Politics of Language Construction in South-East Africa
Author:Harries, PatrickISNI
Year:1988
Periodical:African Affairs: The Journal of the Royal African Society
Volume:87
Issue:346
Period:January
Pages:25-52
Language:English
Geographic terms:Mozambique
Transvaal
South Africa
Subjects:ethnicity
sociolinguistics
Peoples of Africa (Ethnic Groups)
External link:https://www.jstor.org/stable/722808
Abstract:One of the first reactions of European explorers and colonists, on being confronted by a world that was wholly novel, was to reorder it according to their existing structure of knowledge. Linguistic and other borders and boundaries were erected in order to restructure the African world. However, a study of the origins of Thonga, or Tsonga, as the written language of the north-eastern Transvaal, and the debate over the secession of the Ronga language, reveals that the experts constructed linguistic borders on the basis of social rather than scientific criteria. It also shows that the historical depth given by the experts to their spatial categories was entirely conjectural. But because people believed the early delimitations of language to be scientific, and hence infallible, the latter had an important effect on local structures of power. A bounded and written language altered peoples' perceptions of reality and provided them with a widely diffused cultural marker that could be mobilized in order to create a political following. Notes, ref.
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