Language in South Africa

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Language in South Africa

This is a comprehensive and wide-ranging guide to language and society in South Africa. As the authors demonstrate, the South African context offers a treasure trove of data and examples for linguistic and sociolinguistic study. The book surveys the most important language groupings in the region in terms of pre-colonial and colonial history; contact between the different language varieties, leading to language loss, pidginisation, creolisation and new mixed varieties; language and public policy issues associated with the transition to a post-apartheid society and its eleven official languages. It details the history of indigenous languages, the impact of European languages upon them and of transformations to the European languages themselves. Written by a team of leading researchers, all the chapters are informed by the importance of sociopolitical history in understanding questions of language. The book will be welcomed by students and researchers in language and linguistics, sociology, anthropology and social history. Rajend Mesthrie is Professor of Linguistics at the University of Cape Town. He has researched and published extensively on a range of contact phenomena in South Africa. Recent publications include English in Language Shift (1992), Introducing Sociolinguistics (with J. Swann, A. Deumert and W. Leap, 2000), and the Concise Encyclopedia of Sociolinguistics (ed., 2001).

Language in South Africa Edited by

Rajend Mesthrie University of Cape Town

          The Pitt Building, Trumpington Street, Cambridge, United Kingdom    The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 2RU, UK 40 West 20th Street, New York, NY 10011-4211, USA 477 Williamstown Road, Port Melbourne, VIC 3207, Australia Ruiz de Alarcón 13, 28014 Madrid, Spain Dock House, The Waterfront, Cape Town 8001, South Africa © Cambridge University Press 2004 First published in printed format 2002 ISBN 0-511-03146-7 eBook (Adobe Reader) ISBN 0-521-79105-7 hardback This is a thoroughly revised and updated version of Language and Social History first published in 1995 by David Philip Publishers (Pty) Ltd © Rajend Mesthrie and the authors.


List of maps List of contributors Acknowledgements List of phonetic symbols List of abbreviations Introduction

page viii ix xi xiii xv 1

Part I The main language groupings 1 South Africa: a sociolinguistic overview r. mesthrie


2 The Khoesan Languages a. traill


3 The Bantu languages: sociohistorical perspectives robert k. herbert and richard bailey


4 Afrikaans: considering origins paul t. roberge


5 South African English roger lass


6 South African Sign Language: one language or many? debra aarons and philemon akach


7 German speakers in South Africa elizabeth de kadt


8 Language change, survival, decline: Indian languages in South Africa r. mesthrie





Part II Language contact (A) Pidginisation, borrowing, switching and intercultural contact 9 Fanakalo: a pidgin in South Africa ralph adendorff 10 Mutual lexical borrowings among some languages of southern Africa: Xhosa, Afrikaans and English william branford and j. s. claughton



11 Code-switching, mixing and convergence in Cape Town k. m c cormick


12 Code-switching in South African townships s. slabbert and r. finlayson


13 Intercultural miscommunication in South Africa j. keith chick


(B) Gender, language change and shift 14 Women’s language of respect: isihlonipho sabafazi r. finlayson


15 The sociohistory of clicks in Southern Bantu robert k. herbert


16 The political economy of language shift: language and gendered ethnicity in a Thonga community robert k. herbert


(C) New varieties of English 17 From second language to first language: Indian South African English r. mesthrie 18 Black South African English vivian de klerk and david gough

339 356

(D) New urban codes 19 The lexicon and sociolinguistic codes of the working-class Afrikaans-speaking Cape Peninsula coloured community gerald l. stone 20 An Introduction to Flaaitaal (or Tsotsitaal) k. d. p. makhudu

381 398


21 Language and language practices in Soweto dumisani krushchev ntshangase



Part III Language planning, policy and education 22 Language planning and language policy: past, present and future t. g. reagan 23 Language issues in South African education: an overview sarah murray

419 434

24 Recovering multilingualism: recent language-policy developments kathleen heugh





1.1 1.2 1.3 2.1 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 7.1 8.1 8.2 15.1 15.2 16.1 16.2 16.3a 16.3b 16.4 20.1


Political map of South Africa of the late nineteenth century Provinces of South Africa 1910 –94 The provinces of present-day South Africa South Africa c.1960, showing places cited in chapter 2 Present-day range of Bantu languages Guthrie’s language ‘zones’ (1967–71) Distribution of African linguistic phyla Guthrie’s Eastern–Western Bantu division Sotho-Tswana and Nguni migrations South Africa, showing places cited in chapter 7 The languages and dialects of India Areas of origin of North Indian immigrants to Natal, and principal dialects Present distribution of Southern Bantu languages Map of Southern Africa showing the estimated admixture of Khoisan peoples by frequency of Gm Distribution of Tsonga-speaking peoples in South Africa Distribution of African languages, Ingwavuma district highlighted Domain of the Thonga language Domain of the Thonga language Fieldwork sites in the eastern Ingwavuma district Townships in the PWV (now Gauteng) area during the era of apartheid

19 20 21 28 51 52 53 58 64 149 162 167 298 304 317 318 322 323 327 400


Debra Aarons Department of General Linguistics University of Stellenbosch

Vivian de Klerk Department of Linguistics Rhodes University

Ralph Adendorff Department of Linguistics University of Natal, Durban

Rosalie Finlayson Department of African Languages University of South Africa

Philemon Akach Unit for Language Facilitation and Empowerment University of the Free State

David Gough School of Languages Christchurch Polytechnic

Richard Bailey Department of Speech Therapy University of Durban-Westville

Robert K. Herbert Department of Anthropology State University of New York

William Branford c/o Department of Linguistics University of Cape Town

Kathleen Heugh Project for Alternative Education in South Africa University of Cape Town

J. Keith Chick Department of Linguistics University of Natal, Durban

Roger Lass Department of Linguistics University of Cape Town

John S. Claughton Department of African Languages Rhodes University

Khekheti D. Makhudu SABC Group Communications

Elizabeth de Kadt Department of Europe Studies University of Natal, Durban

Kay McCormick Department of Linguistics University of Cape Town ix


List of contributors

Rajend Mesthrie Department of Linguistics and Southern African Languages University of Cape Town Sarah Murray Department of Education Rhodes University Dumisani K. Ntshangase Centre for University Learning and Teaching University of the Witwatersrand T. G. Reagan School of Education University of Connecticut

Paul T. Roberge Department of Germanic Studies University of North Carolina Sarah Slabbert Honorary Research Associate Modern Languages University of the Witwatersrand Gerald L. Stone independent researcher Anthony T. Traill Department of Linguistics University of the Witwatersrand


Thanks are due to the following: The University of Cape Town Research Committee for a grant which covered the main running expenses of the project. David Philip Publishers (Cape Town), who brought out an earlier South African version of this text; Russell Martin of David Philip Publishers for his part in the gigantic task of copy-editing and helping to turn the original South African edition of this text into a palatable one. Linda Haynes of the University of Cape Town, for help with preparing the final version of the manuscript; Sarah Johnson, Ginny Kerfoot and Rowan Mentis for being ‘Person Fridays’ most days of the week. James Mills-Wright for the drawing of maps. Pippa Skotness and the African Studies Library, University of Cape Town for advice and assistance in choosing a cover image. The Cartography Unit of Rhodes University for supplying the map of South Africa, c. 1880. We gratefully acknowledge our indebtedness to the following copyright holders: Anthropological Linguistics for permission to reprint a revised version of the article ‘The sociohistory of clicks in Southern Bantu’ (1990: 32, 3–4). Cambridge University Press for permission to reproduce the map of the language families of Africa (David Crystal (ed.), The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, 1987). Gregg Press for the sketch map of the zones of Proto Bantu (M. Guthrie, Comparative Bantu, 1967). Jeff Siegel and Cambridge University Press for permission to produce a modified version of the map of the languages of north-east India (from Jeff Siegel, xi



Language Contact in a Plantation Environment: A Sociolinguistic History of Fiji, 1987). Philip Stickler and the Human Rights Commission for permission to reproduce the map of the Gauteng area (The Two South Africas – A People’s Geography, 1992). Witwatersrand University Press for permission to produce a revised version of the article ‘The changing nature of isihlonipho sabafazi’ (African Studies, 1984: 43, 2: 137–46).

Phonetic symbols

1 Vowels The vowel chart with IPA (International Phonetic Association) symbols:

2 Consonants / // =| ! ’ ʔ x x kx c c q ŋ ʃ   

dental click lateral click palatal click alveolar click (palato-alveolar/(pre-)palatal in Nguni) glottal stop (Khoesan) glottal stop (English) voiceless velar fricative (Khoesan) lateral click (Bantu; spelling form) voiceless velar affricate palatal stop (Khoesan) dental click (Bantu; spelling form) palatal click (Bantu; spelling form) velar nasal voiceless alveopalatal fricative voiced alveopalatal fricative voiceless alveopalatal affricate voiced alveopalatal affricate xiii


ɹ  j θ ð

List of phonetic symbols

postalveolar approximant voiced glottal fricative voiced palatal fricative voiceless dental fricative voiced dental fricative (Because of the different traditions of scholarship some variation is unavoidable.)

3 Diacritics

 :  , . ∼ ´ `  

centralised vowel (e.g. ¨i) long vowel (spelling form e.g. u¯ ) long vowel (e.g. u:) nasalised vowel (e.g. u˜ ) close vowel (e.g. u¸ ) retroflex consonant (spelling form, e.g. t.) voiceless segment (e.g. w ) velarised consonant (e.g. ) high tone (e.g. u´ ) low tone (e.g. u` ) rising tone (e.g. uˇ ) falling tone (e.g. uˆ )

4 Non-phonetic symbols ∗ → < > < > / / [ ] ()

proto form is rewritten as is derived from becomes spelling form phonemic form phonetic form optional element



feature of standard Afrikaans adjective adverbial Afrikaans English Afrikaans African National Congress African People’s Organisation advanced tongue root Australian English Azanian People’s Organisation black South African English consonant causative Centre for Education Policy Development class code-mixing complementiser code-switching Cape Town Oral History Project Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology dative Deaf Association of South Africa demonstrative Department of Education and Training Dutch Reformed Church embedded language feature of other L2 varieties of English English language teaching English English second language extraterritorial extraterritorial Englishes xv


List of abbreviations


Flaaitaal future tense final vowel Growth, Employment and Redistribution Verklarende handwoordeboek van die Afrikaanse taal High German Human Sciences Research Council imperative infinitive inflectional phrase Indian South African English KwaZulu-Natal Education Department low tone first language second language Language Plan Task Group literally locative language of wider communication manually coded English matrix language matrix language frame modifier medium of instruction noun Northern Nguni Natal Education Department National Education Policy Investigation non-governmental organisation National Language Project noun phrase/National Party Northern Sotho non-standard Afrikaans non-standard English New Zealand English Overseas Development Administration Old English feature of other L1 varieties of English Old Norse Pan Africanist Congress Pan-South African Language Board

List of abbreviations


passive Proto-Bantu plural Proto-Niger-Kordofanian Project for Alternative Education in South Africa present tense pre-prefix Proto-Southern Bantu Proto-South-eastern Bantu Pretoria–Witwatersrand–Vereeniging Reconstruction and Development Programme relative rights and obligations received pronunciation sentence South African Bhojpuri South African English South African German Southern Bantu Southern British English standard English South-eastern Bantu singular Southern Sotho Swati Tswana University of South Africa United States Agency for International Development vowel verb intransitive verb verbal noun transitive verb (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie/Dutch East India Company) verb phrase white South African English Xhosa Zulu Zulu English



This volume is the fifth in a group of books which aims to present a detailed overview of the languages and language-related issues in specific territories. The previous volumes, on the USA, the British Isles, Australia and Canada, have successfully attained these aims, and have served as well-referenced introductions to those areas for students trained in linguistics as well as for general readers. It is hoped that, despite the complexities of South African history and language politics, the present volume will prove as useful a reference. It is my brief in this introduction to make comparisons with previous volumes in the series, and to outline the issues that make language a concern of the wider public in South Africa. 1 COMPARISONS WITH THE USA, BRITAIN, AUSTRALIA AND CANADA

