Language Planning and Development as an Institutional Imperative

The University Language Planning and Development Office (ULPDO) implements the University’s Language Policy through a range of carefully developed language activities. It has been persuasively argued that in order for African languages to be used in higher education as languages of instruction, innovation, science, mathematics and logic, there has to be a clear, conscious and careful process of intellectualising these languages.

Intellectualisation is a clear process of(functionally) cultivating, developing, elaborating and modernising a language so that the terminology can carry the full weight of scientific rigour and precision, and that its sentences can accurately express logical judgements resulting in a language that has the capacity to function in all domains. As a direct consequence of intellectualisation the speakers of the language derive pride, self-assurance and resourcefulness in their (new) ability to discuss the most complex of issues, ranging from the mundane to academic and beyond.

As part of the implementation of multilingualism at the University in order to initiate and foster social cohesion within its community, ULPDO continues to offer the Bua le Nna (Let’s Talk) programme as a running project in student residences. The purpose of the programme is to teach conversational Sesotho to non-Sesotho speaking students at UKZN student residences. This project, initiated in 2014, is important in creating both linguistic and cultural awareness and tolerance within the university’s diverse (multilingual and multicultural) student body. The project is also supported by the office of the Executive Director of Student Affairs. It is implemented through language champions and the ULPDO staff.

The Language Programme, illustrated in Figure 10 below, shows the key language activities that enable isiZulu development at UKZN. The Programme to intellectualise isiZulu is anchored on the two principal projects viz. terminology development and corpus building. The IsiZulu literature development is a later addition initiated as a ULB literature competition. Its purpose is to cultivate and harness the beauty of the Zulu language by codifying the rich tapestry of Zulu culture and contemporary literary worldview. The figure below depicts the isiZulu language development and intellectualisation programme at ULPDO.

...Figure 10. Language Programme Key activities

Figure 10 depicts the entire language programme of isiZulu intellectualisation at UKZN. This programme is intended to fulfil the vision, mission and objectives as set out below.


To be the centre of excellence in the promotion, development and scientification of indigenous languages with specific reference to isiZulu.


Our mission is to embrace and foster functional bilingualism at the University of KwaZulu-Natal through the promotion of equitable use of the English language and isiZulu as provided for in the University Language Policy (2006 revised in 2014).


To promote the development of isiZulu to be a language of administration, teaching & learning, research and innovation while accentuating the role of English as a primary academic language.

To promote, facilitate and oversee the adherence to the statutory provisions in the development of technical terminology in isiZulu.

To monitor and render quality translation, editing and interpreting services to the entire university community.

To develop an isiZulu National Corpus and isiZulu Term Bank as important reservoirs for the development of robust Human Language Technologies (HLT) and for posterity.

Implementation of the Language Policy and Plan

The implementation of the language policy and plan continues to be a priority at UKZN. The following core functions of the ULPDO play a pivotal role in the development and intellectualisation of isiZulu:

  • Terminology Development
  • Corpus Building
  • Translation, Interpreting and Editing
  • Human Language Technology Development
  • Literature Development and
  • The DR9 Rule Implementation

The development of discipline-specific terminology in English and isiZulu remains a key activity in cultivating and capacitating isiZulu for use in teaching, learning and research at UKZN. Use of such key disciplinary terminology in both English and IsiZulu facilitates improved access to knowledge and information in both English and isiZulu. The ULPDO continues to expand the disciplines in which both English and isiZulu terms are made available, including the publication of necessary glossaries, electronic dictionaries and populating (updating) the IsiZulu Term Bank and other applications. The University follows the statutory processes of consultation, verification, authentication and standardisation as prescribed by the Pan South African Languages Board (PanSALB).

In 2018 a total of 2 562 isiZulu terms were developed for Anatomy, Mathematics, Music and Information Technology. The table below gives a breakdown of the terms that have been developed per discipline in 2018/2019.

