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22 August 2018
Prof Coetzee is retelling old stories in a new book
"Failing to Learn Doomed to repeat" was one of the bookworks on display.

The title of Prof Jan K Coetzee’s latest book, Books & Bones & Other Things, says it all. The book looks into the many aspects that have built our society by presenting in a new way the stories contained in old books collected over the years. 

Prof Coetzee is a Senior Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of the Free State (UFS). Books & Bones & Other Things was launched on 14 August 2018 and coincided with an exhibition of various “bookworks”   art installations by Prof Coetzee that feature old books, sculptures, artefacts, and fossils.
 
Book resulting from research programme 
   

“This is a book on books so the library is the perfect venue to launch a book on old texts as documents of life,” said Prof Coetzee.

For the past seven years he has been directing a Master’s and PhD programme in Sociology called The Narrative Study of Lives. His project, Documents of Life, from which this book came, focuses on a collection of old texts the oldest of which dates back to 1605.

“We live in storytelling societies and for as long as we can remember we have been telling stories. Over time the ability to produce books was born. Any collection of books can tell you a lot about your own life and the society you live in."

“I cannot read the stories of many of these old books because their narratives are closed. I have to re-narrate the books, change the narrative convention and present them in a way that makes sense to me. By combining the books with art and artefacts I want the books to tell their ancient stories in new ways.”

Book launches and intellectual discussions

At the book launch, Prof Corli Witthuhn, Vice-Rector: Research said: “What we have achieved with this launch and exhibition is unbelievable. We always try to create an intellectual space in the library.

“A book such as this is the pinnacle of an academic career. It is multidisciplinary and it looks at the world in a different way. That is what scholarship is about.”

A painting by Robert Hodgins was also handed over to the Johannes Stegmann Gallery, home of the corporate collection of the UFS, at the event. 

News Archive

Weideman focuses on misconceptions with regard to survival of Afrikaans
2006-05-19

From the left are Prof Magda Fourie (Vice-Rector: Academic Planning), Prof Gerhardt de Klerk (Dean: Faculty of the Humanities), George Weideman and Prof Bernard  Odendaal (acting head of the UFS  Department of Afrikaans and Dutch, German and French). 
Photo (Stephen Collett):

Weideman focuses on misconceptions with regard to survival of Afrikaans

On the survival of a language a persistent and widespread misconception exists that a “language will survive as long as people speak the language”. This argument ignores the higher functions of a language and leaves no room for the personal and historic meaning of a language, said the writer George Weideman.

He delivered the D.F. Malherbe Memorial Lecture organised by the Department Afrikaans at the University of the Free State (UFS). Dr. Weideman is a retired lecturer and now full-time writer. In his lecture on the writer’s role and responsibility with regard to language, he also focused on the language debate at the University of Stellenbosch (US).

He said the “as-long-as-it-is spoken” misconception ignores the characteristics and growth of literature and other cultural phenomena. Constitutional protection is also not a guarantee. It will not stop a language of being reduced to a colloquial language in which the non-standard form will be elevated to the norm. A language only grows when it standard form is enriched by non-standard forms; not when its standard form withers. The growth or deterioration of a language is seen in the growth or decline in its use in higher functions. The less functions a language has, the smaller its chance to survive.

He said Afrikaans speaking people are credulous and have misplaced trust. It shows in their uncritical attitude with regard to the shifts in university policies, university management and teaching practices. Afrikaners have this credulity perhaps because they were spoilt by white supremacy, or because the political liberation process did not free them from a naïve and slavish trust in government.

If we accept that a university is a kind of barometer for the position of a language, then the institutionalised second placing of Afrikaans at most tertiary institutions is not a good sign for the language, he said.

An additional problem is the multiplying effect with, for instance, education students. If there is no need for Afrikaans in schools, there will also be no  need for Afrikaans at universities, and visa versa.

The tolerance factor of Afrikaans speaking people is for some reasons remarkably high with regard to other languages – and more specifically English. With many Afrikaans speaking people in the post-apartheid era it can be ascribed to their guilt about Afrikaans. With some coloured and mostly black Afrikaans speaking people it can be ascribed to the continued rejection of Afrikaans because of its negative connotation with apartheid – even when Afrikaans is the home language of a large segment of the previously oppressed population.

He said no one disputes the fact that universities play a changing role in a transformed society. The principle of “friendliness” towards other languages does not apply the other way round. It is general knowledge that Afrikaans is, besides isiZulu and isiXhosa, the language most spoken by South Africans.

It is typical of an imperialistic approach that the campaigners for a language will be accused of emotional involvement, of sentimentality, of longing for bygone days, of an unwillingness to focus on the future, he said.

He said whoever ignores the emotional aspect of a language, knows nothing about a language. To ignore the emotional connection with a language, leads to another misconception: That the world will be a better place without conflict if the so-called “small languages” disappear because “nationalism” and “language nationalism” often move closely together. This is one of the main reasons why Afrikaans speaking people are still very passive with regard to the Anglicising process: They are not “immune” to the broad influence that promotes English.

It is left to those who use Afrikaans to fight for the language. This must not take place in isolation. Writers and publishers must find more ways to promote Afrikaans.

Some universities took the road to Anglicision: the US and University of Pretoria need to be referred to, while there is still a future for Afrikaans at the Northwest University and the UFS with its parallel-medium policies. Continued debate is necessary.

It is unpreventable that the protest over what is happening to Afrikaans and the broad Afrikaans speaking community must take on a stronger form, he said.

 

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