Monday, 17 September 2007

South African English

I was reading a post about English as spoken in Singapore, and posted a comment, only to have the “cannot find” message. Connection was broken somewhere. That often happens when I want to post a comment, and it pisses me off. Anyhow, the essence of the matter is that English as spoken in Singapore is not “proper” English etc. Big debate as to the why.
I am not really sure how many “official” languages we have in South Africa, I think it is 11 (Eleven), and they are different, not dialects. Totally different languages.
English is however the language of communication. Business and Government use English as the common denominator.
Over the past number of years it has really irked me to hear English degenerating to a level where it no longer bears any likeness to the English we were taught at school, or as spoken by our parents. Especially on the ANC controlled State TV. Having said that it is not an easy task for the SABC to employ TV and radio announcers who have English as a first language. (The good ones are snapped up by International broadcasters)
My children speak American English. The reason for this is simple. During the sanction years Great Britain (Equity) had an embargo, sanction, whatever, on any TV program, film or play to South Africa. We could get CNN for example but not SKY or BBC. American programs were freely available and this is what helped “form” English pronunciation and grammar with the kids. Mixed with South African English, it has changed to an American/ South African dialect.
Kids talk about “flashlight”, I call it a “torch” etc. I still “zed” and not “zee”. Ad infinitum.
I can remember addressing an international conference, 500 delegates, at Seattle a few years ago. Prior to the big day we (speakers) had to do a small presentation to the translators for feedback. The Russian, Spanish, German and French guys had no problem with my way of speaking. Strangely enough it was an American guy who said I spoke “funny” and must speak more slowly. (Which I did to the best of my ability).
A Lufthansa Air Hostess told me I sounded like a German speaking English. (This after she insisted in addressing me in German after I had told her I could understand a little but not speak)
I digress, focus…..
Anyhow, I have come to terms with the English “as she is spoken” in South Africa. At schools the new way of teaching languages is that as long as you are understood, that’s fine. Grammar and spelling are not important. (Serious!!!). You can complete 12 years of schooling without grasping the basics.
South African English has become a dialect of English, that English-speaking people can understand. And, like Climate Change, that is a way of life.
I shudder to call it evolution.
“English is dead, long live English”

1 comment:

Moonshadow said...

I enjoyed your rant about "English". Here in America English suffers the same problem I imagine it does the world over. Languages that are in use do evolve. I cringe when I hear words misused, but what can one do about it?