English has been dominant in South Africa for two centuries and, with its rival Afrikaans, it has changed the linguistic ecology of southern Africa irrevocably. However, the differences between the position of English in South Africa and, say, Australia are quite significant. English is not numerically dominant in South Africa, and functional multilingualism is more common here than in the other territories represented in this series thus far. Many of the indigenous languages have continued to thrive as first languages, with large numbers of mother-tongue speakers and many second-language speakers. Nine of the indigenous languages have attained official status in addition to Afrikaans and English: Ndebele, North Sotho, South Sotho, Swati, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu. In this regard the fate of South Africa’s local languages may seem very different from the destruction and marginalisation of languages like Huron in Canada, Yahi in the USA and Dyirbal in Australia. Yet South Africa has seen language genocide too: the fate of the Khoesan languages, once widespread in the country, has been even worse than that of the native languages of Australia, the USA and Canada. Some further differences between South Africa and the other territories surveyed in the series are as follows: 1



r Although the number of speakers of English as an additional language con-

tinues to grow, when speakers give up their language under pressure from another language, it is not always towards English that the shifts occur. For example, in some urban areas Tsonga and Venda speakers shift to the dominant African language of the area, like Sotho. Chapter 15 by R. K. Herbert details an ongoing shift from Tsonga to Zulu in some parts of the country. r Dell Hymes’ lament (1981: vi) in his foreword to the American volume in this series that there was not a single chair in the United States devoted to the study of native American languages does not hold true in South Africa, where departments of African languages are relatively large and numerous. (However, many departments of African languages currently face a large decline in enrolment.) Hymes’ remark does resonate for Khoesan languages, which are not taught as subjects at South African universities. The number of linguists acquainted with Khoesan structure is accordingly minuscule. r There is greater pressure on other groups of people in South Africa to learn an indigenous language than is the case in the UK, the USA, Canada or Australia. Speakers of English and Afrikaans in rural areas often do learn an African language ‘naturally’ from childhood, in some cases even before they learn English or Afrikaans. Gough (1996) records the positive associations that speaking Xhosa has for a white eastern Cape farming community, whose vernacular English, especially among males, is peppered with Xhosa words, phrases and ideophones. However, Kaschula (1989) believes that generally the farming register of whites in the eastern Cape is a limited one that precludes serious bonding with Xhosa employees. r Some newspapers in African languages are quite successful in having a large circulation, e.g. the Xhosa newspaper Imvo and the Zulu newspaper Ilanga. Overall, though, the rate of functional literacy in South Africa is not high. Harley et al. (1996) put the number of adults who have not completed primary education at 7.45 million. Equating illiteracy with this level of seven years of formal schooling, and with the total adult population estimated to be 26 million, this constitutes an adult illiteracy rate of 29 per cent.1 2 THE FORMAT OF THIS BOOK

Deciding on a format for this book has not been straightforward. Indeed, looking through the previous four volumes in this series, it is clear that there is no overarching formula that will present the complexities of language distribution, description and function in the territories concerned. Ferguson and Heath settled upon a simple formula for their USA collection: ‘American English; Languages before English; Languages after English, Language in use’. Such a formula would be highly controversial in the South African context, since it would impose a misleading Anglocentric view of the country. Trudgill’s volume



on the British Isles has as its major partitions ‘English; Celtic languages; Other languages; and The Sociolinguistic Situation’. The volume on Canada begins with a collection of chapters dealing with the most important current language and language-related matters in a thematic way and then switches focus to its ten provinces and two northern territories. This seems to work well in giving an overview of language in the Canadian context. For South Africa it is doubtful that this success can be repeated, since – with few exceptions – regional descriptions of language in the nine provinces have yet to be done systematically. The nine provinces themselves are only a few years old; and as maps 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3 show, the provincial boundaries of South Africa in the three periods – the nineteenth century, the apartheid period and the post-apartheid era – differ quite drastically. The format of the present volume comes closest to the Australian volume which has the following headings: ‘Aboriginal and Islander languages; Pidgins and creoles; Transplanted languages other than English; Varieties of Australian English; Public policy and social issues’. The division of this volume is partly historical and partly thematic. Part 1 comprises eight chapters on the main language groupings in the country: Khoesan, Bantu, Afrikaans, English, Sign Language, German (as a representative of European languages, other than the two official ones) and Indian languages (as representing some of the changes undergone by multilingual Asian communities that came to South Africa). Part 1 thus may be considered the foundations of the modern South African language mosaic, though it cannot claim to be exhaustive. Part 2 covers the theme of language contact in thirteen chapters. The focus falls on the following: (a) borrowing, mixing and switching between languages as well as on intercultural communication norms and misconceptions; (b) language change and shifts from one language to another in some communities, with particular reference to the role of gender; (c) a closer study of the characteristics of two new varieties of English, which owe their distinctiveness in no small measure to the particularities of colonial and apartheid policies; (d) the rise of new township codes, based on Afrikaans and/or the Bantu languages of the country. Part 3 deals with language planning, policy and education, with a special eye on recent developments. In the early and mid-1990s planning and policy were the key areas that occupied the attentions of sociolinguists. Part 3 is thus a fitting way of rounding off this book by testing the heat generated at the linguistic fireplace. It deals further with the rationale for the most multilingual state policy in the world; the problems and obstacles associated with the policy; and the vision required to put the policy into effective practice.




Terminology pertaining to languages and social groups in South Africa – as in some other countries – can be a minefield. In this respect language use clearly reflects and replicates struggles over various kinds of political inequality, chiefly involving gender, class and ethnicity. Readers in South Africa have become accustomed to quotation marks, variant spellings and epithets like ‘so-called’, ‘officially classified’, and – now – ‘formerly classified’ in much academic writing describing specific communities. These labels reflect the desire of many academics not to ‘naturalise’ a largely arbitrary division among people, made in the interests of apartheid. There is no consensus among contributors to this volume about the appropriateness of the scare-quotes and the lack of capitalisation for the term coloured (which were meant to signify opposition to the apartheid labels). For the sake of internal consistency and after much debate we have settled on coloured, white and black with no further punctuation. (Terms pertaining to forms of identification other than colour are given the usual capitalisation: thus Afrikaner, Zulu or Indian.) This solution is by no means perfect, since some political writers prefer to draw a distinction between Black (a positive term for people of indigenous African descent) and black (a positive term that embraced a sense of unity amongst Blacks, Indians and coloureds against apartheid). Fortunately context usually makes it clear whether the broader or the more usual narrower sense is intended. Synonyms for the term ‘black’ are numerous and have all run foul of the process of semantic derogation. An early term, used without denigration by the missionaries of the nineteenth century for the Nguni-speaking people, was Kaffir, based on the Arabic for ‘unbeliever’. The term eventually attained disrepute in popular parlance and is considered highly offensive today. (In one of the library copies at my university of the Dictionary of South African English, the pages containing a detailed entry for this item were conspicuously crossed out – presumably by an enraged student.) Other terms like native came to be used officially and colloquially in the early twentieth century, but these too eventually became quite offensive. Even today a linguist has to be wary of the connotations of the term ‘native speaker’, especially ‘native speaker of an African language’. The more circumspect ‘mother-tongue speaker’ is the usual phrase one encounters in South African sociolinguistic writing. Other synonyms were tried out by the apartheid regimes, notably Bantu (from aba-ntu, the Nguni word for ‘people’, made up of the plural prefix aba plus the root ntu for ‘person’). Because repressive apartheid policies frequently contained this word (e.g. Bantu Administration Board, Bantu education) and because it sounded grammatically incongruous to hear it used as a singular form (a bantu), the word itself became associated with apartheid, and went the same way as its predecessors. So strong was the stigma attached to the word that linguists were in the uncomfortable position of being just about the only ones using it, since it already denoted a particular



sub-family of the Niger–Congo family, the largest in Africa. For a time the term Sintu was promulgated as a more acceptable term for linguists, which would do away with bantu altogether. This term (containing an appropriate prefix si- for a language, and the root -ntu for ‘person’) never fully caught on; though it is safe to say that Bantu is still a term one employs with care. In this text it is used only as a technical term within historical linguistic discussion. However, we can take heart from a call from one academic (N. Maake at a conference in 1998) that it is time people reclaimed the positive aspect of the term bantu. (A student of mine, M. Ntleki, has reminded me, too, of the names of prominent political figures like Bantu Stephen (Steve) Biko and Bantu Holomisa.) Our unholy grail does not end here. For a while in the 1970s apartheid ideologues stressed the plurality of cultures and advocated the term ‘plural development’ for their discriminatory homeland policy. Some wags began referring to black people as ‘plurals’, and there was the linguistic joke enquiring whether Kaizer Matanzima, who was the first person to be installed as a homeland leader, should be described as ‘the first person plural’. The Dictionary of South African English on Historical Principles contains some wonderful citations for ‘plural’: 1978 Drum (magazine) June 2 Just imagine overseas readers of South African newspapers rolling on the floor in fits of laughter when read something like ‘The Dube hostel is built to accommodate 10 000 single male Plurals’ . . . 1978 Sunday Times July 16: . . . Every Government Department has received a letter from the Secretary for Plural Relations which says: ‘The Honourable the Minister of Plural Relations and Development has indicated that the word “plural” must please under no circumstances be used as a noun to mean “Bantu”.’

At about the same time, proponents of Black Consciousness were proposing new terms like Azanian for the people of South Africa (from the root -zan, found in words like Tanzania and Zanzibar) and Azania for the country. The Azanian People’s Organisation remains part of the political landscape of what is still ‘South Africa’. The term African is a positive one that has many connotations and denotations. In one sense it is used as a slightly more favourable term than black (in the narrow sense). However, it can sometimes clash with the other sense pertaining to people from the entire continent of Africa. It is also sometimes contested as being too exclusive: one letter to the editor of the Cape Argus in 1998 complained that it was racist to limit the term to black people: African, it argued, should mean any person born in Africa, not just a black person. In this parlance black African would not be tautologous. Related to the contested polysemy of African are the meanings of the terms Afrikaans and Afrikaner, respectively ‘language of Africa’ and ‘person of Africa’. Nowadays it is becoming quite common to hear claims that Afrikaans



is an African language and an indigenous one at that. At stake here are questions of continued access to resources and support in educational institutions. In one sense of ‘indigenous’, Afrikaans may well qualify, since its speakers believe it to be a unique creation within Africa, which is not spoken outside southern Africa. How different Afrikaans is from Dutch and whether it is really a separate structural entity, rather than a modification of Dutch, is not a straightforward issue (see Roberge, chap. 4, this volume). In another sense of ‘indigenous’ and ‘African’, with all the connotations of not having had access to resources previously and not being developed for use in higher education, Afrikaans clearly falls on the other side. Finally, African, meaning ‘belonging to Africa’, should not be confused with the technical linguistic sense of a composite of the four families of Africa: Hamito-Semitic, Khoesan, Niger–Congo, Nilo-Saharan. The terminological problems do not end with the synonyms for ‘black’. The colonial terms ‘Hottentot’ and ‘Bushman’ are also (mostly) in disrepute, anthropologists and linguists for a time preferring ‘Khoi’ and ‘San’ respectively. Khoi was differentiated into ‘Khoi’ (for the language) and ‘Khoikhoi’ for the people. However, since Khoikhoi etymologically means ‘men of men’ and San is a word that the San themselves did not use (and may well be derogatory) there is much reason to tread warily. (One positive etymology is the root sa-, ‘to inhabit, dwell, be located’, suggesting their primordial status.) Archaeologists are gradually reverting to the term ‘Bushman’ in recognition that ‘San’ might be no better in its connotations, and on the explicit preferences of one group, the Ju/wasi (Parkington 1994: 209). Furthermore, Traill (chap. 2, this volume) argues for the spellings Khoe and Khoekhoe, accepting Nienaber’s arguments that this is the best representation of the phonetics, and is the form preferred in Nama orthography. ‘Khoesan’ is a convenient term of reference for the composite group of Khoekhoe and San, though it might misleadingly imply a historical and cultural unity. See Traill’s important note 1 on a further linguistic distinction between ‘Khoe’ and ‘Khoekhoe’. There is ongoing debate about the use of prefixes for denoting African languages, and contributors to this volume have made their differing preferences clearly known to me. For reasons set out by Herbert (1992: 6–7) and Bailey (1995: 34–5) language names in this book will generally be used without prefixes (Zulu rather than isiZulu). (One exception is the spelling Iscamtho favoured by Ntshangase in this volume, for a variety that has not otherwise been committed to writing.) See further Herbert and Bailey (chap. 3 in this volume, note 3). Finally, although it has been customary for two decades to refer to ‘South African Black English’, ‘South African Coloured English’ and ‘South African Indian English’, but just ‘South African English’ for the L1 variety of whites, I follow de Klerk’s (1996) lead in opting for ‘South African English’ as a general cover term, which can be prefaced by any ethnic or other descriptive label as



necessary. Unfortunately the acronyms no longer roll off the tip of the tongue (e.g. ISAE versus the older SAIE). The use of ethnic descriptors should not be taken as unqualified acceptance of old apartheid labels – though few linguists would dispute that the sociolects described here are very much still in existence. However, we should be equally alert to the possibility of new non-ethnic forms of English that might be developing, as seems to be happening with young urban people at some schools, colleges and universities. In concluding this section on disputes and changes in terminology, I am struck by the aptness of Edwards’ (1998: 1) remarks in the previous volume on the Canadian situation: ‘In some settings, disputes over language and culture are largely symbolic; deeper problems between groups lie elsewhere, usually in political or economic domains, and language, or religion, or tradition act mainly as team jerseys.’ 4 EDITORIAL NOTE

This book had its first incarnation as Language and Social History: Studies in South African Sociolinguistics, published in Cape Town by David Philip in 1995. The present volume is a revised and updated version of that book. For reasons of space and to accommodate some new research, six chapters of the previous volume had to make way for five new ones. (The remaining chapters have been revised and updated to varying degrees, some quite considerably.) The editor wishes to stress that the six chapters from the previous volume not included here are well worth study and are equally valid today. For reasons of space, certain new topics could not be accommodated in the present volume. For example, the status of Afrikaans in post-apartheid South Africa is a topic of immense interest generally, and of pressing concern to some sectors of the South African population. (On this issue the reader is referred to van Rensburg 1999. In this volume the status of Afrikaans has been discussed as part of the unfolding new language dispensation.) note 1 The authors defined an adult as someone over fifteen. bibliography Bailey, R. 1995. ‘The Bantu languages of South Africa: towards a sociohistorical perspective’. In R. Mesthrie (ed.), Language and Social History: Studies in South African Sociolinguistics. Cape Town: David Philip, pp. 19–38. de Klerk, V. 1996. Focus on South Africa (Series: Varieties of English around the World). Amsterdam: Benjamins. Edwards, J. 1998. Language in Canada. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Ferguson, C. A. and S. B. Heath 1981. Language in the USA. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.



