Nluu: South Africa’s Critically Endangered Language

Katrina Esau has dedicated the rest of her days to reviving the Nluu language.

Nluu is South Africa’s first language. Statistics reveal that only 3 people in the whole of South Africa know and speak the language. Katrina Esau is one of them.

Thanks to globalization, many African languages are gradually fading out. The use of these languages decrease by the minute as the continent struggles to meet up with the rest of the world, thus growing more conversant with “internationally” recognized languages like English, French and others.

The 84-year-old woman recalls the apartheid days when they were penalized for speaking their language.

“When I was a child, I only spoke Nluu and I heard a lot of people speaking the language. Those were good times, we loved our language but that has changed.

“We would get beaten up by the white man if we were caught speaking our language.

“Because of our history, people today do not want to speak the language any more, there is so much pain around it.

“We abandoned the Nluu language and learned to speak Afrikaans, although we are not white people – that has affected our identity.”

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Katrina Esau

Making it her mission, Katrina has tirelessly worked to make the language formally teachable.

Just like other aspects of culture, language is commonly passed down to the young through an informal oral means.

The rate at which the native language is spoken determines its longevity in the community. Aside the Nluu language, some other SA indigenous languages face possible extinction if nothing is done to revive them.

For instance, South Africa has a total of 11 official languages. Amongst these the top ones include Zulu: 22.7%, Xhosa: 16%, Afrikaans: 13.5%, English: 9.6%, Setswana: 8%, and Sesotho: 7.6%.

Records also show that the 3 critically endangered SA languages include are the Korana language, Xiri and Nluu languages.

Nluu, is one of the languages spoken by South Africa’s San community, also known as Bushmen. The San tribe is believed to have existed for more than 20, 000 years.

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Katrina Esau

With modern day pressure, the people have lost most of their cultural traits. Katrina Esau wants to be sure that what is left of the language is not abandoned to completely fade out.

I’m teaching the language because I don’t want it to become extinct when we die. I want to pass on as much of it as I can but I am very aware that we don’t have a lot of time.”

Relentlessly, Karina Esau worked with “linguists, Professors Sheena Shah from the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) in London and Matthias Brezinger of the Centre for African Language Diversity in Cape Town” to create Nluu alphabets and basic rules of grammar for teaching purposes.

With that achieved, Katrina Esau, also known as Ouma Geelmeid currently teaches a class of about 20 students. Her best student, 16-year old Mary-Ann Prins hopes to take over Nluu’s revival mission in the future.