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Language diversity in South Africa.

Van der Merwe, I.J. & Van der Merwe, J.H. 2006. Linguistic atlas of South Africa: language in space and time. Stellenbosch: Sun Press. 102 p. Price: R250,00. ISBN: 1-919980-33-4.
 The flux of population distributions over space and time
 reflects and reinforces the relationships between cultural
 communities and simultaneously alters the status of each
 relative to the other (Kaplan, 1994:46). (1)


The regular publications of linguistic atlases in South Africa since the 1980s provide ample evidence of the longitudinal flux of population distribution and the intercultural relationship of South African language communities.

For this reason the recent publication by Van der Merwe and Van der Merwe adds particular value to the notion of home language as a distinct variable that contributes to a clear portrayal of social diversity in South Africa. The mere fact that the subtitle to the atlas points to an orientation in space and time gives indication of language diversity in South Africa as an ever-changing dynamic entity.

The introductory chapter is devoted to a brief theoretical explanation of what geolinguistics as an academic discipline entails. Apart from providing background information on the South African language policy framework and the methodological foundations of the atlas, it is made clear that the "spatial outcome of language location" as well as "language change in a time-space context" is central to the understanding of all language maps in the atlas. In summary, the atlas wishes to "provide a visual representation of the diverse geolinguistic realities in South Africa, the Western Cape and the Cape Town metropolitan area" (p. 4).

The second chapter contains information on the national geolinguistic patterns in South Africa and hosts a table with all 354 magisterial district codes, as well as the total population distribution and change between the national censuses of 1991 and 2001. A map depicting the natural South African landscape (topography and biomes) provides valuable background information.

Information on the natural landscape is followed by language maps and tables, firstly in summarised terms and then by means of detailed information per language for all eleven official languages. Value is added by the provision of succinct information on the origins of the respective languages, as well as tables summarising the language profiles of the different languages.

Chapter 2 concludes with maps on preponderant language distribution by means of which the number of speakers of the different official languages is compared. While the concentration of each language per spatial unit is presented, it also includes a comparison with similar values for 1991. In this way, useful information on language shifts that have occurred since then is presented.

The third chapter takes the geolinguistics of the Western Cape as point in case so as to supply a sub-regional resolution. The same methodological approaches that have been followed for the national maps are being employed. Therefore, information on the administrative units, the distribution and density of the total population, as well as detailed information on language composition, distribution and linguistic profiles of the three dominant languages of the Western Cape are supplied.

Finally, the fourth chapter focuses on the metropolitan geolinguistics of the metropolitan Cape Town, thus providing an urbanised resolution. Again, information is given on the administrative units, as well as typical geolinguistic information on the dominant languages used in Cape Town.

This publication could be regarded a worthy addition to the current range of linguistic atlases in South Africa. Albeit being a scholarly publication that gives evidence of theoretical principles typical of geolinguistics as an academic discipline, the atlas also hinges on clear research in application functions, and supplies useful information that could be applied in the language management environment.

It is envisaged that not only sociolinguists and language planners interested in the academics of geolinguistics would find the atlas useful, but also language managers working in different tiers of government.

(1) Kaplan, David H. 1994. Populations and politics in a plural society: the changing geography of Canada's linguistic groups. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 84(1):46-67.

Reviewer: Marlene Verhoef

Institutional Language Directorate,

Potchefstroom Campus, North West University
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Title Annotation:Linguistic Atlas of South Africa: Language in Space and Time
Author:Verhoef, Marlene
Publication:Literator: Journal of Literary Criticism, comparative linguistics and literary studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Aug 1, 2007
Words:678
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