Gough, D. 1996. ‘The English of white eastern Cape farmers in South Africa’. World Englishes, 5, 3: 257–65. Harley, A., J. Aitchison, S. Land and E. Lyster 1996. A Survey of Adult Basic Education in South Africa in the 1990s. Cape Town: Sached Books. Herbert, R. K. 1992. ‘Language in a divided society’. In R. K. Herbert (ed.), Language and Society in Africa: The Theory and Practice of Sociolinguistics. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, pp. 1–19. Hymes, D. 1981. ‘Foreword’. In Ferguson and Heath, pp. v–ix. Kaschula, R. 1989. ‘Cross-cultural communication in a north-eastern Cape farming community’. South African Journal of African Languages, 9, 3: 100–4. Parkington, J. 1994. ‘San’. In Saunders (ed.), pp. 208–9. Romaine, S. 1991. Language in Australia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Saunders, C. C. 1994 (ed.). An Illustrated Dictionary of South African History. Johannesburg: Ibis Books. Silva, P. 1996 (ed.). A Dictionary of South African English on Historical Principles. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Trudgill, P. 1984. Language in the British Isles. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. van Rensburg, C. 1999. ‘Afrikaans and Apartheid’. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 136: 77–96.

Part 1

The main language groupings


South Africa: a sociolinguistic overview R. Mesthrie


South Africa has been the meeting ground of speakers of languages belonging to several major families, the chief ones being Khoesan, Niger–Congo, IndoEuropean and Sign Language.1 (It is surely time to include Sign languages in our genealogies of language, and to devote as much space to them as to any other language family in our sociolinguistic surveys.) The Khoe (formerly called ‘Hottentot’) and San (a.k.a. ‘Bushman’) languages, thought to be historically unrelated (and in fact divisible into three families) are now, with very few exceptions, close to extinction. The Bantu languages (belonging to the wider Niger–Congo family) are the numerically predominant languages of the country, comprising essentially the following: r r r r

the Nguni cluster (Zulu, Xhosa, Swati, Ndebele); the Sotho cluster (North Sotho, South Sotho, Tswana); Tsonga; Venda.

(See map 15.1 for the main distribution patterns of these languages.) The term ‘cluster’ denotes a set of varieties that are closely related along linguistic lines (though in terms of socio-political status the varieties may be quite independent). In addition to these official languages a number of Bantu languages are spoken in smaller numbers by migrant mineworkers from neighbouring countries, and by more recent immigrants. Such languages include Chopi, Kalanga, Shona, Chewa, etc. Still other special cases exist: Phuthi, for example, is a minority language of the eastern Cape, more widely represented in the neighbouring country, Lesotho (Donnelly 1999); Makhuwa and Yao are languages spoken in Durban by the descendants of ex-slaves from Mozambique dating back to the 1870s (Mesthrie 1996). The Indo-European family in South Africa has members of the Germanic branch (English and Afrikaans, and, to a lesser extent, German), the Indic branch (Hindi, Urdu, Gujarati and Konkani among others) and the Romance branch (chiefly Portuguese, spoken to varying degrees by immigrants from Angola, 11


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Mozambique and other parts of Africa). Smaller numbers of speakers of Polish, Dutch, Italian and so forth may be found. In former times large numbers of French-speaking Huguenots lived in the Cape, but they were soon linguistically assimilated to Dutch/Afrikaans. In post-apartheid South Africa, a second ripple of French, this time from within Africa, can be discerned, since it is now possible for black professionals to obtain work permits and citizenship rights in South Africa. There is also a large number of refugees from central and southern Africa (Crawhall 1996). This has brought many new African languages into the country, as well as African varieties of French and Portuguese. Other language families of note in South Africa include the Dravidian group (Tamil and Telugu) and the Polynesian languages (Malay, Malagasy, etc.) The former languages are in decline; the latter, once used by slaves in the Cape, are now extinct. Chinese languages (principally Cantonese, Hakka and Mandarin) are also represented in South Africa in small numbers today, with families having roots in Taiwan and China. Varieties which are not given sanction in the official censuses include urban lingua francas (Tsotsitaal, Flaaitaal, Iscamtho) and the pidgin Fanakalo. In asserting that there were no classical languages in South Africa, Van Wyk (1978: 37) was wide of the mark. For centuries classical Arabic has been a very important feature of the religio-cultural life of Cape Muslims (see Mohamed 1997); Hebrew in Judaism and Sanskrit in Hinduism have been used in the same sphere for over a century in this country; and Greek and Latin are still used on occasion in some churches, though less so than in former times. 2 LANGUAGE STATISTICS

The 1996 census showed an improvement in its language question over its predecessors, since it attempted to elicit whether respondents ‘spoke more than one language at home, and if so, what was the next most often spoken language’ (Census Database 1996). However, even this does not go far enough in parts of the country where many individuals are proficient in several languages. In urban areas like Gauteng it is quite common to receive answers like the following from students from Gauteng about the languages they are proficient in: My father’s home language was Swazi, and my mother’s home language was Tswana. But as I grew up in a Zulu-speaking area we used mainly Zulu and Swazi at home. But from my mother’s side I also learnt Tswana well. In my high school I came into contact with lots of Sotho and Tswana students, so I can speak these two languages well. And of course I know English and Afrikaans. With my friends I also use Tsotsitaal. (Twentythree-year-old male student from Germiston)

Another student interviewed in 1993 had a fluent speaking knowledge of (North and South) Sotho, Tswana, English, Tsonga and, to a lesser extent, Zulu, Swazi and Ndebele. She had picked up these languages mostly from exposure in the

South Africa: a sociolinguistic overview


Table 1.1 The home languages of South Africa in 1996: numbers and percentages Nguni languages Ndebele Swati Xhosa Zulu

586,961 1,013,193 7,196,118 9,200,144

1.5 2.5 17.9 22.9

Sotho languages North Sotho South Sotho Tswana

3,695,846 3,104,197 3,301,774

9.2 7.7 8.2

1,756,105 876,409 5,811,547 3,457,467 228,275 355,538 40,583,573

4.4 2.2 14.4 8.6 0.6 −

Tsonga Venda Afrikaans English other unspecified TOTAL

neighbourhoods. In the course of moving from area to area with her family, she had attended schools in which the dominant African languages were: North Sotho (up to Standard 1 = grade 3); Tswana (up to Standard 5 = grade 7); South Sotho (up to Standard 6 = grade 8); North Sotho again (up to Standard 8 = grade 10) and Tswana again (up to Standard 10 = grade 12). At that time only bilingualism in English and Afrikaans was taken seriously by the apartheid censuses. For example, the census figures for African languages in the 1991 census excluded speakers from the Transkei, Bophutatswana, Venda and Ciskei homelands. The presentation of language demographics in abbreviated tabular form should not be allowed to conceal the essentially dynamic nature of language use in any society. Language statistics must always be in flux with large-scale movements in and out of the country, with shifts in language preferences, and above all the very fluid multilingual nature of communication (with changing preferences and the birth of new codes) within countries like South Africa. 3 SOCIOHISTORICAL PROFILE

An understanding of the present linguistic order and of past language symbioses and conflicts in South Africa cannot be achieved without an overview of the country’s history. The most indigenous of South African groups are the people labelled ‘Khoesan’, who had existed as hunter-gatherers in small bands comprising a few small families. Some Khoesan were also livestock herders. Their languages were not all related; Traill (chap. 2, this volume) argues


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for three distinct families of languages within this traditional designation (see chap. 2, n. 2). Khoesan peoples may have originated further north – the archaeological and linguistic evidence suggests northern Botswana; and two San languages (Sandawe and Hadza) are still to be found as far north as Tanzania. Khoesan and Bantu contacts in southern Africa were extensive, as suggested by Parsons: ‘The Bantu-speaking peoples of southern Africa are inheritors of Khoisan ancestry and culture, which may be seen not only in their physical appearance but in their religions and medical ideas and in their folk tales about wild animals’ (1982: 19). Relations between Khoesan and later southern African settlers varied: the above quotation suggests that relations must have been mostly peaceful (if subservient) with the Bantu-speaking peoples (see Herbert, chap. 15, this volume). Relations with European settlers were less benign, leading to the ultimate destruction or radical transformation of Khoekhoe and San society. There are no Khoe languages spoken in South Africa today; Nama – still spoken in Namibia – may be described in colonial parlance as the last of the Hottentot languages. San languages do survive in Namibia, Botswana and elsewhere, and in ever-shrinking numbers in South Africa. Their speakers may have largely shifted to Afrikaans, but they often retain a distinctive identity. The Bantu languages of South Africa are classified as part of the Niger– Kordofanian family, spoken over two to three thousand years ago in what is today the Cameroon–Nigeria region. Iron Age civilisation was brought south of the Zambesi and Limpopo by small numbers of Bantu-speaking farmers who first appeared a few centuries ad (see chap. 3). A key event in modern South African history was the establishment by the Dutch, the richest European trading nation of the time, of a trading station at the Cape in 1652. Prior to this there had been stopovers by Portuguese and English sailors for the purpose of refreshment and recuperation. As a result a jargon form of English with words from Portuguese and Dutch came to be known by the locals well before 1652 (den Besten 1989). Although the Cape was initially regarded as only a refreshment post, it soon developed into an extensive colony, and as such required government. The settlement at the Cape came to include in time a large proportion of Germans and Huguenot French refugees, and other Europeans in small numbers, all of whom formed a new Cape Dutch community, for convenience simply labelled ‘Dutch’ here. Strife soon followed between Dutch and Khoesan over land and cattle. The Dutch had to look elsewhere for labour for the new colony: they imported slaves in large numbers from 1658 onwards from Madagascar, Mozambique, the East Indies and India. It is one of the ironies of history that at about the time that large numbers of African slaves were being forcibly exported out of Africa into the New World, the southern tip of Africa was itself stocking up on slaves from the East. The slave population of the Cape was possibly one of the most diverse

