Translanguaging and orthographic harmonisation: A cross-lingual reading literacy in a Johannesburg school

DOI: 10.2989/16073614.2016.1272423
Author(s): Malephole Philomena SefothoSchool of Education, Languages, Literacies and Literatures, South Africa, Leketi MakalelaSchool of Education, Languages, Literacies and Literatures, South Africa


The last three years has seen increased interest in translanguaging as an alternative pedagogical strategy for multilingual classrooms in South Africa. These studies questioned the validity of language boundaries, especially in complex multilingual encounters where notions of home language or mother tongue do not apply. There is, however, a paucity of research on translingual reading performance of learners from cognate languages in complex multilingual contexts. This study investigated the reading comprehension and rate of readers of Setswana, Sesotho and Sepedi in a South African township. Sixty (n = 60) grade 4–6 elementary school children were assessed through a battery of tests that were based on Curriculum-Based Measures. The results of the assessment show that there were no statistically significant differences between learners of these three cognate languages in both the reading comprehension and reading rate measures. Using the ubuntu translanguaging framework, we argue that the readers’ performance shows the possible effects of orthographic overlap and the value system of confluence (botho), which are found among speakers of these languages. Secondly, the results challenge the perceived boundaries between these languages and support earlier claims for possible harmonisation of their orthographic systems, i.e. that there will be no negative epistemic effect on the readers of these cognate languages. In the end, we consider implications for translanguaging pedagogy and materials development, and highlight areas for future research.

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