English in South Africa

Bertus van Rooy

in The Oxford Handbook of World Englishes

Published in print April 2017 | ISBN: 9780199777716
Published online March 2014 | e-ISBN: 9780199985036 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

English in South Africa

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South African English (SAfE) traces its roots to the 1820 British settlers. From here, it spread to the descendants of Indian indentured labourers, who later shifted to English as home language. English diffused as second language to the indigenous African population and speakers of Afrikaans, and today occupies an important position as language of government, education, business, and the media. SAfE has borrowed vocabulary from Afrikaans, ancestral Indian languages, and in recent years also from other South African languages. Phonetically, SAfE has raised front vowels, the short front /i/ has allophones that range from high front in KIN to centralized in PIN, and a back vowel realization of START. Non-native varieties display various degrees of vowel contrast reduction. The modal must is used more extensively than in other varieties of English, while Black SAfE also uses the progressive aspect for a wider timespan than just temporariness.

Keywords: South African English; language shift; lexical borrowing; front vowels; modality; progressive aspect

Article.  10793 words. 

Subjects: Language Families

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