South Africa: a sociolinguistic overview


in the world in terms of origins, religion, culture and language. The roots of the large coloured population of the western Cape go back to this period, with a multiple ancestry that involves the Khoesan, Eastern and African slaves, and the offspring of European and non-European. The Khoesan were to a large extent reduced in numbers because of conflicts with the Dutch and the effects of European diseases, notably the smallpox epidemic of 1713. Eastward expansion took Dutch farmers away from the small colony at the Cape, and into conflict with the Xhosa in the late eighteenth century. In 1795, at the time of the Napoleonic wars, British forces captured Cape Town, and took over the colony as a naval base. With the ensuing peace of 1803, the colony was handed back to the Dutch, but not for long; Cape Town was recaptured by the British in 1806. From this time European missionary activity became significant, with the first schools for black and coloured people being set up on a small scale. The first purely civilian British population came later in 1820, with poorer sections of British society being settled in the eastern Cape, far from the polite society of Cape Town. These eastern Cape settlers became embroiled in frontier wars with the Xhosa. The roots of South African English go back largely to this settlement (see chap. 5). The British followed an Anglicisation policy in the Cape, replacing Dutch with English as the language of government, education and law. This was one of the causes of Dutch discontent. Feeling their religion, culture and language under threat, and with their right to keep slaves eroded with the emancipation of 1834, as well as for other economic reasons, Afrikaners trekked further into the interior with the intention of escaping British influence. By this time Afrikaans had evolved as a colloquial variety of Dutch, with admixture from other languages. As early as 1707 Hendrik Bibault had declared, Ik ben een Africaander – ‘I am an Afrikaner’ (Prinsloo 1994: 7–9). Afrikaans culture, which had evolved out of the Dutch and slave experience in Africa, gelled as people moved away from Cape Town. (This was the same period in which Europeans were expanding – also via wagons – into the interiors of South America and Australia.) The period from the 1820s onwards is regarded as one of great flux in political alignments among the indigenous Bantu-speaking peoples. Traditional history recounts the rise to power of Shaka in consolidation of a Zulu empire in Natal. He was both a powerful and shrewd military leader, and a despot according to most accounts. The consolidation of a Zulu unity led to conflicts with other chieftains, and this is known as the period of the Mfecane (an Nguni word for ‘great wandering, dispersion of people’). Of particular note is the trek of the Ndebele people away from Zulu territory to the highveld, and subsequently away from Afrikaner firepower into what is now south-western Zimbabwe. Ndebele is today spoken in Zimbabwe and northern parts of South Africa (especially the former Kwa Ndebele homeland). Another victim of the Mfecane are the Mfengu, believed to have fled from Zululand to the eastern Cape to live


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as clients of the Xhosa and the colonists. Their language tends to be classified as a social dialect of Xhosa, rather than Zulu. The historian Julian Cobbing (1983) has criticised the Mfecane thesis, arguing that it was popularised by colonial historians, as a legitimisation of white conquest. The upheavals of the time, he argues, were not so much related to Shaka’s rise to power as to the penetration of commercial capitalism, including covert slave-trading. Critics of the Cobbing thesis are unhappy about the lack of substantial evidence in its favour. The 1820s onwards was the period when African languages were being written down for the first time by missionaries, in conjunction with local consultants. It was an exciting and taxing time for linguists among the missionaries, who battled to come to terms with the unfamiliar structures of African languages. For example, the principle of alliterative or euphonic concord – elaborate agreement between prefixes of subject nouns with verbs and other entities like adjectives, and genitival and relative nouns – was only discovered over thirty years after the first missionaries arrived in the eastern Cape. Reverend John Bennie published a monograph in 1826 entitled A Systematic Vocabulary of the Kaffrarian [= Xhosa] Language in Two Parts; To Which is Attached an Introduction to Kaffrarian Grammar, in which he came close to discovering the principle, without actually hitting on it (Doke 1959). Reverend William Boyce, who arrived in South Africa in 1830, published his discovery of the principles of concord in 1834, eight years after Bennie’s work. The earliest Xhosa written texts were translations of the Gospels. In many territories the dialect selected by the missionaries for writing came to have prestige because of this association. The rise of African languages thus did not follow from the more familiar bases of standardisation familiar in the West: urbanisation and the prestige accruing from the economic and social status of certain groups of speakers. Rather, it was based on the external force of missionary influence. This has developed into a modern-day paradox: the standard varieties of African languages are associated with the rural areas, which are no longer centres of prestige. High-status blacks are more likely to be urbanwise ‘modern’ people, who speak English and non-standard urban varieties of African languages, showing extensive borrowing of vocabulary, code-switching and neologisms. The question can thus be raised whether the standardisation of African languages via the mission presses, sermons and nineteenth-century dictionaries may have taken place too early to be effective as a norm representing black social and political aspirations. From the late 1840s onwards a second British settlement took place, this time in Natal, which had been annexed from the Afrikaners by the British in 1843. Described as largely ‘impecunious aristocrats’ by the historian Hattersley (1940), they were of different regional and social origins from the earlier settlers in the eastern Cape, and more mindful of the social symbols and system of Victorian England (Lanham 1978: 158). Lanham locates many of the more prestigious phonetic developments of twentieth-century South African

South Africa: a sociolinguistic overview


English as emanating from this group. Although many British children born in Natal learnt Zulu, a new pidgin form, then called Kitchen Kaffir (modern-day Fanakalo), stabilised in Natal out of contacts between the English, Zulus and Afrikaners. The colonists needed to find a cheap labour source other than among the local Zulus, whose men initially resisted cheap manual labour. The Natal government looked to India as a source of cheap labour, and between 1860 and 1911 over a hundred and fifty thousand Indian people were brought to Natal. For the greater part of the twentieth century the population of Indians exceeded that of whites in Natal province. The trekking Afrikaners eventually established the republics of the Transvaal and Orange Free State in the 1850s. Although they had chosen to escape British domination, and had installed Dutch as the official language of the republics, the influence of the English language was still strong. For example, one of the trekkers, Anna Steenkamp, kept a diary in English. The Bloemfontein newspaper of the time, The Friend of Sovereignty, continued to be published in English (Parsons 1982: 119). Lanham (1978: 119) mentions that parents in Pretoria were demanding more English and less Dutch in their schools, up to the 1890s. Meanwhile, in the 1870s in the Cape a tradition of writing in Afrikaans rather than Dutch was emerging, with the formation of the Fellowship of True Afrikaners in Paarl, outside Cape Town. It is another irony of history that Afrikaans was first substantially written by the descendants of Muslim slaves, who used Arabic script in writing Afrikaans religious texts. According to Davids (1990: 1) seventy-four such texts are extant, the bulk of them produced between 1868 and 1910. The 1860s are better known as the period of the discovery of enormous deposits of precious metals in the interior. The scramble to gain possession of the new wealth brought Britain into conflict with the Afrikaner republics. The Transvaal was annexed as a British colony in 1877. Afrikaner nationalism gelled in this period with the resentment at British rapacity. Two wars were fought over control of the land and its wealth, in 1881, when the Afrikaners won back the Transvaal, and between 1899 and 1902 (in what is now called ‘the South African War’) when they were heavily defeated and maltreated. In 1879 a British force had invaded Zululand to protect its new Transvaal colony from a supposed Zulu threat. This was the offensive that brought about the final subjection of black people in the nineteenth century. The late nineteenth century saw urbanisation on a large scale, with a large influx of Europeans of Christian and Jewish faith. It also saw a large-scale movement of black people into the mining areas. Parsons (1982: 148) cites a visiting British historian’s description of Kimberley, the centre of the diamond industry, in 1895: ‘Here in the vast oblong compound, one sees Zulus from Natal, Fingoes, Pondos, Tembus, Basutos, Bechuanas, Gungunhanas, subjects from the Portuguese territories, some few Matabili and Makalaka, and plenty of Zambesi boys from the tribes on both sides of that great river. There were 2, 600 workers


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in the compound from as far north as Lake Tanganyika.’ There were also Indians (who were not legally permitted to venture into the interior), Chinese, and people from many parts of Europe, the USA and Australia. People of Khoesan ancestry also did not escape the lure of the mines, in particular the Korana and the Griqua, by then bilingual in Afrikaans and Kora/Gri. In this great babel the pidgin Fanakalo, which had originated in the eastern Cape and Natal, was particularly useful. The mining industry must have also sown the seeds for new mixed urban varieties of African languages that were to become more prominent in the twentieth century. Lanham argues convincingly that the mining industry brought three different strands of English together (Cape English, Natal English and, to some extent, RP), in ways that laid the foundations for the twentieth-century continuum of (white) South African English varieties. Alfred Milner took over the administration of the conquered Boer republics and ruled South Africa from Johannesburg between 1901 and 1905. One of his aims was to anglicise the Afrikaners and bring them into the fold of the British Empire. He emphasised English over Dutch in the schools. State education was aimed at whites; the education of black people was left to the churches and mission schools. In the wake of the atrocities of the South African War, Afrikaners resisted Milner’s anglicisation policy. The status of Afrikaans as bearer of local cultural values and the identity of an Afrikaner nation began to gain prominence. The rapid growth of capitalism in the early twentieth century drew increasingly more rural people into wage labour. There were vastly disparate wages for white and black workers (Parsons 1982: 225). The Union of South Africa was formed in 1910, combining the two former Boer republics and the British colonies of the Cape and Natal into one state. The state oversaw the further dispossession of black people from their land. The Land Act of 1913, which set aside most of the country’s land for control by whites, destroyed the economic independence of black people. The official languages of the Union were Dutch and English. Afrikaans was not recognised as an official language until 1925, when it replaced Dutch in that capacity. The apartheid governments of 1948 onwards enforced separation of peoples along the lines of colour, with the Group Areas Act of 1950 and the pass laws. The latter were aimed at channelling black male labourers to where they were needed (industries and white farms), while keeping their families in the rural areas. The 1940s saw the rapid growth of townships like Moroka, which later formed a central part of Soweto. The Bantu Education Act of 1953 tried to create a permanent underclass of black people by placing rigid controls over syllabi and the media of instruction. Equally cynically, it enforced the closure of the mission schools which offered quality education (albeit in small numbers) to black people, often on nonracial lines. Such sociopolitical arrangements clearly influenced the course of

South Africa: a sociolinguistic overview


1.1 Political map of South Africa of the late nineteenth century

linguistic development in South Africa, in terms of restricting access to speakers of other languages, and the consequent heightening of ethnically marked languages and dialects. For example, the main ethnic varieties of English are till today marked not only by clearly distinguishable accents, but by certain features of syntax as well (see chaps. 11, 17 and 18). Apartheid policy also attempted to impose a definite linguistic hierarchy, using the education system to play out the rivalry between Afrikaans and English. In the 1950s, contrary to its own commission’s suggestions, the Department of Bantu Education ruled that English and Afrikaans be introduced in the first year of schooling (to children who were acquainted with neither language). Whereas the commission had also suggested that only one official language (English or Afrikaans) be a compulsory subject at secondary level, the department insisted on both, fearing that if only one language were to be chosen, it would be English. For the same reason both English and Afrikaans were to be used as media of instruction in secondary schools (Hartshorne 1995: 310). In some respects (however ideological the motivation), the apartheid policy of mother-tongue education for up to eight years of primary school was not in

1.2 Provinces of South Africa, 1910–94

1.3 The provinces of present-day South Africa


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itself unsound. Problems lay in the way the policy was implemented, and in the manner in which the wishes of parents were ignored. A UNESCO document of 1953, entitled ‘The use of vernacular languages in education’, was, at about the same time, stressing the value of mother-tongue education in the early years of schooling. The humanist orientation of the UNESCO document was, however, sadly lacking in Bantu education policy. Resistance to Bantu education and the language policy it attempted to impose led to the Soweto uprisings of 1976. The 1970s and 1980s became a period of intense struggle against white domination, in which schoolchildren played a prominent role. It is worthy of note that the event that led to the eventual arrival of democracy to the country in 1994 should have its inspiration in a linguistic protest against Afrikaans as a medium of instruction. Since it was being widely used by the anti-apartheid political leadership, English became the language of unity and liberation. Although black schoolchildren had pride in their home languages, the latter had become too closely connected with the divide-and-rule policy of apartheid to be considered as languages of educational and economic progress. With the negotiations that led to the first democratic elections of 1994, it was English that was the de facto lingua franca. The African National Congress (ANC) leadership seemed at one time to be heading for a policy with English as the only official language. Language was not a great priority for the ANC in the way it was for parties representing the Afrikaner power bloc. The position of Afrikaans became an important negotiating chip during negotiations (Crawhall 1993). At the same time many educators and sociolinguists put their weight behind cultural and linguistic pluralism. Empowering the majority of South Africans meant empowering their languages too. A policy with English as the only official language would have been anathema to many Afrikaans speakers. However, having English and Afrikaans as the official languages would have given off signals to the majority of the population that nothing had changed. Clearly if English and Afrikaans were to remain as official languages, there was a strong case for some African languages to be given the same status. The classic dilemma of multilingual colonised societies then presented itself: which of the African languages should be chosen? The politicians’ solution was to opt for all nine of the major African languages (listed below). Whether this was an enlightened decision or one of political and symbolic expediency, taken in the hope that English would become the de facto working language of state, will become clear in the years ahead. One possible solution that generated a great deal of debate was a proposal by Neville Alexander (and made earlier by a politician, Jacob Nhlapo) that a new standard Nguni language be enhanced, made up of the ‘cluster’ of Zulu, Xhosa, Swati and Ndebele; as well as a new Sotho standard based on North Sotho, South Sotho and Tswana. This would have the satisfying outcome of having two major African languages (plus the smaller Venda and

