"Where art thou Sesotho?": Exploring the linguistic landscape of Wits University

  • Maxwell Kadenge University of Witwatersrand


The article seeks to examine if the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits)’s language policy on paper is visually reflected on the linguistic landscape of the institution. The objective of this policy is to promote multilingualism, especially the status elevation of Sesotho to become a medium of instruction alongside English and a field of academic study and research. Masoke-Kadenge and Kadenge (2013) note that conceptual flaws within the policy, financial constraints and lack of political will were some of the challenges that militated against the successful implementation of this policy. Today, twelve years after the adoption of this policy, Wits is largely monolingual. This article adopts an expanded view of language policy and explores the linguistic landscape of Wits with the goal of providing invaluable insights into the sociolinguistic situation at the institution. The main focus is on language visibility on public signage in the form of names of buildings like libraries, lecture venues and laboratories, warning notices and directions, among others, and important documentation like employment contracts, e-mails and newsletters at the Braamfontein East campus. The analysis also extends to the university’s website. The findings from this study show that the linguistic landscape of Wits is largely a reflection of the failed institutional language policy. It symbolically reproduces an old language ideology of a monolingual – English-based –university, which goes against the spirit of the National Language Policy Framework (Department of Arts and Culture, 2002) which compels South African universities to transform and develop language policies that accommodate linguistic, cultural and racial diversity.

Author Biography

Maxwell Kadenge, University of Witwatersrand
Maxwell Kadenge is a senior lecturer in the Department of Linguistics, School of Literature, Language and Media at the University of the Witwatersrand. His research interests fall under the areas of language politics and multilingualism, phonetics, morphosyntax and phonological theory