It is often believed that the majority of English speakers come from the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, or Australia. However, the Republic of South Africa is also an English-language hub: some 5 million inhabitants of the country speak English as a first language, and another 11 million speak it as a second language.
History of South Africa and the country's linguistic diversity
The Republic of South Africa is located at the southern tip of the African continent. The first written mention of the permanent settlement of Europeans in the region dates back to 1652, when the Dutch East Indian Company founded a settlement at the Cape of Storms, later called the Cape of Good Hope (now Cape Town) . The settlement became a British colony in 1806, and in 1820 the first settlers arrived there, thus marking the beginning of a South African British culture. In 1881, the South African Republic regained self-government under British suzerainty. In 1961, the country became the independent Republic of South Africa and seceded from the Commonwealth of Nations, led by Great Britain .
In 1910, two languages were established official in the country: English and Dutch. Nevertheless, a few years later, Dutch was replaced by Afrikaans, a language that is close to the Germanic languages and Dutch itself . Today, people in South Africa speak many languages: Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, Swazi, Tswana, Southern Sotho, Pedi Tsonga, Venda, and Southern Ndebele . As for English, it became the most dominant official language that is used in the media, technology, government towards the end of the 20th century.
South African English
South African English (SAE) is a variety of the English language and one of its least studied dialects. It can also be so-called as extraterritorial variety of English — a language variety that has been transported outside its mainland home . Due to the close ties between South African colonies and Great Britain, established in 19th century, South African English resembles British English more closely than it does American English. However, the Afrikaans, Dutch, African languages, including the Nguni languages, the Xhosa and Zulu languages, had a great influence on the formation of the South African English as well.
South African English has a number of distinguishing characteristics, and one of them is social variation. According to this criterion, the English language in this region is divided into:
Cultivated English — similar to Received Pronunciation and mostly used by people from the upper class;
General English — more common among the population and mostly used by people from the middle class;
Broad English — close to Afrikaans language, mostly used by people from the working class .
Pronunciation features of South African English
Pronunciation of vowels
One of the most significant features of SAE is a “kit-bit” split. It means that the vowel sound in the words ‘kit’ [kɪt] and ‘bit’ [bət] is pronounced differently. The sound [ɪ] is used when it occurs next to velars, as in the words ‘thick, ‘kill, ‘pick, ‘bid’, ‘sick’, after [h] as in ‘hips’, at the beginning of a word as in ‘ill’, and before [ʃ] as in ‘dish. The sound [ə] is used in all the other cases. Moreover, in Cultivated, General and Broad varieties other vowels are pronounced further forward in the mouth, comparing to the pronunciation of British speakers. For instance, the word ‘penny' sounds like ‘pinny', ‘bad' like ‘bed', and ‘bed' like ‘bid' .
“a tin of beans” — //əɪ tən əv biːnz//
Raised [æ] sound
In two varieties of SAE, Cultivated and General, the pronunciation of [æ] sound is slightly raised as in the word ‘crab’. In Broad varieties, it is more raised to [ɛ] sound .
“South Africa” — //saʊθ ˈɜfrɪkə//
Pronunciation of [ɑː] sound
In General and Broad South African English, the [ɑː] sound in words such as ‘path’ is usually more low and fully back, comparing to RP .
“We have a slim chance of winning.” — //wi hæv ə slɪm tʃɑːns əv ʹwɪnɪŋ//
Pronunciation of consonants
In Broad variety of SAE, voiceless plosives (such as [k], [p], [t] sounds) are usually unaspirated, regardless of their position in the word. However, in General and Cultivated varieties, these sounds are aspirated before a stressed syllable .
“Park your car in the yard.” — //pɑːk jɔː kɑː ən ðə jɑːd//
Fricatives and Affricates
A stereotypical feature of Broad variety is the tendency for [θ] sound to be pronounced as [f]. Such a replacement may be observed in words like ‘three’, ‘thanks’, ‘thumb’ (pronounced as ‘free’, ‘fanks’, “fumb’), etc .
“How does this bloody thing work?” — //haʊ dəz ðɪs ˈblʌdi fɪŋ wɜːk//
Another feature of Broad varieties is the tendency to pronounce the sound [h] as a voiced [ɦ] before a stressed vowel.
“we have” — //wi ɦæv//
South African English is non-rhotic, and in this way it is similar to Received Pronunciation. The [r] sound in most cases is pronounced in only two situations: in syllable-initial position as in ‘rucksack’ and inter-vocalically as in ‘quarrel’. It is not pronounced post-vocalically (as in ‘weird, ‘bore’, ‘burger’, etc) .
“Park your car in the yard.” — //pɑːkjɔːkɑː ən ðə jɑːd//
The words ‘park’, ‘your’, ‘car’ and ‘yard’ show the non-rhotic character of SAE.
To determine the intonation characteristics of South African English, it can be compared with North American English. It can be noted that SAE is more melodic, the high tones sound higher than the same in North American English, the low tones sound lower. The range of intonation is generally wider than that of North American English. This makes the SAE more expressive in sound, thus resembling RP in intonation.
List of references
Mesthrie, Rajend, ed. Language in South Africa. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
Mesthrie, Rajend. South Africa: Language Situation. Encyclopedia of Language & Linguistics. pp. 539–542, 2006.
Silva, Penny, ed. A Dictionary of South African English on Historical Principles. Ed., et al. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1996.
Esteves, Vanessa Reis. “Varieties of English: South African English.” The APPI Journal 2. Autumn issue. Print.
The languages of South Africa // [электронныйресурс]. – URL: www.south-africa-info.co.za