Fanagalo Gets the Shaft

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For at least the past century, miners in South Africa have spoken a unique language all their own, called Fanagalo. The mines were multicultural places where workers from different regions needed to learn to communicate with each other quickly. Fanagalo is a pidgin, not really a full-fledged language, that was based on Zulu and was easy for everyone to learn.  It has about 2,000 words. Approximately 75% of them are Zulu, and the rest are a mix of English, Portuguese and other African languages like Xhosa.

According to Monocle Magazine, it is the only known pidgin that is based on a non-colonial language.

However, the communication barriers that existed before are not nearly as much of a problem now, and the next generation of miners feels that Fanagalo has outlived its usefulness. According to South African news site, the National Union of Mineworkers is requesting that the language be phased out  due to safety concerns, though some older miners would still prefer to use it.

Union spokesman Lesiba Seshoka explained:

“As far as communication is concerned, any language can be used, with preference for the indigenous language where the mine is based. For example, if a mine is based in Limpopo, Pedi can be used as a form of communication.”

Seshoka added that the use of Fanagalo also limits the personal growth of the miners:

“It is hindering progress as far as training in adult basic education and training is concerned. I mean, it inculcates a different culture in the mines. Mineworkers are ordinary people who lead ordinary lives, we can’t have a place where people operate their own language.”

After all, if you’re going to learn another language, shouldn’t it be something you can use outside of the mines or to further your career?