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  • I would like to thank MacMillan for the idea of featuring articles on this topic. I knew they speak English as official language, but only after I read this article I realize I knew nothing about the slide differences mentioned above. I really enjoyed reading it. I am waiting forward to read new articles and comments on this one.

  • As usual, it is great fun for us to discover very interesting details on the English language, its words borrowed from other cultures, the way it is spoken in different parts of the world, and now this South African English.
    We knew there was a variety of official languages in South Africa, but we were not able to identify all those. Thanks a lot for all your information.

    On reading about “eish” and what it means to South Africans, another similar Portuguese sound/word has immediately come to my mind. We precisely use the same at the beginning of a sentence when it comes to expressing surprise or disbelief: it sounds more or less like the German “ich”… It is mostly used amongst youngsters in the Alentejo region.

  • I’m afraid that I, as a South African, definitely don’t agree with Dawn Nell’s opinion of there being “a degree of irreverence in South African attitudes to most things, but particularly towards the English.”, which is a generalisation that does not hold water if your roots are partly or wholly English, as mine are, and is also an afront to those affected. It would seem that the fact never dawned on Ms Nell that South Africans with some English blood in their veins might actually be proud of this fact.

    In addition, Ms Nell should have put more thought into her statement that “It is something that undoubtedly has its roots in South African history, as pretty much everyone in the country from the Afrikaners to the Zulu has at some time been at war with Britain.”, and considered how many South Africans in fact fought in British military units during the Second World War!

  • Hi Susan, Like you, I’m proud of my English South African heritage! And of course you’re absolutely right that many South Africans from across the ethnic and linguistic spectrum fought and died for Britain both in the South African Anglo Boer War and the Second World War (as well as other conflicts). Blog posts have a tendency towards oversimplification, and I’m perhaps more guilty than most, but I was trying to convey a sense of the (unusual) position that English has in South African culture, which includes the gentle ribbing that South Africans of English backgrounds still get from their fellow South Africans. The layers of conflict in South Africa’s past are of course hugely complex – the English settlers themselves even had some moments of real conflict with the British government (I’m thinking of the mid-nineteenth century and the boycotts against the government for example). One of the striking things about the position of English in South Africa, is that although English is widely-spoken, it doesn’t equate I don’t think, to it being a dominant culture, partly because it has needed to sit comfortably with its own historical legacy and a longstanding relationship with all of South Africa’s other cultures. So for me the cultural dynamism in South Africa today is explained in part by its history. I certainly hope to be an historian who pays as much attention to positive interaction in the past as much as to conflict, so I thank you for making me reflect a bit further on this!

  • The article put me right of track at the beginning by using that generalization. I am a proud South African of English decent. I think it would be safer to say I have more of an aversion to the 1/8th of Dutch blood I have. I don’t know if it’s because I grew up in an English neighbourhood in Cape Town but I don’t remember anyone having such irreverance for the English. I think your point is already proven to be off track by the amount of people that move to England or try to move there. I know you tried to explain what you meant but I’m slightly annoyed by this blog because it’s based on generalizations not facts. I think what annoys me most is that when my American friends (I’m based in the US now for a year) are looking up something I say or for a better understanding they’re going to come across this blog and it’s not accurate. My boyfriend was the one who showed me this because I told him what a monkey’s wedding was.
    -Proud English South African living in Florida

  • I understood that “assegai” was from Berber, not Afrikaans. Wrong end of the continent.

    And “eish” is usually an expression of pain, dismay or sympathy, as in:

    “My car broke down and the people at the garage said it needs a new engine.”

    The opposite, indicating approval, agreement, or congratulation on something good, is “Sharp sharp”.

    And sometimes South Africans get verbose. Where Bits say “Thursday week”, many South Africans say “Thursdday next of next week”.