global English south african English


It’s South African English month, lekker! When I got back to South Africa in 2002 having been away for 6 years, I was struck by the change in the English spoken there. It had become more of a mix of the other predominant languages (such as Zulu and Afrikaans) and was a real indication, I thought, of the societal changes that had taken place in the post-apartheid ‘Rainbow Nation’, especially amongst the younger generation. Now, 8 years later, it seems to me that South African English has become even more of a mix. We’ve put together this vid to try and show the charismatic diversity that exists there:

Also (more importantly?!), South Africa is hosting the Fifa World Cup 2010 … I’m sure you’ve heard. I can almost hear the vuvuzelas from over here. Ja no, there’s a lot to celebrate hey, we’re totally amped.

As always, we welcome your comments, opinions, and guest posts.

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Laine Redpath Cole


  • This is really great and very interesting. It would be even better if you could have the word the people are talking about written on the screen. Some are difficult to understand.

  • Nice combination of sounds, languages, cultures.
    Is it right what I have listened to?… “I feel shop”= I feel good.
    Another interesting South African response: “Hundreds!”
    Enjoy the Fifa world Cup 2010!
    Thank you very much, Laine.

  • Maria, it is actually the word ‘sharp’ said in a dialectical SA accent and should probably be spelt ‘shap’. It means the same as ‘cool’ and is often said repeating it “shap shap”

  • Many Thanks, Geoff! So useful and detailed your information!
    So “sharp” indeed…

  • Hi Barbara,

    I will definitely provide a list of the South African English words used here, along with their definitions.Thanks for the comment!

  • I have a Dictionary of South African Slang on my website (that you have linked). I’ve been wanting to do a video series for South African slang since last year but just haven’t been up to it – it’s still on my to-do list.

    We have eleven official languages here in South Africa!

  • As a South African living and teaching English in Italy, I was amused by and interested in your video. I’ve also noticed a great change in the way English is spoken in South Africa.
    I was reminded how different my English was to British English when I spent some time with the British teachers at the first school where I taught in Italy. My instructions to turn right at the “robot” resulted in hysterical laughter and robot-like hand movements. When I said I was wearing a “spencer” under my winter top, they were mystified. They wore “vests”. In an unguarded moment one day, I told someone to “Check out my new takkies,” only to receive a blank stare. I wanted them to admire my trainers.
    The list could go on and on. This is the country where money is “bucks” and a minibus taxi is a “zola budd”. Or was – perhaps things have changed again. I’m looking forward to following your blog this month.

  • Very interesting. What about ‘Ja’. People here in New Zealand say we say ‘Ja’ for everything. That is so true as we tend to say ‘Ja’ opposed to ‘Yes’. This is both English speaking and Afrikaans speaking people. After teaching at a secondary school for two years in New Zealand I have noticed that some of my students started using the word ‘Ja’. Quite amusing.

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