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Thu Apr 27 05:22:58 SAST 2017

Varsity gears up for Zulu

MATTHEW SAVIDES | 2016-11-10 07:20:46.0
University lecture room. File photo.
Image by: Gallo Images/iStockphoto

Students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal could soon be learning Zulu.

The university will, later today, launch a Zulu spell-checker, a "term bank" of technical words and phrases, a Zulu lexicon mobile app and one of the biggest indigenous language corpuses in the world.

"UKZN has a language policy that seeks to improve the two official languages [of the university] so that they can effectively be used in teaching, in learning and in research," said university language planning and development office director Dr Langa Khumalo.

The languages are English and Zulu, "but isiZulu is not as well developed as English," he said.

"There is this language policy that seeks to intellectualise isiZulu so that it can be used for higher function domains; so that it can be used in research, in teaching scientific materials and in disciplines such as anatomy, architecture, mathematics, and so on."

While many South African universities grapple with the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction, and while a call for the "decolonisation" of higher education in South Africa and the inclusion of indigenous languages has been made during ongoing protests.

Khumalo said UKZN's approach to languages has gone a long way towards shielding the university from these controversies.

However, Khumalo said that, until the Zulu language was beefed up with technical terms and phrases, it would not truly be an effective medium of instruction.

At a cost of R5-million and developed over more than three years, the university has come up with terminology in scientific disciplines with less complex terms.

One of the key developments was the creation of the isiZulu National Corpus, a collection of "potentially all the documents that are written in isiZulu". With more than 20 million words, it is one of the biggest collections of African language words in the world and will be available free online.

Another is the isiZulu Term Bank, a collection of discipline-specific words and phrases that can be used by students. The first complete term bank is for architecture.

These two projects also spawned the first ever Zulu Language spell-checker as well as a ZuluLex mobile app, an Android or IOS-compatible app that allows students to access the terminology lists at the touch of a screen.

English would remain the language of instruction at UKZN, Khumalo said, but ongoing development of Zulu could see this change in the future.

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