What Is Zimbabwean English

Zimbabwe map

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Zimbabwean English is the variety of the English language spoken in the Republic of Zimbabwe, located in southern Africa.

English is the primary language used in schools in Zimbabwe, but it is one of the 16 official languages in the country. 

Examples and Observations:

  • From Rhodesia to Zimbabwe
    "Zimbabwe, earlier Southern Rhodesia, became a British colony in 1898. By 1923 it gained a measure of self-government and was part of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland from 1953 to 1963. Like South Africa, Southern Rhodesia had a settled white population, the leaders of whom opposed the notion of 'one man, one vote.' In 1965, the white minority broke away from Britain but its Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) was declared illegal. In 1980, general elections were held and Zimbabwe came into existence."
    (Loreto Todd and Ian F. Hancock, International English Usage. Routledge, 1986)
  • Influences on Zimbabwean English
    "Rhodesian English is regarded as a fossil, non-productive dialect. Independence as a democratic republic under Black majority rule in 1980 changed the social, economic and political conditions in which Blacks and whites interacted in Zimbabwe; in this environment, it is appropriate to refer to the prevailing English dialect in the country as Zimbabwean English (ZimE) as it is a productive and changing variety. . . .
    "The principal influences on Rhodesian English lexis are Afrikaans and Bantu (mainly chiShona and isiNdebele). The more informal the situation, the more likely it is is to encounter local expressions."
    (Susan Fitzmaurice, "L1 Rhodesian English." The Lesser-Known Varieties of English, ed. by D. Schreier et al. Cambridge University Press, 2010)
  • Characteristics of Zimbabwean English
    "[W]hite Zimbabweans perceive that their dialect of English is distinct from other southern African accents. They . . . refer to details of pronunciation and lexis in order to illustrate how their speech differs from British English on the one hand and South African English on the other. For example, informants will refer to the fact that lakker . . . is a Zimbabwean word. Actually, it is a loanword from Afrikaans lekker, 'nice,' but it is pronounced in a specifically 'Zimbabwean way,' namely with a more open front vowel: lakker [lækə] and without a final flapped [r]. Additionally, Zimbabwean English has unique lexical expressions, many of them dating from early colonial days, some adaptations or innovations, some loan translations. For example, the (now quite old-fashioned) approbatory adjective mush or mushy . . . 'nice' may well have arisen out of the persistent misunderstanding of the Shona word musha 'home,' while shupa (v. and n.) 'worry, bother, hassle,' is a borrowing from Fanagalo, the colonial pidgin used by whites. The verb chaya 'strike' (< Shona tshaya) also occurs in Fanagalo. Thus white Zimbabweans . . . link their dialect to the matter of the identification with place and differentiate themselves from those from neighboring South Africa for instance."
    (Susan Fitzmaurice, "History, Social Meaning, and Identity in the Spoken English of White Zimbabweans." Developments in English: Expanding Electronic Evidence, ed. by Irma Taavitsainen et al. Cambridge University Press, 2015)
  • English in Zimbabwe
    "English is the official language of Zimbabwe, and much teaching in schools is also carried out in English, except in the case of the youngest Shomna- and Ndebele-speaking children. . . . The Zimbabwean English of the native anglophone population resembles very closely that of South Africa, but according to Wells (1982) it has never been systematically studied. Native English speakers make up less than 1 per cent of the total population of 11 million."
    (Peter Trudgill, "Lesser-Known Varieties of English." Alternative Histories of English, ed. by R. J. Watts and P. Trudgill. Routledge, 2002)

Also Known As: Rhodesian English

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "What Is Zimbabwean English." ThoughtCo, Jan. 30, 2021, thoughtco.com/zimbabwean-english-1692520. Nordquist, Richard. (2021, January 30). What Is Zimbabwean English. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/zimbabwean-english-1692520 Nordquist, Richard. "What Is Zimbabwean English." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/zimbabwean-english-1692520 (accessed May 29, 2023).