oa Fundamina : A Journal of Legal History - Multingualism in South African courts : the legislative regulation of language in the Cape during the nineteenth century

Volume 21, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1021-545X
  • E-ISSN: 2411-7870



Legal pluralism, and with it multilingualism, was introduced into Southern Africa when the first Dutch refreshment station expanded into a settlement. Dutch remained the official language until after the second British Occupation of the Cape in 1806. Indigenous African cultural institutions, including languages, were notoriously ignored in early South African history and the needs of the indigenous population played no role in any decisions relating to judicial language both during the Dutch and the English administrations of the Cape, and later in the territories beyond its borders. This article focuses on the legislative regulation of the language medium in nineteenth-century Cape courts and the contest between Dutch and English for the position of official judicial language. Today the language medium in the High Courtsis limited to English and Afrikaans, but it is apparent that English has evolved as the legal lingua franca and de facto most proceedings take place in English.

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