South Africa: a sociolinguistic overview


Tsonga) as candidates for official languages. When linguists expressed strong doubt about the feasibility of such a unification at the spoken level, Alexander stressed the benefits at the written level. Whereas the numerous African language boards set up by the apartheid government had worked in competition with each other, and tried to accentuate differences, even when deciding on new technical terms, Alexander expressed the hope that in the long term, at least at the level of writing and publishing, the languages within each cluster could be brought together rather than forced apart. Alexander could not have anticipated the virulent reaction to his proposals at conferences from black academics, who stressed the symbolic value of the African languages, which ran counter to any attempts at linguistic engineering. The proposals were accordingly put on the back burner. Finlayson and Slabbert (1997) have suggested that the attitudes and linguistic practices of people within the Sotho cluster (North Sotho, South Sotho and Tswana) make the harmonisation of this language group a better possibility than for the Nguni cluster. Nowadays there may well be some rapprochement of the kind envisaged by Nhlapo and Alexander taking place, not in print but on television. 4 LANGUAGE POLICY AND FUNCTIONS

Up to the 1990s a functional profile of the languages of South Africa showed a hierarchy, with English dominant in commerce, higher education and industry, and Afrikaans dominant in the civil service and government, and in the police, army and navy. African languages had not, however, been silent in public life. They had been used as media of instruction in primary schools catering for African pupils, sometimes unofficially even after the switch-over to English by the fifth year of schooling. For matriculation in these schools English and an African language were required subjects in the post-1976 era. Apartheid broadcasting created nine separate radio stations for African languages and a television channel for Zulu–Xhosa and Sotho–Tswana. The country’s new constitution, passed in 1996, placed emphasis on the link between language, culture and development in its recognition of eleven languages for official purposes. These included the previously official languages, Afrikaans and English, as well as nine African languages: the Nguni group of Xhosa, Zulu, Swati and Ndebele; the Sotho group of Sotho (previously known as South Sotho), Pedi (previously known as North Sotho) and Tswana; and Tsonga and Venda (which fall outside the Sotho and Nguni grouping).2 The text of the constitution dealing with language (chapter 1, section 6) touches on many important societal themes: Languages 6. (1) The official languages of the Republic are Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa and isiZulu.


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(2) Recognising the historically diminished use and status of the indigenous languages of our people, the state must take practical and positive measures to elevate the status and advance the use of these languages. (3) National and provincial governments may use particular official languages for the purposes of government, taking into account usage, practicality, expense, regional circumstances, and the balance of the needs and preferences of the population as a whole or in respective provinces; provided that no national or provincial government may use only one official language. Municipalities must take into consideration the language usage and preferences of their residents. (4) National and provincial governments, by legislative and other measures, must regulate and monitor the use by those governments of official languages. Without detracting from the provisions of subsection (2), all official languages must enjoy parity of esteem and must be treated equitably. (5) The Pan South African Language Board must – (a) promote and create conditions for the development and use of (i) all official languages (ii) the Khoi, Nama and San languages; and (iii) sign language (b) promote and ensure respect for languages, including German, Greek, Gujarati, Hindi, Portuguese, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, and others commonly used by communities in South Africa, and Arabic, Hebrew, Sanskrit and others used for religious purposes.

However, as the major public sectors are discovering, social change within this broad vision is not easy to achieve in the short term, especially within a troubled local economy and global economic pressures. The key question for linguists and educators is the extent to which the new constitutional flexibility on language can be put into effective practice. In some respects language policy and practice are in flux in the post-1994 era, with many sectors still experimenting with the most effective and the least divisive language options. A vivid picture of the transition in the defence force in one eastern Cape centre is given by de Klerk and Barkhuizen (1998), where although Afrikaans is being overtaken by English, there is still room for its use and new spaces are being opened for Xhosa in the eastern Cape. As far as education is concerned institutions at school, college and university level previously employing an ‘Afrikaans-only’ medium have had to rethink their policies in terms of the constitution, and post-apartheid economic realities. As with other public sectors energies in language education are now being focused away from negotiation and planning to ‘delivery’. Two important language initiatives in this regard are the Pan-South African Language Board (PANSALB) and the Language Plan Task Group (LANGTAG). PANSALB is a permanent body established in terms of the constitution as a proactive agent for, and watchdog over, linguistic rights. LANGTAG was a short-term initiative of the Department of Arts, Science, Technology and Culture (DACST). Its brief

South Africa: a sociolinguistic overview


was to advise the minister (then Ben Ngubane) on planning for policy making within the language guidelines of the new constitution. LANGTAG brought together a broad range of language practitioners (including sociolinguists) enabling comprehensive consultations with different communities and sectors, intensive discussions and some new research. The task groups presented reports on the following areas: language services; language equity; language as an economic resource; heritage and sign languages; education; and the position of African languages. The consolidated final report and individual reports have been published by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) in conjunction with the DACST. The LANGTAG dossier thus forms an important foundational set of research documents for the (macro) sociolinguistics of post-apartheid South Africa. Other major resources include the submissions to PANSALB (upon general invitation) by a range of cultural, educational, political and language organisations. Furthermore, in response to its call for written submissions the Constitutional Assembly had by March 1996 received over a thousand responses from members of the public expressing their wishes regarding the country’s language policy. It can safely be said that planning and policy was the aspect of language study most in the public eye in the 1990s. notes 1 Strictly speaking, Khoesan is not a ‘family’ but a ‘phylum’. That is, it is a loose cover term for a group of families showing cultural and geographical cohesion, but for which no linguistic unity has been proven (see Traill, chap. 2, this volume). Some linguists (including Herbert, chap. 3, this volume) feel safer describing Niger–Congo as a phylum rather than a family. 2 Describing North Sotho as ‘Pedi’ may have been an error, as Pedi is but one dialect of the language. Nowadays the term ‘North Sotho’ is being increasingly used officially. bibliography Census Database 1996. Davids, A. 1990. ‘Words the slaves made: a socio-historical–linguistic study’. South African Journal of Linguistics, 8, 1: 1–24. Cobbing, J. 1983. ‘The case against the mfecane’. Seminar paper, Centre for African Studies, University of Cape Town. Crawhall, N. 1993. ‘Negotiations and language policy options in South Africa’. Cape Town, National Language Project (unpublished document). 1996. ‘Alien tongues’. Bua, 10, 2: 4–7. de Klerk, V. 1996 (ed.). Focus on South Africa. Amsterdam: Benjamins. de Klerk, V. and G. Barkhuizen 1998. ‘Language attitudes in the South African National Defence Force: views from the Sixth South African Infantry’. Multilingua, 17, 2–3: 155–80.


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den Besten, H. 1989. ‘From Khoekhoe foreigner talk via Hottentot Dutch to Afrikaans: the creation of a novel grammar’. In M. P¨utz and R. Dirven (eds.), Wheels Within Wheels. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, pp. 207–54. Doke, C. M. 1959. ‘Language pioneers of the nineteenth century’. African Studies, 18, 1: 1–27. Donnelly, S. 1999. ‘Southern Tekela Nguni is alive: reintroducing the Phuthi language’. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 136: 97–120. Finlayson R. and S. Slabbert 1997. ‘ “We just mix” – codeswitching in a South African township’. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 125: 65–98. Hartshorne, K. 1995. ‘Language policy in African education: a background to the future’. In R. Mesthrie (ed.), Language and Social History: Studies in South African Sociolinguistics. Cape Town: David Philip, pp. 306–18. Hattersley, A. F. 1940. Portrait of a Colony. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Lanham, L. 1978. ‘South African English’. In L. W. Lanham and K. P. Prinsloo (eds.), Language and Communication Studies in South Africa. Cape Town: Oxford University Press, pp. 138–65. Mesthrie, R. 1996. ‘Lessons in survival: 120 years of Makhuwa and Yao in South Africa’. Bua, 10, 2: 14–16. Mohamed, Y. 1997. The Teaching of Arabic in South Africa – History and Methodology. Cape Town: University of the Western Cape (Department of Arabic Studies). Parsons, N. 1982. A New History of Southern Africa. London: Macmillan. Population Census 1996. ‘The People of South Africa – Census in Brief’. Report No. 03-01-11. Pretoria: Statistics South Africa. Prinsloo, D. 1994. Afrikaners. In Saunders (ed.), pp. 7–11. Saunders, C. C. 1994 (ed.). An Illustrated Dictionary of South African History. Johannesburg: Ibis Books. UNESCO 1953. ‘The use of vernacular languages in education – a report’. Paris: UNESCO. van Rensburg, C. 1999. ‘Afrikaans in post-apartheid South Africa’. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 136: 77–96. van Wyk, E. B. 1978. ‘Language contact and bilingualism’. In L. W. Lanham and K. P. Prinsloo (eds.), Language and Communication Studies in South Africa. Cape Town: Oxford University Press, pp. 29–52.


The Khoesan languages A. Traill


The sociolinguistic story of the South African Khoesan1 languages is one of language death (Dorian 1989), and finds its place in the discussion of language death in Africa (Dimendaal 1989, Brenzinger 1992, Brenzinger et al. 1991). In the case of many of the Cape Khoekhoe languages or dialects, historical and other records have been rich enough to permit some quite specific sociolinguistic reconstructions of the circumstances attending their death. However, there is not much of a sociolinguistic texture that can illuminate the well-known historical record of the holocaust that finally obliterated the speakers of the /Xam Bushman dialects in the space of forty-odd years, between 1875, when W. H. I. Bleek and Lucy Lloyd worked with the rich (albeit threatened) language, and about 1911, when Dorothea Bleek visited the last few speakers in Prieska and Kenhardt. Although a contributing factor to the death of /Xam was undoubtedly the extermination of many of its speakers, it is generally possible only to speculate about other conditions that destroyed the language. This applies to the other Bushman languages of South Africa, with the added difficulty that many of them were so inadequately documented that we cannot even be sure about their exact linguistic status.


Thanks to the extensive surveys of K¨ohler (1981), Westphal (1971) and Winter (1981), we have detailed surveys of most of the Khoesan2 languages that are extinct or extant. In South Africa itself, the Khoesan languages are represented today only by speakers of a Nama dialect in the Richtersveld, and along the Orange river in the northern Cape3 and by a handful of speakers of /’Auni and =| Khomani, closely related Southern Bushman languages of the Kalahari Gemsbok Park, Gordonia district in the Northern Cape Province. The Richtersveld Nama speakers are bilingual in Afrikaans and Nama, and it appears that Nama is the dominant language for the ‘Boorlinge’ (not recent immigrants) speakers. Until the 1950s children were monolingual in the language, 27


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2.1 South Africa c. 1960, showing places cited in chapter 2

but the effect of compulsory school education in Afrikaans may have led to a change in language loyalty. A recent survey reports other first and second language Nama-speaking communities, all bilingual in Afrikaans, from Port Nolloth on the Atlantic eastward to Pella on the Orange river and into Gordonia (Crawhall 1997: 22). The number of speakers (more accurately ‘semi-speakers’) of /’Auni and =| Khomani (perhaps a dozen) is very small, and the language is on the verge of extinction. Probably all the surviving speakers are more or less trilingual, to some degree in /’Auni or =| Khomani, and in Nama and Afrikaans. Richtersveld and Orange river Nama are all that is left of the Khoekhoe linguistic tradition that included the many Cape Khoekhoe dialects as well as Nama spoken up the west coast to Namaqualand and beyond into Namibia, and !Ora and Gri spoken to the east along the Orange, Vaal, and Harts rivers. /’Auni and =| Khomani are the closest linguistic relatives of /Xam: their imminent disappearance will complete the extinction of the !Kwi group of Southern Bushman languages (K¨ohler 1981: 469). These Southern Bushman languages were once spoken over Bushmanland and the Karoo, from the Orange river in the west

The Khoesan languages


to Lesotho and the Orange Free State in the east, with the outlying language //Xegwi found at Lake Chrissie, in the eastern Transvaal. 3 THE KHOE LANGUAGES

