Review Article

The epistemology of (m)other tongue(s): What does this mean for language in education?

Aubrey T. Tsebe
The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa | Vol 17, No 1 | a1068 | DOI: | © 2021 Aubrey T. Tsebe | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 18 April 2021 | Published: 07 September 2021

About the author(s)

Aubrey T. Tsebe, Center for University Teaching and Learning, Sefako Makgatho Health Science University, Pretoria, South Africa


Background: The promotion of ‘mother tongue’ is at the core of the global education agenda.

Aim: This article explored the problematic nature of the mother tongue concept, and the subsequent effects it has on language use in education.

Method: Although the African continent is referred to wherever necessary to indicate this problem’s broadness, South Africa (SA) as one of the most developed African countries was used to contextualise the current study. This article adopted a transdisciplinary approach that intersected the theological and educational disciplines. The biblical text is used as the background for the current research about the concept of mother tongue as viewed within the broader context of language problems in education.

Results: This article has argued that the concept of mother tongue and its use in education serves as one of the root problems underpinning South African education’s language challenges. However, this article was not meant to be polemical, but rather, it was intended to stimulate debate on the concept of mother tongue and its use in education.

Conclusion: This article was concluded with advocacy towards the adoption of an alternative term to the concept of mother tongue. The term, dominant language (DL), was proposed which seemed to be clearer and more precise in describing what the concept ‘mother tongue’ ambiguously tries to express. Recommendations and policy guidelines were also provided should either the proposed term be adopted or a need arise to explore the mother tongue concept’s continued use.


dominant language; education; language in education; mother tongue; second language.


Total abstract views: 1804
Total article views: 3543


Crossref Citations

1. Language and employment in Ghana: capturing the multilingual reality
Colin Reilly, Rosario Scandurra, Elvis ResCue, Kristinn Hermannsson, Angela Gayton
Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development  vol: 44  issue: 9  first page: 807  year: 2023  
doi: 10.1080/01434632.2023.2195853