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Editor’s Book Pick of the Month: ‘Divided By The Word’ Zulu vs Xhosa:

South Africa has 12 official languages. The two most dominant are isiZulu and isiXhosa. While the Zulu and Xhosa people share a rich common history, they have also found themselves engaged in ethnic conflict and division, notably during urban wars between 1990 and 1994. A new book, Divided by the Word, examines this history – and how colonizers and African interpreters created the two distinct languages, entrenched by apartheid education. Historian Jochen S. Arndt answers some questions about his book.

Wits University Press

What is the key premise of the book?

The beautiful thing about history is that it can help us develop a more complex understanding of the things we consider natural in our daily lives.

People like to believe that their languages have always been there and always played an important role in defining their identity.

But history can show us that what appears to be timeless is, in fact, deeply historical and dependent on the actions of people with ambitions and agendas. My book argues that, as well-defined, standardized languages rather than speech forms (vernaculars), isiZulu and isiXhosa emerged as part of a long historical process that involved a wide range of actors, notably European and US missionaries and African interpreters and intellectuals.

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