The curse of poverty and marginalisation in language development: The case of Khoisan languages of Botswana

  • Andy Chebanne Faculty of Humanities, University of Botswana
  • Mawande Dlali Department of African Languages University of Stellenbosch
Keywords: Khoisan, marginalised languages, language policy, endangered languages, language literacy, promotion, revitalisation


Khoisan languages are spoken by tiny and remote-dwelling communities of Botswana, the members of which are characterised by socio-economic hardships and illiteracy in their own languages and in general. Historically and socially, these people emerged from a life of hunting and gathering, and, in that lifestyle mode, they were easily subdued and exploited by other language communities for cheap and serf labour. Colonialism found them in this social state, and post-colonialism has left them in the same state. As poor and marginalised subalterns, they have not had any means to advocate for their language and culture, and are currently assimilated into other peoples’ languages and cultures. Consequently, the remaining languages of these communities, spoken in remote areas by poor people, are threatened with extinction because they remain under-developed, under-documented, and are at best still at the stage of documentation by anthropologists and linguists. As illiterate people, the speakers of these Khoisan languages have no survival strategies for their languages in this ever-evolving, modern world. With their poverty and sociolinguistic marginalisation, they are devoid of any means of promoting their languages. This discussion focuses on the pitiful situation of the Khoisan languages of Botswana. Botswana’s language-use policy will be critically examined and characterised as one factor in the marginalisation and disempowerment of minority groups, both of which lead to the languages’ endangerment and death.