05 / English: LANGUAGE and CULTURES

Although English is the main language in South Africa the other ten languages - Afrikaans, isi Zulu, isi Xhosa, Sepedi, Setswana, Sesotho, Xitsonga, siswati, Tshivenda, isi Ndebele – all add many shades of interest to the whole that makes up the lives of the country’s citizens. So much so that often when one is speaking in English one is also incorporating words from the other local languages to express a clearer meaning. English has never been shy to appropriate words to enhance speech.

For example:
Listen carefully and you will hear the word AG which expresses irritation or resignation. The Afrikaans “gee ag!” means “pay attention”! A neighbour may say that his friend has a hangover when he states that the friend has a babbelas/babelaas. This is suggestive of the possible incoherence of the individual who has had too much liquor to drink. The origin is from isi Zulu.

A suitable pick up truck is required, then a Bakkie (Afrikaans) is just the vehicle to buy. In past years, the word bioscope was heard when a visit was made to the cinema or movie house. It was an English word formerly heard in other parts of the world but now, locally, fading away. Visitors from other countries might be confused when reference is made to traffic lights as robots or calling an elevator a lift!

Fond parents may call their child a real fundi (from the Nguni language, which is a subfamily of Zulu, Xhosa, Swazi, Ndebele) meaning an expert/leader/teacher. South African tend to refer to the veld (Afrikaans) when alluding to bush or grass land. Need new sneakers the shop down the road sells attractive tekkies (Afrikaans). Going on a road journey be sure to take along pad kos (Afrikaans), food for the road.

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