Whither Botswana as the youth opt for English

From the soil: Language is key in the preservation of culture
From the soil: Language is key in the preservation of culture

I read with interest the Comment in the Mmegi Newspaper of Wednesday, 1 April, 2015. There is indeed an emerging crop of young Batswana who predominantly speak English in social interactions; they speak English everywhere, every time.

Given, Botswana has a historical influence of English, however the argument is why take on English over native languages. Why not create a healthy balance of both?

We are a nation predicated on extended family setups; meaning every so often we shall have reason to visit the village to spend time with grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins (those who do not reside in town).

The question is how do the young English-speaking Batswana navigate communication during these social interactions? Do they experience moments of exclusion, isolation and/or rejection? Or do they regard these moments as sporadic and transient?


I embarked on a study to gain understanding into how young Batswana teens who predominantly speak English in social interactions negotiate meaning in communication, especially with relatives and members of the extended family who may be non-speakers of English.

Some kids expressed that that they were only cued to getting a good job and securing a bright future. I do not question how Setswana or other native languages are disregarded here.

The findings of the study revealed that participants experienced satisfactory levels of social connectedness, primarily because they interacted mostly with their ‘own’: a select grouping of like folk who also only communicate in English.

They however did experience unsatisfactory levels of social connectedness in communication with non-speakers of English. Although participants’ experiences elicited minimal dire effects, as they were deemed to be transient moments, participants found they had to make an effort to enhance communication effectiveness through non-verbal communication such as gestures and at times they had to employ ‘a bit of Setswana’ and ‘bad Setswana’ vocabulary in order to be understood.

Beyond the conclusions, I advance implications on Botswana being at risk of losing her ‘cultural capital’(language being a component of culture), even as these young Batswana attain and enjoy ‘linguistic capital’ status gained from mastery of a language.

At risk too is a loss of personal and language identity. New slang references, often derogatory have also emerged lately: Coconuts and Oreos… So all I ask is whither Botswana?

Catherine Mibenge

[email protected]

Editor's Comment
What about employees in private sector?

How can this be achieved when there already is little care about the working conditions of those within the private sector employ?For a long time, private sector employees have been neglected by their employers, not because they cannot do better to care for them, but because they take advantage of government's laxity when it comes to protecting and advocating for public sector employees, giving the cue to employers within the private sector...

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