Of all the accents in the world, this one has my heart–the language of my people. South Africans. As we\’ve seen, every country has become a great melting pot in its own right. So what makes my homeland so different? Why is it that people all over the world can’t seem to get our accent and manner right? For some reason the movies (unless there’s a South African actor) just never get our accent right. Why is this? Why is it so hard? For one thing our accent is very flat, some language trainer even called it lazy. We are very similar to the British in our nonrhotic manner. This just means that we pronounce our “r” sound before a vowel, very similar to the British. (We’ll talk about why that is later). I find it easier to take on our accent if you can speak a little Afrikaans. Run this phrase through Google translate and let it pronounce it for you, “Wors is wors.” It’s a phrase my old school teacher used to use. It’s an Afrikaans phrase meaning, “That’s just how it is.” In case you’re wondering why I’m saying that it is easier to take on our accent if you know Afrikaans, it is because of all the 11 official languages in South Africa, the Dutch and British languages had the biggest influence.
When you try to take on a language you don\’t know or an accent you don’t know, the rules are very similar. Immerse yourself in their culture, learn their mannerisms and, most importantly, listen. What am I getting at? Before you try to mimic our accent, listen. I learnt Afrikaans by having Afrikaans friends and, yes, I was raised in South Africa, but my Afrikaans was horrid. If you want some tips on learning how to speak with our accent, remember to listen and learn. I know it seems as though I’m repeating myself, but that is really important.
Letters like “r”, in a nonrhotic manner are pronounced immediately before a vowel, (I know I mentioned this above already), but also in our accent you need to think about an “h” before your “r” sound. In other words, the “r” is pronounced as a neutral vowel. At the end of the word our “t” sound is spat out. Sometimes the “a” sound is pronounced “eh” such as in “m-eh-n” as opposed to “m-a-n”. Here we can see the Dutch influence through our Afrikaans language. Although our accent may have a British tinge to it, it doesn’t mean British slang is similar to our slang or accent. All this is coloured by the 11 official languages and others, not yet, recognized languages.
So now let\’s talk about our slang. I’ve explained our language and how and why we say certain things the way we do. Most of our slang needs to be taken into context. Slang such as “ugh shame” can mean anything from “how cute” to “I feel bad for you”. In most nations it is used in a negative light, not in South Africa. When we say, “Yoh! Yoh! Yoh!” It’s an African phrase that the English and Afrikaans have taken as slang for “My goodness!” or “Wow!”. Other words such as “Eina!” (Khoi-san for ‘ouch!’), “veldt” (Afrikaans for ‘open field’ or ‘prairie’) are very good examples. Our 11 officially recognized languages have a massive impact on our language, by integrating themselves into our dialect especially in areas like Cape Town and Johannesburg where you can plainly see the impact these 11 official languages have on our South African slang and accent. Unfortunately, not all these languages are recognized as official but maybe someday they will be and there’ll be more of them impacting our children in schools as they grow up with greater exposure to them, thus further colouring our culture and speech.
Remember when I said I’d talk about why we have the same nonrhotic manner as the British? In the year 1822, the English language became an official language. Although…another language had already made its way to the shores of what would later become South Africa, specifically the Cape–the Dutch (now the Afrikaans language). They had settled a colony and lived there since the year 1652, making them the first foreign nation to have made their home in Africa. This all due to the Dutch East Indian Company which had reached its shores in the same year. However the British settlers’ desire to make English the dominant language soon became evident by the introducing of British schoolmasters and Scottish clergymen for the influence of schools and churches. In the 1840s and 1850s more British settlers arrived accompanied by the men and women who would soon settle the area known as Natal. Most of these settlers were either aristocrats or retired military personnel. These people were mostly standard speakers of the English language. Although before the introduction of the ANC in 1994, the two main spoken languages were English and Afrikaans.
Our accent and language have many languages influencing it. This you can see when you hear an Afrikaans or English speaking person mix in one of the African languages and in the same breath throw in some Afrikaans and English in one fluid sentence. We are a diverse nation and no matter where you go, a new and exciting version of English emerges.