As far as the eye can see
Urban bias in South African linguistic research
Keywords:urban bias, South Africa, sociolinguistic research, Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, research bias, rural multilingualism
Urban bias remains a debated topic in South Africa in many spheres of society. Due to the logic of apartheid, ‘rural’ came to mean ‘black’; or in post-apartheid-speak ‘previously disadvantaged’. Up to today, the effects of long-term structural and systematic disadvantaging are quite tangible in the country. Though in parts also applicable to urban settings, poverty, insufficient infrastructure and lack of access are largely foremost still a problem of the rural – and mostly black – population. These structural imbalances are purported through a number of social fields including academia. Often, studies are conducted where access and conveniences are close and risks impeding the successful completion of research projects are low. While the tendency to consider feasibility in research is not per se questionable, the total body of research projects and results might foreground a distorted reflection of South Africa’s sociolinguistic landscape. Binary categories of urban/rural, however, carry a certain bias within themselves and are thus not comfortably fitting in a South African context but call for deconstruction. On this background, the chapter presents a critical review of 135 scholarly articles (2010–2017) from the eminent linguistic journal Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies examined for traces of urban bias in the research set up and weighs the results in the light of the current socio-political situation in South Africa.
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