The terms coined during the terminology development process ultimately feed to the IsiZulu Term Bank and the isiZulu Lexicon App. Both technologies were launched in 2016 and currently boast terminology from 10 disciplines and over 6 000 terms. The isiZulu Lexicon App has been downloaded by more than 1 500 end users, whilst the Termbank URL has had more than 14 300 visitors so far. The visitors on the term bank page grew from 11 000 in December 2018 to 12 200 between January and March 2019. In the second quarter of 2019 the number of visitors grew to 14 300.

...Table 7. Breakdown of the terms that have been developed per discipline in 2018/2019

Workshops and Campaigns

In addition to the above-mentioned terminology development progress, the ULPDO hosted a range of other language-related workshops and activities, including the Terminology Harvesting Workshop, Bua Le Nna session, isiZulu orthography workshop and the language dissemination workshops in partnership with SABC’s Ukhozi FM. The ULPDO also hosted bilingual tutor training workshops aimed at assisting tutors who facilitate bilingual tutorials in their respective disciplines. The office went on university-wide language awareness campaigns, informing the University community about the ULPDO, the Language Policy and the services that it provides.

Corpus Building

IsiZulu National Corpus (INC)

A corpus is a carefully designed and systematically collected body of natural language data from a variety of text types and sources. It follows a set of principles which constitutes a sample that statistically reflects the use of that particular language, and is stored and accessed by means of computers. The development of a corpus is an important precursor to the development of data-driven computational tools such as the spellchecker, machine learning, translators and lexicons. In the academy learner corpora are important enablers in second language learning, particularly in error detection. ULPDO has developed an isiZulu National Corpus and a bilingual English-IsiZulu Parallel Corpus. Both corpora are important in the development of computational tools necessary in the intellectualisation effort.

IsiZulu National Corpus

...Above: Scan the QR code above, to digitally access the IsiZulu National Corpus.

The IsiZulu National Corpus (INC) has grown exponentially from 1.3 million in 2014 to 31.7 million at the end of 2018. The INC serves as a critical tool in the intellectualisation of isiZulu, particularly with the creation of the spellchecker. The table below reflects a more detailed growth of the INC between 2014 and 2018.

...Above: Scan the QR code for digitally access.
Corpus Collection 2014 - 2018

The ULPDO is currently focusing on processing oral corpus materials, which are going to be added to the INC. The oral corpus is going to be a third typology of our corpora collections, which will provide a basis for future machine learning applications.

...Figure 11. Growth of the INC between 2014 and 2018

Human Language Technologies

The office continues to monitor the use of technologies it deployed in November 2016. Records indicate that people are using them and this is steadily increasing. So far, 14 812 people, including students and academics, have visited the IsiZulu Term Bank.

Different institutions and stakeholders continue to download the IsiZulu mobile application and the IsiZulu spell checker, two technologies that have had a tremendous uptake. As a result, the office has received compliments about the quality of these applications and their functionalities. This affirms UKZN as increasingly becoming an epicentre for language development and innovation.

Figure 12 shows that in the first quarter of the year, i.e. January to March, visitors increased to 12 234. In the period March to June, the number of visitors grew to 14 812. This upward trend was boosted by the increased language activity, which includes hosting various types of language workshops. The office expects that this toIsiZuluol will contribute immensely to the intellectualisation of isiZulu moving forward.

...Figure 12. Number of people accessing the isiZulu Term Bank

The DR9 Rule Implementation

In November 2016, the UKZN Senate approved a Doctoral Rule (DR9(b)) that requires an abstract in both English and isiZulu in all doctoral dissertations. This language rule for doctoral degrees has a symbolic and real impact in advancing the use of isiZulu together with English in teaching, learning, and research. A committee of experts was established by the ULB to translate and edit all submitted PhD abstracts.

