South African English

Alternative Histories of English edited by Peter Trudgill and Richard J. Watts (Routledge, 2001).


The varieties of the English language that are used in South Africa.

See also:

Examples and Observations:

  • "According to the results of the 2011 census . . ., English is the fourth most widely spoken mother tongue [in South Africa] behind isiZulu, isiXhosa and Afrikaans.
    "It stands to reason that Afrikaans, which became the language of power when the National party took over in 1948, has influenced South African English more than any other. Afrikaans was used as a tool to suppress the masses throughout apartheid, itself an Afrikaans word that has been appropriated not only by South African English speakers, but in English the world over. . . .
    "[I]t's remarkably easy, even for an armchair etymologist, to write a litany of South African regionalisms that English has pilfered from Afrikaans. But there are two words that are foremost in my mind when I think about how Afrikaans has shaped the way I speak.
    "One is ja (with a soft 'y'), meaning 'yes,' whose ubiquity might be attributed to its pronunciation. It's takes so little effort to say that it's basically an exhale.
    "The other is lekker, which is like 'great,' but better."
    (Michelle Edwards, "Eating Naartjies in the Bioscope: A Little Guide to South African English." The Guardian, May 24, 2013)
  • The Vocabulary of South African English
    "I had studied the evolution of South African English over the years. There is nothing quite like it in the English-speaking world.
    "The vocabulary is the really striking thing. It is hugely distinctive and diverse, thanks to the number of languages which feed it. There are 11 official languages in South Africa. Each one borrows wildly from the others. And English borrows most of all. . . .
    "I overheard a woman in the British Council office talk about going to meet mer mamazala. I found out later this was a Zulu word for 'mother-in-law.'
    "And at various times, in South Africa or Zimbabwe, I was offered mealie-meal, sadza, biltong, and bunny-chow--respectively, fine maize-meal, a type of thick porridge, salted meat, and curry in a hollowed out half-loaf. It is an unusual experience, checking in a dictionary before you eat something."
    (David Crystal, By Hook or by Crook: A Journey in Search of English. Overlook, 2008)
  • Five Types of South African English
    "Five types of South African English have been identified, which may be crudely separated according to population groups (Branford 1996: 35). Within each type there is a continuum of varieties ranging from broad to close to standard British English.
    "What we refer to as South African English (SAfE) in this chapter is the variety spoken by the smallest of these groups, namely the English spoken as a first language by white South Africans. . . .
    "The other types of South African Englishes are predominantly (with some exceptions) non-native varieties of English:
    "Afrikaans English is the variety spoken by South Africans of Dutch descent (including white and coloured people) who speak Afrikaans as a first language. . . . Afrikaans English is distinguished by strong Dutch influence, particularly in its phonology, but also in its syntax . . ..
    Coloured English is a particularly difficult variety to define, given the heterogeneity of the group of people usually described as coloured. . . . Of the 3.6 million people classified as coloured in the last census, the vast majority (82.1 per cent) stated their first language as Afrikaans. Thus, Coloured English is influenced by Afrikaans as well as Cape English . . ..
    "Black South African English is the term used to describe the English spoken by black South Africans, the majority of the population. . . . Black South African English is influenced by the native African languages of its speakers, in both its phonology and syntax . . ..
    "South African Indian English is spoken by those South Africans of Asian descent, predominantly the descendants of the indentured Indians brought to Natal from the 1860s."
    (Elizabeth Gordon and Andrea Sudbury, "The History of Southern Hemisphere Englishes." Alternative Histories of English, ed. by R. J. Watts and P. Trudgill. Routledge, 2001)