for unknown reasons, i’ve always been hyper-cognizant of language as well as rather interested in its assorted usages. here’s a handful of thoughts on speech that have come to me over the course of my stay here.
while most of the people i’ve come into contact with here speak english at least conversationally, many are fluent in at least one of south africa’s other 10 official languages (the official languages are: afrikaans, english, ndebele, northern sotho, sotho, swati, tsonga, tswana, venda, xhosa, and zulu--those are the english names for all of them, by the way.)—xhosa and afrikaans are the two most common languages other than english where i am, in the western cape. this creates a wide variety of south african accents, from the high society british-sounding accent of the well-educated middle and upper classes, raised speaking only english, to the dutch influenced afrikaans accent, to the heavy native language accents that give me the most trouble. around the office, many of the women usually speak in xhosa when chatting with each other about work or personal matters, which leaves me clueless as to what they’re speaking about, save the occasional appropriated english word. i’d like to learn some xhosa while i’m here, but my clumsy american tongue has had a great deal of difficulty with the different clicks used for the letters x, c, and q… indeed, i can barely pronounce the name of the language.
the above mention of the prevalence of english should not fool you into thinking that i am always readily understood—american accents cause a bit of trouble around here, it seems, no matter whom i’m speaking with. one misinterpretation is the construal of my pronunciation of the word “latte” as “water.” this seems to keep cropping up, due to: a) the ready availability of espresso nearly anywhere (though, rarely “for take-away,” which has been a huge adjustment for me, given my high reliance upon coffee-on-the-go) and b) my great fondness for coffee (well, i say fondness, concerned family members say addiction… but an addiction isn’t a problem so long as i can get my fix, right?). a glass of water has shown up at my table instead of a latte six or seven times now… upon consultation with my south african friends, apparently i say the a all wrong, and the fact that r’s disappear from the endings of words all the time here only adds to the confusion.
my own r’s have been disappearing as well—i’ve always been one to absorb speech rather quickly. several summers back, i spent two weeks in the constant company of a crew of southerners, and have at this point given up on trying to get rid of the “y’all” that I picked up then. here, i’ve thus far picked up one of the mainstay sign-off’s, “cheers” (minus an r, of course), as well as its introductory counterpart, “howzit?”, use “as well” way too frequently (always with a strong emphasis on the “as,” unlike in the states,), and speaking of the states, refer to them as that, or “US” with an emphasis on the U. i’ve also started using the word “hectic” far too frequently, thanks to paymon, a fellow american who has absorbed south african slang to an even greater extent than i have.
i’ll end this with one of the more amusing speech differences between the states and here—they refer to stoplights as “robots.” i’ve readily replaced “stoplight” with “robot” in my own speech, but after a month and a half, i still grin at the warning signs that say “robot ahead.” one of the dance clubs around here, fiction, has a fantastic electronica night called “killer robot,” and visualising the local meaning of the phrase is still a great source of amusement after a couple of drinks. and in jozi (jo’burg,
something tells me that if i try that when I get back to the south side of