College of Human Sciences

Linguistics academic scoops NIHSS award

Dr Napjadi Letsoalo, a senior lecturer in the Department of Linguistics and Modern Languages at Unisa was recently awarded the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS) award under the category of Best Digital Humanities Collection: Community Engagement.

For this Limpopo-born Unisan, these achievements and others are a far cry from the times when he was subjected to mockery and ridicule in his community due to his family’s indigent status.

Letsoalo has previously been presented with various  awards which includes the Excellence in Tuition Award: Student Assessment from NIHSS IN 2020, Excellence in Tuition Award: Student Assessment from University of South Africa (CHS - College), in 2019, Excellence in Tuition Award: Student Assessment in 2019 from University of South Africa (Institutional), Best Student Paper Award in 2018 from Global Science and Technology Forum and Young Linguist Award in 2017 from Linguistics Society of Southern Africa.

Dr Napjadi Letsoalo

“One thing I have learned throughout my journey is to never doubt myself regardless of my background,” says Letsoalo. “Each person has a potential to be great, all one needs to do is know one’s capabilities. Your future is determined by your decision to succeed. Never get so overwhelmed by your current misery that you lose sight of where you want to be. However, just believing in yourself is not enough, you need to put in the work. Sometimes you will be expected to work abnormal hours, spend sleepless nights, lose out on weekend and holiday niceties; in short, use your 24 hours different from the majority. Most importantly, work hard, do your best and let God do the rest.”

He believes in a Sepedi adage which says “kgaka ya hwa mae a bola”. This stemmed from when he lost a single parent who was a sole breadwinner.

“My siblings and I were written off,” says Letsoalo, “and we were told that we will never amount to anything in life. For the first three years after matric this seemed to be reality because I worked at various construction sites delivering bricks, mixing concrete and digging foundations. I also worked as a general worker at a garden nursery, plots and carpentry firm. I was also an untrained security guard. I did all this because I needed to fend for my family.”

While mastering the art of patience takes time and effort, Letsoalo learned that there were numerous advantages to becoming a more patient person.

This led to him to enrolling for higher education and he is currently a senior lecturer at University of South Africa.

“So, when I got an opportunity go to university, I swore on my mother’s grave that the coming generation will not suffer the way we did,” he says. “Ever since then I never looked back. My family, both the family of origin and nuclear family, has been my driving force. I never want my family to be regarded as indigent.”

His fields of interest are indigenous language development, youth languages, language and gender, language and society, and language and technology. He specialises in phonetics, morphology and syntax.

Besides awards, Letsoalo also scooped many grants from different institutions, in 2022, he received one for Human Language Technologies Projects from Department of Sport, Arts and Culture and Digital Humanities Open Educational in the South African Centre for Digital Language Resources.

Letsoalo says he has mentors in managerial and leadership positions and yearn to follow in their footsteps and become a future leader in his field. But before any professional leadership role, he aims to achieve an NRF P-rating as a professor. “I see myself in a position where I am able to positively influence the growth of the linguistics field in general, and the development of indigenous languages in particular,” he concludes. “This means active participation as a board member of language regulatory bodies such as the Pan South African Language Board.”


*By Tebogo Mahlaela, Communication and Marketing Specialist, College of Human Sciences.

Publish date: 2022/05/11