Thursday, October 8, 2009

English In South Africa

The last ezine issue of Getting It Write! dealt with the subtle and not so subtle differences between British and American English. And the response to it was tremendous. Quite a few people have written in about South African English. And so I also questioned my South African friend Dirk, who now lives in Vancouver. Here's what Dirk had to say:

"SA English is no different from other national languages, its evolution has been driven by other languages spoken in the region. I believe that French and English led to a bastardised French in France in the mid 20th C, so-called Franglais. Some may argue that linguistic incorporation derogates from the original culture but in fact it indicates the culture is evolving - very much alive and aware of what's going on around it.

I'm no etymological expert, but suspect that it starts with colloquialisms and slang. Whether or not they get picked up by popular society may be related to their value in describing something foreign to the language (for which no other word exists), or perhaps provide a handle that is cute or convenient.

Anyway there are some interesting sites consolidating South Africanisms / slang. Try this one:

You'll note that where slang is concerned, the language of origin is listed. What's nice about the link above is it includes examples of African language words that have entered mainstream language in SA. "Hau" or "Haw" (pronounced "how") is a great Zulu exclamation, often used to convey disbelief or dismay. Eish and yebo are also goodies that have become quite popular in spoken if not written language.

There are also a few references to words originating from out of Africa. In that department there are plenty, since Afrikaans as a language is simply bastardised Dutch (also called kitchen Dutch). But some of the ugliest SA words - kaffir, for example, actually originated from Arabia."

Here's what Sandi, also from South Africa, adds:

"It’s good to know that your ezine elicited such a response. It’s an indication of how precious our own languages/dialects are.

I thought I’d tell you of a few South African terms.

What you would call a traffic light, we call a robot. (Believe me, that creates much mirth among visitors.) Our term for a sidewalk is a pavement and the trunk of a car we call a boot (those are similar to British English). On a glorious Summer’s day like we’re having today, our favourite meal would be a braaivleis, (pronounced bry-flace) the equivalent of your barbeque. One last seemingly nonsensical expression we use is now-now, which in fact means later, just the opposite!

How fascinating this topic is. As an aside, my sister-in-law and her husband have recently returned from a month-long camping holiday through Botswana and Namibia. They spent time with a 4th-generation Bushman woman, whose sister incidentally lives in England and speaks like a pukka Brit. The most astounding discovery for them was to hear this woman converse in pure Bushman language with the locals."

And Margie, also from South Africa says:

"Glad that we are opening up the topic of English in all its forms. South African English has its own vernacular with many words now becoming standard English usage, i.e. "braai" for barbecue. Many words that we use as standard are taken from the Dutch and also from Malaysian. On a trip to Malaysia we were quite intrigued to find words such as 'pondok' ( a word meaning a small outbuilding or shed) and commonly used here, 'busie' (bus) which is the Malaysian although the Afrikaans word is the same as our bus. Words in the Oxford English Dictionary like 'veld' (open plains) and 'stoep' (a terraced veranda or porch) and 'velskoen' (a soft leather shoe) come directly from the Dutch as well. And whilst on the veranda or porch - (veranda taken from Hindi and porch used in America), that can open up a whole new discussion. We find that our Afrikaans speaking and African speaking compatriots generally have difficulty with the correct usage of 'is' and 'are' and vowel sounds become distorted and changed. Isn't language fascinating?"

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1 comment:

Glynis said...

Interesting. My South African friends here in Cyprus, say Shame where I would not normally expect to hear it.