Say again? The other side of South African English

Say again? The other side of South African English

Malcolm Venter & Jean Branford
Published by Pharos

Besides recognisable characteristics of South African English, such as ‘Vrystaat’, ‘ou boet’ / ‘ou swaer’, ‘eksê’ or ‘nogal’, speakers of South African English give clear indications – even if their accent is not marked – of their being South African. Many of our South African English structures have unexpected meanings or usages which are not found in General English. South Africans are also, like their counterparts elsewhere, linguistically creative, and have coined many new English words and phrases. You may readily recognise some of these items, but there will be others which you will be surprised to learn are unique to South Africa. It is this, as much as our accent and the borrowings, which makes South African English quite as distinctive as any other World English.

Would you, for instance, recognise South African English if you came across debates about labour brokers or transformation; or if you heard of someone who was making eggs, ordering monkey gland sauce, having a cadenza, busy dying or taking their pavement special to the vet? Would you identify a fellow South African if you were told that she still told you about something, or that someone is a real Model C, or that the teachers are threatening a chalkdown? And what about the children playing doctor-doctor – are they South African?

Maybe you have been surprised when you came across an overseas visitor who was waiting impatiently because someone had promised to meet her just nowbut had not yet arrived ten minutes later. Maybe you confused the visitor further by replying, ‘No, I’m fine’ when she inquired after your health.

And what about the person who says she is having a boyfriend in Jo’burg, or threw the cat with a stone, or forgot her jersey at the restaurant or enjoys hot-hot chips? Or perhaps he tells someone that a situation is very, very dire and that he therefore needs an advice? These may sound strange – or even incorrect – to some, but it is still English, just a different type of English: South African English.

All of these are examples of the unique English elements of the English that has been made in South Africa. And this book aims to regale you with many examples of South African English. An understanding of these items can be useful and enlightening to South Africans themselves in our linguistically rainbowed nation, as well as to strangers in our midst, who may well wonder what on earth we are talking about.

Written in an accessible style, each chapter features words and phrases from different aspects of life – some serious and some not so serious – with actual examples of usage from written and spoken sources. All this is interspersed with pictures and illustrations that liven up the text.

‘I found the text well informed, informative, astute and wonderfully entertaining – surely a good recipe for a “popular” publication! It may have an additional appeal as a reference work as well as being a discerning and shrewd reflection on current SAE usage. It has an appealingly brisk pace as well as being visually attractive. The inclusion of “real” newspaper cuttings, reports, advertisements, op-eds, Wikipedia entries etc. makes for a very grounded discussion – often usefully suggesting the sheer variety of possible usages of a term.’ – Reviewer

The book is available at local booksellers or can be purchased online at:

ABOUT THE AUTHORS Malcolm Venter holds a PhD in Linguistics from Rhodes University. His dissertation focused on the semantic and morphological aspects of terminological incompetence in SA high schools. He was an English teacher and high school principal from 1971 to 2007, and a part-time lecturer at the US in 2010. He is the co-author of a number of English language textbooks and compiler and co-compiler of several school literary anthologies. He is the founding editor of Teaching English Today, an online magazine for English teachers and former editor of Naptosa Insight, a print publication of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa. He is the founder of the National English Olympiad, of which he was the National Coordinator for 25 years. He is currently the National Chair of the SA Council for English Education and a member of the National Executive of the English Academy of Southern Africa. In 2002, he was the recipient of the Gold Medal Award – the highest award of the English Academy – for his distinguished services to English in South Africa. He has a particular interest in South African English, and has addressed numerous audiences on this over the years.

Malcolm lives in the Western Cape with his wife Morag.
Jean Branford holds a PhD in dialect lexicography (with particular reference to South African English) from Rhodes University. She was a lecturer in Phonetics at her alma mater from 1964 to 1988. During this time, she joined the South African English Dictionary Unit for South African English at Rhodes as a researcher and compiler. Here she compiled A Dictionary of South African English and was also the Associate Editor of A Dictionary of South African English on Historical Principles. This Editorial Committee was the recipient of the English Academy’s Gold Medal Award, its highest reward, in 1997. She is the author of numerous papers, some poetry, and verse translations in both English and Afrikaans.

Jean lives in the Western Cape. She has two children and five grandchildren.