In the early seventeenth century there were about eleven closely similar Cape Khoekhoe varieties spoken from the Cape of Good Hope in the west, along the southern Cape coast and its hinterland as far east as the Fish River (Elphick 1985: 51). Estimates of the number of all South African Khoekhoe (including the Nama) in 1652 vary between 100,000 (Elphick 1985: 23) and 200,000 (Wilson 1969: 68). Within sixty years of that date ‘the traditional Khoekhoe economy, social structure, and political order had almost entirely collapsed’ (Elphick 1985: xvii), and smallpox epidemics in 1713, 1735 and 1767 had ravaged the population, wiping out virtually all the western Cape Khoekhoe. And within 100 years of 1652, the western Cape Khoekhoe language had begun to disappear, being gradually replaced by Khoe-Dutch (Nienaber 1963: 97ff.), and the Eastern Khoekhoe varieties had been absorbed by Xhosa through political incorporation of the Khoekhoe chiefdoms (Marais 1968: 111). This is the dramatic background to the extinction of the Cape Khoekhoe and the death of their language. However, far from vanishing without a trace, the Cape Khoekhoe have had a profound effect on the genetic features of many South Africans. Their language has exerted an influence on the development of Afrikaans and has extensively restructured the phonological systems of Xhosa and Zulu, greatly enriching the lexicons of these two languages in the process. It is these influences that allow one to reconstruct aspects of the sociolinguistic situation that led to the death of the Cape Khoekhoe languages. Two distinct areas can be identified in this process, the first in the east between the Kei and Keiskamma rivers, where the Khoekhoe were ‘incorporated by the expanding Xhosa chiefdoms during the early 1700s’ (Harinck 1972: 158), and the second in the west, where the Khoekhoe language was replaced by pidgin Dutch or Dutch (Elphick 1985: 210ff, Nienaber 1963: 97–8). In the east ‘contact and interaction between Xhosa and Khoe was facilitated by the fissiparous tendency in the Xhosa social structure and by similarities in their respective social organisation’ (Harinck 1972: 158). This resulted in assimilation of Khoekhoe into Xhosa lineages and Xhosa into Khoe chiefdoms. In the latter case this gave rise to the Gonaqua (=| gona) and later the Gqunukwebe and, from a linguistic point of view, to language mixture in which the Khoekhoe language was dominant (Harinck 1972: 157). Although Gona was a Khoe language it had changed sufficiently to present Khoekhoe from the western Cape who heard it in 1772 with difficulties of understanding (Wilson and Thompson 1969: 103). The well-known result of this intimate and long contact was the incorporation of a large vocabulary containing adapted click consonants, which led to the


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proliferation and reorganisation of the Xhosa phonological system (Harinck 1972: 150ff.; Herbert 1990a, 1990b; Lanham 1964; Louw 1974, 1977). A similar process, about which little is known, affected Zulu in the same way (Louw 1979). The nature of the Xhosa vocabulary incorporated from Khoekhoe allows some inferences to be made about the social relationships between Khoe and Xhosa. Specialised cattle terminology, and religious concepts and words such as ikhoboka, ‘bondsman’ (< khowob ‘bondsman’), ukukhumsha ‘repeat like a councillor, speak a foreign language, interpret’ (< khom ‘speak’), ikwayi ‘commoner, deposed chief’ (< khoe-i ‘person’) (Louw 1977: 86) suggest ‘that the inferior social status of the Khoe . . . as cattle herders, messengers, envoys . . . was balanced by their function in . . . religious institutions’ (Harinck 1972: 152–3). Harinck has reflected on the precise sociolinguistic conditions that would have given rise to the Khoe–Xhosa mixed language referred to above: This hybridization can only be accounted for by reciprocal marriage between the incoming Xhosa and . . . [the] Khoe. The children of polygynous marriages between Khoe males and Xhosa females learned Xhosa from their mothers and incorporated it into the Khoe language while participating in Khoe society external to the immediate family. Khoe prevailed as the predominating element of the Gonaqua’s language because the Xhosa language was not incorporated as much by offspring of marriages between Khoe women and Xhosa men. (Harinck 1972: 158)

This may be a reasonable reconstruction of the initial stages of the contact, but the situation changed during the subsequent loss of the Khoe and mixed Khoe–Xhosa languages and the emergence of a Xhosa in which the influence of Khoekhoe remained only in the phonology and lexicon. It is striking that Xhosa shows almost no evidence of morphological or syntactic influence from Khoe; this suggests that the pattern of language use must have involved a special case of both borrowing and shift (Thomason and Kaufman 1988: 37ff.). We cannot be certain of the precise mechanisms for the change, but one of the components must have involved the death of the Khoe language. Sketchy evidence allows a glimpse into how this happened. At the beginning of the nineteenth century the Khoe language of the Gonaqua was beginning to die out ‘with children tending to know either Dutch if their parents were farm workers or Xhosa if they lived in Xhosa villages. But it was not yet dead, and much of the preaching of the early Hottentots was done in Gona’ (Sales 1975: 10). Between 1803 and 1811 some of the Gonaqua who moved into the Cape Colony and settled at Van der Kemp’s mission station at Bethelsdorp knew little or no Dutch, and therefore ‘preaching was held in Gona as well as Dutch . . . but this was considered to be a temporary measure, for it was assumed that within a generation at least, Dutch would be the language of all the people at Bethelsdorp’

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(Sales 1975: 29). The fact that Van der Kemp felt it was necessary at the time to produce a Khoekhoe catechism, Tzitzika Thuikwedi miko Khwekhwenama (Principles of God’s word for the Khoekhoe), would indicate that the Khoe language still had some vitality even then (Sales1975: 29). However, it seems clear that a process of rapid language shift to Dutch (i.e. a form of early Afrikaans) or Xhosa had begun. The social situation in which this was taking place was chaotic, and hastened the death of the language: Khoekhoe, Xhosa, Boers and British were caught in the struggle to establish control over the eastern frontier. The Khoekhoe were doomed in this violent conflict and by 1809 the Earl of Caledon’s ‘Magna Carta of the Hottentots’ and the destruction of the last independent Khoekhoe territory at the Gamtoos river reduced virtually all Khoekhoe to the status of servants of the colonists (Mostert 1992: 350–1). However, the language was still spoken to some extent in 1820 when Thomas Pringle visited the Bethelsdorp community and heard the ‘uncouth clucking sounds of the Hottentot language spoken by some of them to each other’ (Sales 1975: 84). The Gonaqua surface again in the historical record in 1829 when those Gonaqua who had remained with the Xhosa moved to the Kat river settlement. We have no idea of the form in which Khoekhoe was spoken at this stage but it can be safely assumed that this period marks the last stages of the language. Six years prior to this, in 1823, the first written record of Xhosa appeared in the form of John Bennie’s Incwadi yokuqala ekuteteni gokwamaXosa (The first book in the language of the Xhosa). As the click words show, the process of click incorporation which had begun some two centuries before had been consolidated by the time the donor language was dying, and today these clicks remain as a vivid remnant of that Khoekhoe language. In the south-western Cape, the linguistic contraction of the closely related Khoekhoe varieties spoken there – Hesse (Hai-se), Chainou, Cocho, Guri, Goringhai (!uri-//’ae) and Gorachou (!ora-//xau) – was rapid (Elphick 1985: 53; Elphick and Malherbe, 1989: 5), and by 1750 they had begun to disappear with the shift to Khoekhoe-Dutch (Elphick 1985: 211). Nienaber (1963: 98) notes that between 1773 and 1797 travellers such as Thunberg, Sparrman and Barrow ‘kon die taal [Khoekhoe] nog net aan die uithoeke van die Kolonie beluister, veral aan die Oostelike grens’ (could still hear the [Khoekhoe] language only in the outlying districts of the colony, particularly on the eastern border). It has been argued that the processes that destroyed the social, political and economic structures of the western Cape Khoekhoe were far advanced only sixty-one years after van Riebeeck landed in Table Bay (Elphick 1985); the smallpox epidemic of 1713, which virtually wiped out the Khoekhoe in the western Cape, merely consummated this breakdown. The result for the Khoe language spoken there was that within a hundred years of van Riebeeck’s arrival in 1652 it too had largely succumbed, and was replaced by Afrikaans.


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But whether or not this Khoekhoe Afrikaans was a pidgin in its initial stages is still debated (see chap. 4, this volume). Elphick describes the linguistic response to the rapidly changing situation at the Cape as the emergence of a pidgin Dutch spoken by the Khoekhoe (Elphick 1985: 211). Elphick gives a number of examples of Khoekhoe-Dutch from as early as 1673 and the early part of the eighteenth century. Some of the examples show the use of the pronoun ons, ‘we’, which anticipates Afrikaans usage: Duitsman een woordt calm ons u kelem (Dutchman [if you] speak a word, we [will] slit your throats)

Rademeyer provides other examples and emphasises that this Dutch spoken by the Khoekhoe in the immediate vicinity of the Castle in 1666 was in fact a very ‘gebroke Hollands’ (broken Hollands) (1938: 33). However, the suggestion that this was indeed a pidgin would require more convincing sociolinguistic evidence than these brief accounts provide. In fact, the swift collapse of Khoekhoe society, the rapid shift to a variety of Dutch, the dramatic effect of smallpox on the numbers of speakers and the precipitate contraction of the Khoe language make it unlikely that a pidgin would have crystallized in the western Cape. To add to the social, economic and physical onslaught on the Khoekhoe, their language itself faced two intimidating problems. The first was extreme linguistic prejudice: from the first contacts between Europeans and Khoekhoe there had been a persistent attitude on the part of the Europeans that the language was utterly bizarre, unpleasant, inarticulate and not human. Nienaber (1963: 76ff.) quotes many such opinions from the late sixteenth century on. These prejudices fed the second problem, namely the view that the language was unlearnable, and from as early as 1663 this led to official government policy that the Khoekhoe should learn the colonial language (Wilson 1969: 66). By 1700, therefore, it was possible to make do with some version of Dutch for fifty miles east and north of the Castle at Table Bay. At first there was a need for Khoekhoe interpreters, but during the eighteenth century this soon diminished and eventually disappeared as the Khoekhoe shifted to Dutch. Henry Tindall described how even missionary work relied on interpreters until the Khoekhoe language had been replaced (Nienaber 1963: 97–8). When the Moravian missionary Georg Schmidt first started his work among the Khoekhoe in 1737 at Baviaanskloof (later to become Genadendal) he found monolingual Khoekhoe speakers. He tried to learn the language but found he could not imitate the clicks. He ‘soon perceived that the language was too difficult . . . to master and . . . therefore commenced to teach them to speak Dutch’ (du Plessis 1965: 54), relying in the meantime on an interpreter. Within three years he was distributing Dutch New Testaments to those who had learned to read. However, the language partly survived the assault, because sixty-four years later

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in the same place, it was necessary to repeat the sermon after each service in the Khoekhoe language for the benefit of a number of older people who ‘understood only the Hottentot language’ (Kruger 1966: 89). These pockets of Khoekhoe survival must have been the exception; children were not being taught the Khoekhoe language and everywhere it was being replaced with a version of Khoekhoe-Dutch. A further source of linguistic pressure on remnants of the Khoekhoe language must have come from the variety of Dutch spoken by the slaves who lived in some intimacy with Khoekhoe labourers on farms (Marais 1968: 13). Whatever the extent and nature of this influence, it must have given a strong impetus to the process whereby Khoekhoe-Dutch was already engulfing Khoekhoe. As a result of all these pressures the Khoe language of the western Cape was simply overwhelmed. However, it did not disappear without trace: it survives to this day in the Afrikaans lexicon in the form of many plant, animal and bird names (Scholz 1940), and in both Afrikaans and English in numerous place names (Raper 1972; Nienaber and Raper 1977). The social and other forces that consumed the western Cape Khoekhoe dialects gradually spread to the remaining Khoekhoe languages of South Africa: Nama, Kora (!Ora) and Gri (Xri). At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Little Namaqualand, to the north of the Kamies mountains, was beyond the official north-western border of the Cape Colony. The aridness of the area and its isolation for a while from events to the east and south served to slow slightly the inexorable advance of white and mixed-race settlers, the Trekboers and Basters (or Bastards). As a result the Khoekhoe and their language flourished for some time in this region. Significantly, missionaries to these parts did learn the Khoekhoe language: their work here and in Great Namaqualand across the Orange river led to the first grammar, dictionary, Bible translation, catechism and hymn-book in a Khoekhoe language (Haacke 1989; Strassberger 1969: 63, 69). Ironically, however, it was the missionaries together with the encroaching Basters who have been identified as the ‘alien elements . . . effecting the disintegration of the Khoi Khoin’ (Carstens 1966: 205) through their acquisition of political power in the region. It is significant that one of the only places in which a vital Khoe language still survives in Little Namaqualand is in the Richtersveld where ‘no missionary ever achieved political power’ (Carstens 1966: 208) – although the people of the Richtersveld were easy converts to Christianity – and where a major influx of Basters only took place in 1936. In the rest of Little Namaqualand the Khoekhoe shifted to Khoekhoe-Dutch/Afrikaans. However, this shift must have been more gradual than it had been earlier in the western Cape because a Khoekhoe linguistic remnant is still to be found among the much older members of the communities around Kharkhams (Leliefontein district), in the form of


