Aspects of the English language in South Africa - focusing on language identity and language varieties

Term Paper, 2006

13 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of contents

1 Introduction

2 English in South Africa
2.1 Historical background
2.2 The English language in South Africa

3 The South African community
3.1 Ethnical structure and language
3.2 A multilingual society
3.3 English: A “Killer Language” in a multilingual context?

4 Conclusion

5 References

1 Introduction

Due to the spread of English to so many parts of the world which was triggered during the colonial era and by migration of English-speaking people, the importance of English not only as a language of commerce, science and technology but also as an international language of communication has been realized (Platt, Weber, Ho 1984: 1). In my research paper I will provide an overview of the English language in South Africa by looking at its origins concerning the historical background. Furthermore, I am going to focus on the English language in South Africa in more detail in order to point out the influence of the immigrants’ speech from England and Scotland on some phonetic features of South African English. In the following, I will by referring to the South African community, and concerning its ethnic structure and language, concentrate on the multilingual status of the South African society and its consequences. Eventually, I am going to discuss whether the spread of English can be seen as an evidence of a “killer language” which has been used as a tool for subtle linguistic imperialism, occurring at the expense of local languages, stabilizing hierarchical structures and reinforcing existing status differentials (de Klerk 1996: 7-8).

So, the main purpose of my paper is to show that the English language in South Africa before, during and after apartheid policy is one of the official languages since there is more than one local language in a multilingual nation. Therefore, the spread of English in South Africa runs the risk of promoting social injustice, as well as native language loss. While English in South Africa is seen by many “as a medium of achieving and announcing independence and maturity, for many others English represent colonialism, power and elitism, and acts as a vehicle of values not always in harmony with local traditions and beliefs” (de Klerk 1996: 7). As another aim of my paper, I will take account of these contradictory attitudes towards the English language in South Africa.

2 English in South Africa

In this chapter, I will focus on the historical and social background of the English language in South Africa in regard to different language varieties. In the following, based on Roger Lass’s article “South African English”, I will, as I mentioned before, refer to the historical background of the English language in South Africa and so discuss the aspect of different language varieties that were influenced by the English language. Then, concerning L.W. Lanham’s The Standard in South African English and its Social History, I will point out in which way the English language developed there. By referring to the historical background in more detail, I will eventually focus on Josef Schmied’s English in Africa, thus stressing the strategic importance of South Africa for the British. Last, I am going to compare the English-speaking people to the Dutch-speaking group, while discussing their differences that arose during the historical development of the English language in South Africa based on Klaus Hansen’s, Uwe Carls’ and Peter Lucko’s Die Differenzierung des Englischen in nationale Varianten. In addition, I will also refer to L.W. Lanham’s A History of English in South Africa and William Branford’s English in South African Society published in Focus on South Africa by Vivian de Klerk.

2.1 Historical background

In this paragraph, I would like to begin with an historical overview of how English came to be established in South Africa with reference to its roots. In his article “South African English”, Roger Lass points out that in 1652 the Dutch East India Company settlers brought Dutch as the first Germanic language spoken to South Africa (Lass in Mesthrie 1995: 92). Later on a Dutch speech pattern was maintained which has remained widely spoken “in its subsequent guise of Afrikaans” (92). Besides the Dutch arrival at the Cape in 1652, a second Germanic language namely English was brought to South Africa by the British military forces. This second Germanic invasion happened because of the Cape’s strategic importance for controlling the Cape sea-route to India. Therefore, the British occupied the Dutch colony at the Cape in 1795/96 and after returning it to Holland in 1802, the Cape became British again (by legal treaties) in 1815/16. The reason why the British took over the Dutch colony at the Cape was not only the Cape’s strategic value, as I mentioned before, but also its position.

Since South Africa was used as a “stepping stone” its position was ideal for trading with India by a short sea-route (Schmied 1991: 9). Now, in order to secure South Africa’s strategic “stepping stone” position for trading with India, the British forces had to take over the Cape in 1795/96 and with the ‘1820 Settlers’ the first organized settlements in the Cape took place (Lanham 1979: 9). The purpose of this first organized settlement of the 1820 Settlers was to firmly establish English as a language in the Dutch-speaking colony at the Cape which the British had taken over. In order to succeed in setting up the English language and so anglicizing the Dutch-speaking colony, called Afrikaner community, the proclamation of 1822 by Lord Charles Somerset, who was the governor of the Cape, came to introduce English as the only official language of the colony. But the proclamation of 1822 did not fully succeed in anglicizing the Dutch community because the English-speaking inhabitants were numerically smaller in comparison to the Dutch citizens. Therefore, during the Great Trek in 1836, the English people tried to maintain English as an official language by recruiting schoolmasters from Britain and Scottish clergymen for the rural schools of the Cape and the Dutch Reformed Church of the colony (Lass in Mesthrie 1995: 92). As a consequence, the English language was disseminated as a second language in the Dutch community and was spoken in “public life of the Cape including law, education and entertainment” (Lanham 1979: 10). In contrast to this, the Dutch language resisted in rural areas such as farms and in religious as well as domestic life. Since that time the English and the Dutch language co-existed in the Cape colony. Because of this bilingual co-existence “a Dutch speech pattern was maintained often in the presence of virtual mother-tongue control of English” out of which Afrikaans evolved (10). So, Afrikaans being a language consisting of Dutch and English speech patterns that developed after the Great Trek in 1836. Now, after having secured its navel superiority, the British immigrants firmly established English as a language in South Africa with rural and small town settlements until the 1870’s. Furthermore, legal treaties had been signed in 1895/96 and so “the British settled in sizeable numbers” apart from the British military forces and government personnel (Schmied 1991: 9). From this time of immigration on, the British presence in South Africa ceased to exist in 1961 with the Republic of South Africa becoming independent. This independence was declared by the Boers which was the ruling Nationalist Party with its members of Dutch descent. The Boers being settlers in South Africa known to the British descendants as the Dutch, the Boer or the Afrikaner, which are “successive phases in name and in attitude” for their fellow white settlers (Lanham 1979: 9).


Excerpt out of 13 pages


Aspects of the English language in South Africa - focusing on language identity and language varieties
University of Duisburg-Essen
English in Africa
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ISBN (Book)
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The essay refelcts on the historical background of the English language in South Africa in regard to its roots and its conseuquences for the South African native people and their languages. Further, the essay focuses on examples of some lingustic differences by comparing South African English to Afrikaans or South African Indian English, etc. All in all, the essay is also concerned with contradictory attitudes towards the English language in South Africa.
Aspects, English, South, Africa, English, Africa
Quote paper
Hildegard Schnell (Author), 2006, Aspects of the English language in South Africa - focusing on language identity and language varieties, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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