South African English


South African English

Despite the fact that English in the native language of less than 9% of the South African population, it is the language most often used in interactions between the members of South Africa's various cultural and ethnic groups. The fact that English is so frequently used by individuals who speak a different langauge at home has led to the evolution of a unique English dialect that has incorporated words and phrases from many other languages spoken in the country.

South African English is notable for the fact that it continues to evolve. Prior to the end of Apartheid many of the words unique to South African English had been derived from Afrikaans, or the languages spoken in white immigrant communities in the country. In recent years there has been a trend towards incorporating words from African languages into everyday English.

South African Accent

South African English is usually spoken with a distinct and easily identifiable accent. Phonologists have categorised the South African English accent alongside Australian and New Zealand English accents, with all three believed to be derived from the accents of inhabitants of the South West of England. While a South African accent is quite distinctive, many South African accents can vary quite widely from the 'norm' depending on the speaker's home language.

Many South Africans can also distinguish between the accents of English speakers from different regions of the country, as well as differences between the accents of the various classes. There are even variants in the slang used in speaking English in different regions, with this often strongly influenced by the origins of the immigrant communities in the area.

South African Slang

South Africans use a sometimes bewildering array of slang words that have been absorbed into South African English during the country's history. Some of the most frequently used South African slang words include:

  • Braai: an outdoor barbecue and a South African cultural institution.
  • Lekker: translates from Afrikaans as 'tasty', but can be used to describe anything enjoyable from a film to a wedding.
  • Takkies: a pair of sneakers.
  • Jol: the South African description of a party.
  • Howzit: one of the most common greetings used by South Africans when meeting one another.
  • Ja/ya: translates from Afrikaans as 'yes' and is usually used to express affirmation.
  • Klap: translates from Afrikaans as 'clout' and describes the act of hitting or punching someone.
  • China: used to refer to someone as 'friend'. This word was borrowed from the Cockney phrase 'china-plate', which in turn translates as 'mate'.