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Khoekhoe plant names, animal names, place names and domestic terms. Many of these words still contain a [!] (alveolar) or [//] (lateral) click (Links 1989: 61ff.). In the Richtersveld, the Boorlinge (the native Khoekhoe inhabitants as opposed to more recent immigrant groups) have a variety of Nama as their mother tongue, and children were monolingual until the 1950s when official policy required them to learn Afrikaans as a second language in school (E. Boonzaaier, personal communication). Although there is bilingualism among the Richtersveld Khoekhoe, the absence of any significant shift to Afrikaans among them suggests that the language has a good chance of surviving as the last Khoekhoe language of South Africa. This will undoubtedly be reinforced by the very recent emergence of pride in Nama identity (E. Boonzaaier, personal communication). To the east, along the Orange and Vaal rivers, the Kora and Gri dialects were moribund (Krauss 1992: 4) even before Beach studied them in 1926 (Beach 1938). A few older people who knew a few words and phrases could still be found around Douglas, Prieska, Campbell and Griekwastad as late as the 1980s (van Rensburg 1984: 669), but the account Beach (1938: 183) gives vividly documents the end of the language: ‘Finding a pure representative of the Korana tribe is like finding a rare gem. And sorting out a few old Korana (still able to speak Hottentot) from a community of Griqua . . . is like sifting diamonds from sand. There are a few . . . [Griqua] left in Kokstad but less than half-adozen of these can speak Hottentot; the others all speak Afrikaans.’ And when Beach visited Kimberley ten years later nine of his ten Korana informants were dead. Beach considered Kora and Gri to be closely related dialects which were difficult to distinguish; indeed, their linguistic history suggests very similar origins. On the basis of vocabulary recorded by the eighteenth-century explorer Le Vaillant, he concluded that the ‘language spoken by the Cape Hottentots was essentially the same as that of the present-day Korana and . . . considerably different from present-day Nama’ (Beach 1938: 181). This assessment was based on a purely linguistic comparison, but it is supported by the fact that a good-quality vinyl record of a Kora speaker made by Pierre de Villiers Pienaar in about 1938 was minimally intelligible when played to a native Nama speaker in Namibia in 1991 (W. H. G. Haacke and E. Eiseb, personal communications). The linguistic affinity between Kora and the eastern and western Cape Khoekhoe dialects, as opposed to Nama, has also been noted by Nienaber (1963: 535). This is consistent with the traditional origins of the Kora and the Khoekhoe component of the Gri in the two groups of western Cape Khoekhoe, the Gorachouqua and Chariguriqua or Grigriqua. From a sociolinguistic perspective, the history of the two groups is one of more or less rapid shift to Khoekhoe-Dutch from which developed a distinctive variety of Afrikaans. In the case of the Gri, the shift seems to have been

The Khoesan languages


far advanced by 1801 (Marais 1968: 34): in the case of the Korana, whose Khoekhoe identity was still entrenched then, it was more gradual. When the Berlin Missionary Society first began to work among the Korana in 1834 at Bethany in the Southern Orange Free State, there were 20,000 nomadic Korana between the Orange and Vaal rivers. Together with the fact that the missionary Wuras used a Kora interpreter and prepared a catechism, grammar and vocabulary in Kora, this suggests that a vital Khoekhoe language and significantly monolingual speech community was still in existence at the time (van der Merwe 1985: 40; Beach 1938: 182; du Plessis 1965: 213). But the Korana and Griqua were not of equal status on the northern frontier. The ethnonym ‘Griqua’ replaced ‘Bastard’ in 1813 at the insistence of the missionary Campbell, who persuaded the Basters that the latter term was offensive (Ross 1976: 16). From a sociolinguistic perspective this is significant because the replacement name may convey a stronger Khoekhoe linguistic affiliation than ‘Bastard’ might. However, it is difficult to estimate precisely what the dominant language was among the Griqua. Even in its origins the group was not linguistically homogeneous, incorporating both speakers of Khoekhoe-Dutch and Khoekhoe (Marais 1968: 32). Evidence concerning a group of Basters who migrated from the northern frontier to what is now southern Namibia sheds some light on this: despite conventional wisdom that the Basters were primarily or even exclusively speakers of ‘Dutch’, Khoekhoe Afrikaans was certainly not the dominant language of this group, but was their second language; Nama was their first language and the fact that children still spoke it shows that it was not yet moribund (Cluver n.d.a: 113–14). Whatever the linguistic situation among the Griqua, they were also proficient in Khoekhoe-Dutch and gradually the Khoekhoe language was replaced. The Griqua were the dominant political group on the northern frontier in the early part of the nineteenth century, and they sought to reduce the Korana and Bushmen to a dependent status as labourers (Ross 1976: 15). This exploitation contributed to the destruction of the Korana and the Bushmen, and it must have had a strong impact on the changing linguistic affiliations of the area, in the shift to a variety of Afrikaans. However, both Griqua and Korana societies collapsed in the course of the political developments on the northern frontier. This is reflected linguistically in the death of both Khoekhoe varieties (notwithstanding the remnants of Khoekhoe spoken today by a few older people in Kakamas, Pella and Keimoes (Hoff, personal communication). The variety of Afrikaans that replaced Kora and Gri was distinctive and has been labelled Orange River Afrikaans by van Rensburg (1984: 514–15), who characterises it as follows: die nie-standaard Nederlands . . . wat veral aan die Oranje Rivier maar ook op ander plekke in die binneland, vanaf sowat die begin van die agtiende eeu deur ’n noemenswaardige aantal sprekers gebruik is. Di´e form van Afrikaans is sterk beinvloed


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deur Hottentots. Talle sprekers van Oranjerivier Afrikaans vas vroe¨ers ook ’n vorm van Hollands magtig. (van Rensburg 1984: 514–15) (the non-standard Dutch . . . that was used by a significant number of speakers especially on the Orange river but also at other places in the interior, from around the beginning of the eighteenth century. This form of Afrikaans had been strongly influenced by Hottentot [i.e. Khoekhoe]. Earlier, many speakers of Orange River Afrikaans were also fluent in a form of Hottentot.)

Cluver (n.d.a) describes this Orange River Afrikaans as ‘strongly creolized’ Cape Dutch interspersed with Khoekhoe words, a characterization of KhoekhoeDutch that may well apply to the type of Dutch that had replaced Khoekhoe at the Cape a century before. 4 THE SAN LANGUAGES

The San languages of South Africa were all members of the !Kwi group of the Southern Bushman language family (D. F. Bleek 1929; K¨ohler 1981). The geographical spread of this group in historical times covered virtually the whole of what is modern South Africa, from the eastern border of Swaziland in the north-east to the mouth of the Orange river in the north-west, and from the Natal midlands in the south-east to the western Cape in the south-west. It is reasonable to assume that the !Kwi languages or dialects had been spoken over most of this area for some 8,000 years (Wright 1971: 1). Today, with the exception of a handful of speakers of the moribund /’Auni (i.e. /’Auo) and =| Khomani languages of Gordonia and the Kalahari Gemsbok Park, all these languages are dead, their speakers having been exterminated or their remnants absorbed into the Bantu-speaking or (what are now) Afrikaans-speaking coloured communities. Wright estimates that there could have been 10,000 to 20,000 Bushmen in South Africa before this process began; the extinction was complete in about three hundred years. The !Kwi languages fell into three or four groups. The linguistic affiliations between, and even within, the groups are not always clear from the available material; some of the main varieties are given below. (For a detailed list of all of them, see Winter 1981.) The largest and most extensive was /Xam or /Kham, the language of the so-called Cape Bushmen. This was recorded in a number of more or less closely related varieties in the whole of the former Cape Province south of the Orange river from the Colesburg and Burgersdorp area in the north-east to the Katkop hills north of Calvinia in the north-west and from the Achterveld in the Fraserburg district in the south-west through Oudtshoorn to the Graaf-Reinet area in the south-east. W. H. I. Bleek examined the differences between a number of the /Xam varieties from this area in 1857 and stated that ‘the different Bushmen dialects spoken within this colony vary little from each other . . . one language . . . is spoken by all these Bushmen’ (1873: 2).

The Khoesan languages


There can be little doubt that the first Bushmen encountered in the southwestern Cape by Europeans were also speakers of /Xam. The variety of the !Kwi group known as //Ng !k’e was recorded much later by Dorothea Bleek at Mount Temple in the area of the Langebergen near present-day Olifantshoek between 1911 and 1915. She described this as ‘a language . . . very like the /Kham tongue, but much too distinct to be classed as a dialect’ (1927: 56). This language was formerly spoken from the Vaal river in the east to the Molopo in the north and the west. Bleek found a few speakers on the right (i.e. east) bank of the Vaal and on the lower Molopo in Gordonia (1929: 1). Elsewhere, she gives the distribution of //Ng !k’e as ‘Griqualand West and Southern Gordonia’ (1942: 5). A further group of !Kwi varieties was found by Dorothea Bleek in 1911 in what is now the Kalahari Gemsbok Park. These were /Auni (/’Auni) and the Xatia (Kattia or =| Keikusi), dialects of the same language. She described the language as less closely allied to /Xam than //Ng !k’e. To the languages of this area should be added =| Khomani (Doke 1937) and Ku /khaasi (Story 1937), both reported in 1937. Further east was =| Kunkwe of the Warrenton area (Meinhof 1928–29), //Ku//e, spoken near Theunissen (D. F. Bleek 1956), Seroa, spoken near Bethany in the Orange Free State and in what is now Lesotho, and !G˜a !ne spoken near Tsolo in the Transkei (Anders 1934/5). The easternmost !Kwi language was //Xegwi, spoken at Lake Chrissie in the eastern Transvaal (Lanham and Hallowes 1956a, 1956b). The more recent history of the speakers of /Xam is well known, with ‘their societies shattered by warfare, starvation and disease; the women and children enslaved; the men all but exterminated by the genocidal hatred of their enemies’ (Penn 1991). From a sociolinguistic perspective this situation satisfies virtually every requirement for language death (Brenzinger 1992: 290). Indeed, this had happened within about 170 years of the first clashes between the /Xam and the frontier farmers of the Cape Colony in about 1740. There is no clear picture of the linguistic situation before this time. Speakers of /Xam and Khoekhoe had been in social contact for centuries, and there is a limited amount of evidence that this led to some degree of bilingualism (Penn 1991; Wilson and Thompson 1969: 63–4). The /Xam recorded by W. H. I. Bleek showed very little Khoekhoe influence. On the basis of this evidence one may assume that the bilingualism affecting this variety of the language had not involved language shift. He did notice that a number of words for ‘abstract concepts’ appeared to be of common origin in /Xam and Khoekhoe, but he concluded that these had probably been taken over from Khoekhoe into /Xam ‘in consequence of the contiguity of the two nations’ (1873: 8). The linguistic situation changed, however, after 1740 when /Xam society faced continuous pressure from war, dislocation and extermination, which also spilled over into Khoekhoe and Baster communities. One can only guess that this had linguistic repercussions which set the scene for the eventual death of


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/Xam. But these effects took some time to emerge, and the evidence for the changes is extremely thin. When the missionaries Johannes Jacobus Kicherer and John Edwards landed in Table Bay in 1799 they met two Bushmen and a Korana, who had Dutch names: Vigilant, Slaparm (‘Weak Arm’) and Oorlam (‘Knowing One’). Clearly, some linguistic force had begun to stir in the interior. However, when Kicherer and Edwards set up the first mission to the /Xam on the Zak (Sak) river in the same year, they found themselves in a vital /Xam community. Kicherer remarked that ‘their language is so difficult to learn that no one can spell or write the same’, and none of the missionaries succeeded in mastering it (du Plessis 1965: 104–5). Penn (1991) notes that at first these missionaries relied on the services of one Gerrit Visser, son of the frontier farmer Floris Visser, who could speak /Xam. This gives a fascinating, if frustratingly meagre, glimpse into the linguistic dynamics of the area. Later the missionaries relied on another /Xam speaker as principal interpreter, but they had already begun a daily routine of instruction in Dutch for the children (Penn 1991). After 1754 the Trekboers of the frontier began their retaliatory commandos against the /Xam. Over a period of forty-four years thousands were killed; surviving women and children were distributed as slaves among farmers; and some women were given as wives to Khoekhoe members of commandos (Penn 1991). This destroyed the basis of /Xam society, immediately creating conditions under which language maintenance was impossible: ‘Those San who grew up on farms, either as captive children, or as the descendants of clients, were absorbed into the mixed Coloured community . . . they mingled in race with negroid and Indonesian slaves, with whites, as well as with herders who resembled them physically’ (Wilson 1969: 72). Surviving groups of /Xam speakers were driven into remote areas around the Hartebeest river and further west where they struggled to survive in the context of diminishing resources and the continual encroachment of farmers on their land. Here too, attempts were made by Trekboers, Basters, Korana and Xhosa to exterminate them (Marais 1968: 28). Within one year, between 1858 and 1859, they had virtually disappeared from the neighbourhood of the Hartebeest river. It is precisely from this area that Jantje Tooren or //Kabbo (‘Dream’), one of W. H. I. Bleek and Lucy Lloyd’s main informants, came. Bleek began his work with the /Xam in 1870. Although the material he and Lloyd collected necessarily focuses on the /Xam language, it is nevertheless possible to piece together an outline of the broader linguistic situation of the /Xam at that time. The most significant fact is that there was bilingualism among the informants. Most of them had worked for farmers and could speak ‘Dutch’. Indeed, it is clear that Bleek and Lloyd relied on this fact in their linguistic work. Their original manuscripts contain many notes in ‘Dutch’ translating a /Xam word or a sentence, and in Bleek’s report he lists four texts, ‘Lion and Bushman’, two versions of ‘Woman transformed into lion’, and ‘The lost

