The memorable day of July 9, 2011 did not just mark the end of a violent fight of the millions who died just to attain South Sudan’s independence. It also loudly echoes to the world the rich culture and languages in this newly-recognized Republic. It did not just end the longest standing civil war in Africa, but it also serves to highlight the cluster of languages that will now be increasingly opened for interpretation and translation to the world.
Situated in East Africa, South Sudan differs starkly in contrast to its Muslim nearby neighbor, North Sudan. They are more inclined to practice their traditional religions with a few converts to Christianity. However, Sudan in its entirety initially had Literary Arabic and English for its official language on paper. But in practice, they have been engaging in speaking their own preferred dialect prior to the peace treaty for their freedom, which was signed in 2005. It was like their lifestyle for the last 22 years before their declared independence – South Sudan had been known for its most autonomous management of affairs and equally autonomous system of culture, society, and language preferences.
Having one’s own preferred language, in a way, facilitates independence because relying on another country’s language to transmit and receive units of communication from each other requires an inherent submission to the country whose language is being used. Notwithstanding their present requirements to nation building, they are well able to achieve the independence culturally through their language long before they became free as a nation. Even the use of pidgin Arabic or Juba was not able to stop that from happening.
Most certainly, a degree of conformity is still necessary. The need to translate and express ideas in English or other universal languages is still vital so that the South Sudanese can sustain their international presence and adhere to the global conventions that can make or break a nation. Perhaps this is also what the new national anthem of South Sudan aims to promote. But there remains words and sentiments that cannot be fully expressed or translated in the spirit with which it is expressed from their native tongue.
In South Sudan, the Dinka language, literally translated as cluster, is the most predominant. It is a dialect cluster that has five main varieties, which are: Ngok, Rek, Agaar, Twic/Tuic East, and Bor. These five languages under Dinka are so complex that each can stand to serve as a separate language system. They are collectively called Jieng or Jaang. But on top of this language which is preferred by South Sudan’s major ethnic tribe, there are 141 other languages used there, with only 8 being considered ancient or extinct.
This flamboyant listing of available local languages does not just show what a colorful linguistic subject South Sudan makes. In addition, it mirrors the rich and diverse culture that it has developed in all those years of struggling for independence. Their artistic heritage has been nurtured at higher levels all those years because these artistic expressions served as a major, if not the only outlet for nationalistic sentiments that took decades before it got legally acknowledged by the whole world.