The office successfully implemented the requirements of the DR9 Rule. For the April 2018 graduation, 147 doctoral abstracts were submitted for translation into isiZulu. One hundred and thirty seven were translated and 10 were deemed too technical in the absence of the requisite terminology in the respective disciplines. For the September 2018 graduation, 101 doctoral abstracts were submitted for translation and only five were not translated, again because of the paucity of terminology in the specific disciplines. For the April 2019 graduations the committee received 117 abstracts due for translation. Of the 117 abstracts, 115 were translated and uploaded onto the Translation Management System. Evidently the biggest challenge is the shortage of terminology in some technical courses. This calls for the institution to redouble its efforts in investing resources toward the terminology development in the identified disciplines. An Abstract Translation Management Tool (ATMT) was developed and successfully deployed to enable the receipt, processing and storage of all doctoral abstracts. The diagram that follows illustrates how the process unfolds from the receipt of the abstracts to the final stage of storage in the Translation Management System.

...Figure 13. Illustration of the process from the receipt of the abstracts to the final stage of storage in the Translation Management System Scan QR Code to link to ATMT.

ULPDO 2019 Book Launch

The 30th of April 2019 was another momentous occasion in which the office held a successful launch of two very instructive books. The office launched the isiZulu poetry anthology Zidla Inkotha, and the Law Glossary at Howard College, UNITE Building. This event was attended by UKZN council members, the UKZN Executive, senior management, academics, and students. Officials from the KZN Legislature, KZN DAC, KZN PanSALB, eThekwini Municipality and the media also attended.

The event was officially opened by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Teaching & Learning, Professor Sandile Phinda Songca. In his address he emphasised the need to focus on the implementation of the constitutional imperative which impels us to develop African languages for use in all spheres of life, including science and education. He underscored the role of language in the transformation agenda and as a pedagogical tool in enhancing teaching & learning in higher education.

The event was also graced by the presence of the DVC of the College of Humanities, Professor Nhlanhla Mkhize, who also delivered a riveting address focusing on the cognitive development and psychology of language in human development and knowledge production. Mkhize reassured everyone about the unfettered commitment that his College has in implementing the Language Policy and Plan. He articulated the role that academics and external stakeholders could play in driving language research that could inform the intellectualisation of isiZulu.

Professor Managay Reddy, the Dean and Head of the School of Law, delivered the keynote address. She lauded the publication of the first bilingual English-isiZulu law glossary. Her speech focused on the transformation of the legal sector and argued that the publication of the isiZulu legal terminology could spur transformation in the legal practice. Quoting the iconic Nelson Mandela:

She emphasised the critical role of language in social cohesion, equity and inclusivity.

The editors of the two books, Mr Khulekani Zondi and Dr Gugu Mazibuko, thanked the ULPDO for a productive collaboration in producing the books with them.

The ULPDO awarded prizes to winning authors who contributed towards the publication of the poetry anthology Zidla Inkotha.

...From left: DVC Humanities, Professor Nhlanhla Mkhize, the three winners (Jokana Musawenkosi, Mkhize Sifiso and Hlengwa Mhlabuthini), book editor Dr Gugu Mazibuko, DVC Teaching & Learning, Professor Sandile Phinda Songca.

Funded Projects

The ULB continues to make financial resources available for academics and researchers who seek to contribute towards the intellectualisation of isiZulu through initiating language projects. The ULB has funded projects across the four Colleges, to the tune of R1 468 280 between 2013 and 2019.

...Table 8. Funded projects 2013-2019


2018Khumalo, L. IsiNdebele. The Social and Political History of Southern Africa’s Languages. Kamusella, T. and Ndhlovu, F. (Eds.). 2018. Palgrave Macmillan: 101-117.
2018Keet, C. M., & Khumalo, L. On the ontology of part-whole relations in Zulu language and culture. Formal Ontology in Information Systems: Proceedings of the 10th International Conference (FOIS 2018) (Vol. 306, p. 225-235). IOS Press.
2019Khumalo, L., Azom, V., & Olukanmi, P. The design and implementation of a corpus management system for the isiZulu National Corpus. Humanist and the Digital Toolbox. Martin Doerr, Øyvind Eide, Oddrun Grønvik and Bjørghild Kjelsvik (Eds.). 2019. NOVUS AS. OSLO: 179 - 197.

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