Dictionary of South African English

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Featured Quotation

1887 S.W. Silver & Co.’s Handbook to South Africa. 140 There are some fruits which have not as yet got names from any of the languages of Europe. One of these is the Kukamakranka; it is the Gethillis spirilis.

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World Englishes Spotlight

Did you know that in South African English a fibre-tipped colouring pen is called a koki, while elsewhere in the world it is referred to as a felt-tip (British English), a texta (Australian English), a sketch pen (Indian English) or a sharpie (American English)?

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Origin Focus

The influence of Indian languages, which have been used in South Africa since the 17th century as a consequence of the Dutch slave trade, can be traced to a number of typical South African English words such as dhunia, naartjie and bunny chow. To find more words borrowed from Indian languages use the Browse Related Words links at each entry.

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Celebrating IYIL2019

The United Nations has declared 2019 The International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL2019) in order to raise awareness of the over 4000 indigenous languages spoken worldwide, many of which are in danger of becoming extinct.

South Africa has numerous indigenous languages in use and 11 official languages recognised in its Constitution, each featured as Language of the Month throughout 2019.

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Local Events

As part of the International Year of Indigenous Languages, the South African Centre for Digital Language Resources (SADiLaR) is organising events and workshops dedicated to South Africa’s official languages throughout the year.

Read more about the events taking place at various universities in South Africa highlighting our indigenous languages and the development of language resources for them.

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IsiNdebele is a Nguni language with over a million mother-tongue speakers in South Africa (Census 2011), concentrated in the northeastern region of the country. South African English words borrowed from isiNdebele include mobola plum (also known as the hissing tree), and toyi-toyi, the iconic militaristic dance step used in protest action from the late 20th century onwards.

Read more about these and other South African English words derived from isiNdebele.