The Impact of Language Policy on the Use of Minority Languages in Zambia with Particular Reference to Tumbuka and Nkoya

Thursday, 22 September 2016
Written by Dr. John Simwinga

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The Impact of Language Policy on the Use of Minority Languages in Zambia

With Special Reference to Tumbuka and Nkoya PhD Thesis by John Simwinga, University of Zambia, Lusaka, 2006



This work examined the sociolinguistic relationship between two majority or official languages and two minority or non-official languages in Zambia in order to test the theoretical position that in instances of language contact between majority and minority languages, the latter are replaced by the former. Specifically, the study focused on Tumbuka and Nyanja in the Lundazi area of the Eastern Province and Nkoya and Lozi in the Kaoma area of the Western Province. The exercise was carried out through a sociolinguistic survey of language use in both the public and the private domains in the two research areas by comparing similar variables.

The corpus was obtained by administering three sets of research instruments: the questionnaire, the semi-structured interview and observation. The first set involved administering a survey questionnaire to 150 participants in each of the two areas. The second set involved conducting guided interviews with 20 key informants from each of the two areas in order to verify and clarify some of the information collected through the survey questionnaire. Finally, the third involved direct observation of language use in such contexts as health centres, police stations, bus stations, markets, church services and political rallies in order to verify the information gathered through both the survey questionnaire and the guided interview.


Through a careful analysis of language acquisition, language knowledge, language use and language attitudes, this study has shown that Tumbuka and Nkoya have responded differently to the current language policy. While Tumbuka has maintained its vitality as language of wider communication in Lundazi, Nkoya has lost its vitality and is only used in informal domains at family level in Kaoma, a district once called Mankoya after the Nkoya language whose speakers founded present day Kaoma. The historical relationship of the dominant and the dominated between the Lozi and the Nkoya speakers has aided the language policy in relegating the use of Nkoya to the household domain. On the other hand, the well-developed traditional heritage established by Tumbuka before the enactment of the present language policy has enabled Tumbuka to maintain its vitality in the face of Nyanja in Lundazi.

The results suggest that although language policy is a necessary catalyst for the replacement of minority or non-officially supported languages by the majority or officially supported ones, it is not sufficient on its own unless accompanied by historical, political, cultural, economic and demographic factors.

Last Updated on Thursday, 22 September 2016 17:09
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