Can you guess?

If you guessed 11, you’d be right. The 11 official languages of South Africa are: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Pedi, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, and Zulu. Many countries have just one or two official languages (or in the USA, none at all). Some official languages are regulated by an authority, such as France’s Académie Française. South Africa’s languages are overseen by the government department PanSALB (Pan South African Language Board).

It seems that PanSALB hasn’t been too successful though, with the Economist reporting that it is underfunded and accused of being corrupt and mismanaged. So what’s the answer?

The Use of Official Languages Bill, introduced early this year, seeks to get government institutions using the native African languages more, alongside English and Afrikaans. But as South Africa has learned with PanSALB, implementation is the hard part. To improve, South African officials might see a model in India, whose 23 recognised languages—the most in the world—have found support in the respected Sahitya Akademi, the national academy of letters….

South African languages may too find greater support in groups founded and run by native speakers themselves, bottom-up and not top-down. The government might not have the resources or emotional investment to properly preserve and promote all of South Africa’s official languages. But at least the law gives all 11 languages equality in theory. Perhaps it’s time for indigenous language communities to make them more equal in fact. (Source: Economist)