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South African English

South African English is the dialect of English spoken in South Africa and surrounding countries, notably Namibia and Zimbabwe.

South African English is not unified in its pronunciation: this can be attributed to the fact that English is the mother tongue[?] for only 40% of the Caucasian (white) inhabitants (the remainder having Afrikaans as their mother tongue) and only a tiny minority of black inhabitants of the region. The dialect can be, however, identified by many loanwords, mostly from Afrikaans, but increasingly also from isiZulu and other African languages. Some of these words, like "trek", have seeped into general English usage.

Traditionally, South African English has been spoken by white South Africans, but a distinct Indian South African form of English has long existed, and an equally distinctive black South African English is developing very rapidly. Convergence between these sub-dialects can be observed, but is a slow process.


Those words that do not exist in British or American English are:

  • bakkie - a utility truck, pick-up truck
  • braai - a barbecue, to barbecue
  • impi - horde of warriors
  • kiff - (adj.) cool, neat, great, wonderful
  • lekker - good, well, OK
  • shebeen - an illegal tavern, usually frequented by black patrons
  • sommer - for no particular reason, just because
  • trek - to move, to wander
  • tsotsi - thug, criminal, bandit
  • yebo - yes

There are also a few unique constructions in South African English, where common English words take on new meanings:

  • boney - motorcycle (from the Triumph Bonneville[?])
  • goose - girl, young woman, girlfriend
  • howzit - hello, how are you, good morning
  • just now - A short time from now
  • I beg yours? - I beg your pardon?, Sorry?, Please explain?
  • izzit (is it) - an all purpose exclamative, equivalent to "really?"
  • now now - later on (later than "just now")
  • robot - traffic light
  • sharp - good, well, OK
  • tackies - sneakers, plimsolls, sports shoes; also car tyres.
  • shame! - interjection; used when speaker believes something is exceptionally cute

  • Comma is not a word that replaces "period." But in numbers, it physically replaces period.

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