Drawing on online and daily newspapers, speakers' language and
writing practices, official government documents and prescribed spelling systems in
Southern Africa, the paper explores the challenges and possibilities of orthographic
reforms allowing for mobility across language clusters, ethnicity, regional and
national borders. I argue that this entails a different theorisation of language, and for
orthographies that account for the translocations and diasporic nature of late modern
African identities and lifestyles. I suggest an ideological shift from prescriptivism to
practice-orientated approaches to harmonisation in which orthographies are based
on descriptions of observable writing practices in the mobile linguistic universe.
The argument for orthographic reforms is counterbalanced with an expose on
current language policies which appear designed for an increasing rare monoglot
'standard' speaker, who speaks only a 'tribal' language. The implications of the
philosophical challenges this poses for linguists, language planners and policy
makers are thereafter discussed.