Tea and Biltong with the Queen: Earl Grey, Ma’am? *blank stare*
A babble of languages on the street, an airport greeting message on a billboard that’s twelve lines long, a no-place-like-home mis-translation like “Welcome at Witbank Mall” – all signs of a TRULY multicultural society. Ever stopped to ask a stranger something and had to try out three languages before you found one you had in common? “Excuse me” you say. “Jammer?” they say. “Ndithetha nci nci Xhosa” you say. “Heke!” they say.
It’s a common occurrence in the land of eleven official languages. It’s something we complain about sometimes, and if you’re a little more old-fashioned you sigh about how inefficient it is, but it’s every day life in South Africa. And it makes me happy! The days of the Afrikaans-English bi-polar schooling are gone, but we still require scholars to learn a second language for around ten years, and I would imagine that most South Africans are, at least, bilingual.
Remember “Simulcast” – that 80’s method of tuning into the original American sound of a t.v. programme through your radio? With the cynicism of a media graduate, I know that this was an ugly symptom of an oppressive regime. But, I was five, six or seven years old, and I remember snuggling down with the whole family for the EVENT that was watching a programme like Beverly Hills 90210.
Do we have the radio? Is it pre-tuned so my teenage sister doesn’t miss what Kelly and Whatshisface have to say to each other? Where’s the electric lead in case the batteries go dead? There was preparation involved. And through the innocent eyes of youth, it was a family tradition that is probably fairly unique in the world at that time. I even have a friend on the other side of the simulcast divide for whom Alf will always be the little Afrikaans hairy alien!
Nowadays, when I’m skipping through the “sameness” of British television, I long to catch a snatch of something I don’t understand. In the 1700’s Scots and Gaelic were outlawed in Scotland by the ruling English, and even though it was repealed in the same century, the damage was irreparable. Today you can catch about an hour of Gaelic programming per week across five channels. By comparison, South Africa has embraced poly-language broadcasting (particularly in radio). There may be some proportional issues to sort out and a definite need for locally-produced quality content – but if you get home in time for soapie hour, you can have your pick of languages. If you like a show, but you’re not fluent – read the provided subtitles, or stumble along with the bilingual dialogue.
It’s a positive thing that enjoying a subtitled programme is standard. Or better yet – watch the weather in Zulu. The symbols are all the same, so you get the gist of it, but can also appreciate the unashamed enthusiasm the Zulu weatherman brings to his segment, even if you don’t understand a word! And Afrikaans rugby commentary is simply priceless: “O! Dis onder die pale in. Ongelooooflik!!!”
- Things you wouldn’t think you’d miss: Kulture club
- Things you wouldn’t think you’d miss: “Are we there yet?”
- Things you wouldn’t think you’d miss: Rainy days in…
- Things you wouldn’t think you’d miss: the Pata Pata, Click Song* rhythm of my home
- Things you wouldn’t think you’d miss: all for one
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