The Khoesan languages


child’, as translations from the Dutch (1873: 5). There was also bilingualism in Kora. In the turmoil of the times, the /Xam had formed alliances with these Khoekhoe and had even been absorbed by them. Bleek records how he spoke (in Dutch?) to a ‘Bushman’ prisoner in Cape Town who told him he had been brought up by the ‘Korannas’ (sic) since he was a child (Bleek and Lloyd 1911: 436). =| K´asin, another of the informants used by Bleek and Lloyd, had a father who was a Korana chief and a mother who was a /Xam; he was fluent in both languages (W. H. I. Bleek 1875: 5; Deacon 1996). One may assume that these were not isolated cases. Despite this bilingualism, it seems that /Xam was being maintained at least among the adults Bleek and Lloyd recorded. There are no signs that the /Xam of the Bleek and Lloyd texts was seriously influenced by Khoekhoe and not at all by Dutch; as mentioned above, from this evidence and for these speakers it appears that the shift to other languages had not yet taken place. However, there is no record of the transmission of the language to children. There is the possibility, though, that the language of the /Xam that Bleek encountered was in fact beginning to show the first symptoms of shrinkage. Bleek referred to //Kabbo as ‘our best informant . . . [who] was nearly sixty years of age . . . and [who] was picked out from among twenty grown-up Bushmen as one of the best narrators’ (Orpen 1874: 12). The implication is clearly that older speakers had better command of linguistic skills. Forty years later, the shift had begun to take effect. In 1910–11 Dorothea Bleek visited the few remaining speakers of /Xam at Prieska and Kenhardt; they worked as shepherds or labourers on farms or as servants in the villages. One of them, the old Janikie Achterdam, had been with W. H. I. Bleek forty years before; she sang some songs and told the story in /Xam of the moon and the hare. It is poignant that she ended with the words ‘nu is ik klaar’ (now I am finished) (Treble Violl 1911: 9). Bleek’s biographical sketches of members of this group provide brief insights into their history and linguistic situation. Some still spoke /Xam fluently, but knew no folklore; others did not speak the language at all. Some had a clear memory of their personal histories over a period of sixty or seventy years, but one, Roman Titus, did not know his parentage. Perhaps the most dramatic case involved Guiman and his wife Rachel, daughter of /ogən-aŋ. Rachel had been taken as a young girl by a farmer’s wife and had grown up speaking Afrikaans. She learned /Xam from Guiman, who in turn learned Afrikaans from her (D. F. Bleek 1936: 201–3). The fate of the remaining !Kwi dialects or languages differs only in some of the details. In 1857 W. H. I. Bleek used Lichtenstein’s short comparative vocabularies of Bushman and Kora to discover that the version of /Xam spoken in the Colesberg and Burgersdorp district differed very little from the varieties further west (W. H. I. Bleek 1875: 2). In 1814, missionaries to Tooverberg ministered and taught entirely through the services of a Khoekhoe interpreter


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from Tulbagh named Cupido, who had been a farm worker in Graaf-Reinet and had learned /Xam from the Bushmen farm workers. But within ten years Tooverberg had become the white farming town of Colesberg, and the /Xam and their language had begun to disappear. Bleek’s limited investigation thirty years later of a few speakers from this area unfortunately tells us nothing about the general state of the language. The same sequence of events affected the mission stations among the Bushmen at Bethulie and Philippolis, which were founded between 1820 and 1830 (Sales 1975: 62–3). It is likely that a different language in the !Kwi group was spoken here (possibly //Ku //e, Seroa, //Ng !k’e).4 But the identity of the language was irrelevant. The fact that ‘not even one missionary ever understood the Bushman language’ (Sales 1975: 63) repeated language attitudes encountered 100 years previously among the Cape Khoekhoe, and did nothing to slow the demise of any of the languages. The Philippolis Bushmen faced a more daunting problem than indifference to their language. It came in the form of the Griqua, who took them as labourers or drove them out. By 1835 all the survivors ‘were reduced to the level of labourers or had fled for instance to the Orange River valley’ (Ross 1976: 24–5). The flight to the east would have brought fugitives into contact with speakers of the !Kwi language, Seroa, and Southern Sotho. There is no useful record of Seroa, but it was evidently spoken in what is now Lesotho and in adjacent areas of the Orange Free State. When the missionary Arbousset travelled through the eastern Orange Free State in 1836 he remarked that Seroa was the most widely spoken language. In his remarks on Joseph Orpen’s paper on the mythology of the Maluti Bushmen, W. H. I. Bleek concluded, on the basis of thirteen words (including six proper names), that the language later to be called Seroa was ‘essentially the same as, although dialectally differing from, that of the more western Bushmen’, i.e. the /Xam (Orpen 1874: 12). One of the words, tsha, ‘eland’, is the same in Dorothea Bleek’s S11e, !G˜a !ne of the Transkei, and the word cagn, ‘deity’ is the same as /kaggen, ‘mantis’ in /Xam (Bleek 1956). W. H. I. Bleek’s knowledge of the relationships of Seroa to other languages of the !Kwi group could not have been based on much more than these two words. In 1870, Bushmen were still numerous in the Quthing district of Lesotho, despite attacks elsewhere in the region from the Sotho, slave raiding by the Korana and attempted extermination by imperial troops under Colonel Bowker (How 1962: 53, 57–8). However, it seems that the language had disappeared by the 1880s and one must infer that there had been a rapid shift, in this case to Sotho or the Nguni varieties spoken in that area. It is most likely that the Bushmen of Natal were also speakers of Seroa, at least in historical times. Wright (1971: 189) describes how almost all the bands engaged in raiding Natal between 1840 and 1872 were from East Griqualand

The Khoesan languages


and south-eastern Lesotho, and at least some of these operated from the Quthing area under the protection of Chief Moorosi; this is precisely where the largest number of surviving Lesotho Bushmen was found in 1879 (How 1962: 58; Jolly 1994). These raiders had close alliances with the Bhaca and the Mpondomise of the present-day Transkei and were most likely bilingual in these Nguni varieties. Wright quotes the statement of one Jacobus Uys, who spoke to a group of Bushmen in southern Natal in 1840 through an interpreter, a ‘Hottentot named Jan’ (Wright 1971: 54–5). Since there was no Khoekhoe language spoken in those parts it is likely that Seroa was being used. At least one can tell from this encounter that there had been no shift to Dutch, as there had been in the rest of South Africa. Evidence that Seroa survived to some extent until 1873 in the Qacha’s Nek area comes in the form of Qing, a young Bushman from that area who acted as Joseph Orpen’s guide in Basutoland. Orpen used a number of different interpreters to communicate with Qing, and he described his bilingualism as follows: ‘the language he spoke best besides his own was that of the Baputi, a hybrid dialect between the Basuto and the Amazizi languages’ (Orpen 1874: 2). Qing’s bilingualism is likely to have been typical for the period, and it gives an idea of at least one of the directions of language shift which rapidly culminated in the disappearance of Seroa. Everything known about the !Kwi language !G˜a !ne, once spoken in the Tsolo district of the Transkei, comes from the material collected by Anders from two middle-aged semi-speakers in about 1931. The mother of one of them was a ‘true Bushwoman’; the other had come to the Tsolo district from the Umtata district and he had spoken the Bushman language with his uncle some forty-five years before. Since then, he had lived among the Mpondomise, and the sounds of !G˜a !ne ‘were . . . like far off memories of other times. Patience and time were required to allow his memories to wake up after long dormancy’ (Anders 1934/5: 82). This resuscitation of a language that was almost dead yielded some 140 words. Anders concluded that !G˜a !ne was most like the //Ng !k’e recorded by D. Bleek in Gordonia, Griqualand West and the Vaal River area in 1911 and 1915 (Anders 1934/5: 85). If //Ng !k’e represented a continuum of dialects spoken in this line through to the Transkei, it is plausible to suggest that Seroa could have been one of them. Unfortunately, the Seroa material collected by Orpen is so limited that only the word for ‘eland’ referred to above has a cognate in !G˜a !ne. Further east, at Lake Chrissie in the eastern Transvaal, the !Kwi variety known as //Xegwi was spoken. In the 1950s there were fewer than thirty-six speakers left. They were described as still knowing their language ‘fairly well’ and being bilingual in ‘Swazi-Zulu’ and Afrikaans (Potgieter 1955), though thirty years earlier they evidently did not speak the ‘taal’ (i.e. Afrikaans) (D. F. Bleek 1929: 1). Potgieter remarks, however, that children were showing signs of


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forgetting their language, and he makes the interesting observation that the //Xegwi were ‘not inclined to speak their own language in the presence of Swazi or Europeans’ (1955: 7). This probably reflects a strong stigma attached to speaking //Xegwi, a situation that would contribute to language shrinkage. According to tradition, the earlier speakers of //Xegwi spoke Sotho as well. There are in fact a number of borrowed forms in //Xegwi from Sotho, Zulu, Afrikaans, English and even Tsonga (Lanham and Hallowes 1956b). However, it is not possible today to estimate where and when the contacts with Sotho and Tsonga took place. In this small community there also appear to have been such wide differences in pronunciation that Winter has claimed it is not possible to decide whether the available descriptions of the language represent only one dialect (Winter 1981: 342). But this variation probably means the informants were ‘terminal speakers’ (Tsitsipis 1989: 119). These factors all describe a language in its last stages. It has been suggested that the //Xegwi were refugees from Basutoland (Potgieter 1955). The presence of a Sotho influence in the language may lend some plausibility to this claim. But given the lack of any linguistic details about Seroa itself, the claim remains speculative. Nevertheless, the existence of a number of //Xegwi lexical items with clear reflexes in =| Khomani of Gordonia (Lanham and Hallowes 1956b) lends some support to the suggestion already made that there may have been a certain integrity to the !Kwi languages spoken from Gordonia in the west through Griqualand, the Orange Free State and Basutoland to Lake Chrissie in the east. Ultimately, the death of //Xegwi seems to have been caused by the death of all its speakers rather than by a shift to Swazi or Zulu. In 1975 I interviewed Jopi Mabinda, the last //Xegwi speaker. He was able to reproduce perfectly the linguistic material he had given to Lanham and Hallowes (Lanham and Hallowes 1956a) and he was fluent in Zulu. He told me he was the only speaker of the language and that he spoke it to his sister and brother-in-law, who only had a passive knowledge of it. He was murdered at Lothair, in the eastern Transvaal, in 1988 (Boekkooi 1988). In 1911 Dorothea Bleek visited the Lower Nossop and Auop rivers in Gordonia (the area that is now the Kalahari Gemsbok Park), to study the Bushman language spoken there. She found speakers of a !Kwi language called /Au or /Auo; the people called themselves /Auni (D. Bleek 1937b: 208). (She erred in her transcriptions, which should have been /’Au, /’Auo, /’Auni respectively.) There was also a closely related dialect named Xatia. She described the situation as follows: They were in their natural state, living in bush screens and clothing themselves with skins. They collected wild vegetables and hunted when they could, chiefly with guns owned by the ‘Bastaards’ who had made themselves their overlords . . . interpreters were

The Khoesan languages


difficult to find, therefore only a small amount of linguistic material could be collected. Yet that shows the place of the language among the others. (D. Bleek 1929: 2)

She placed the language as a somewhat distant linguistic relative of /Xam. Since these Basters would have mainly spoken a variety of Afrikaans and probably some Nama, we may infer from her remarks that the /’Auni were not yet bilingual in Afrikaans and were maintaining their language and lifestyle despite their relationship of clientship. Twenty-five years later the University of the Witwatersrand’s research expedition to Tweerivieren at the junction of the Nossop and Auob rivers found a different situation. After a great deal of effort, seventy Bushmen were collected for anthropological, linguistic and physical study. Of these, forty-three spoke a hitherto unrecorded language called =| Khomani, twenty-six spoke /’Auo, one was a Vaalpens5 and the remainder spoke Nama (Bleek also noted the presence of a ‘Vaalpens’ woman who turned out to speak Ku/haasi: D. F. Bleek 1937a; Maingard 1937). Maingard makes the interesting observation that adults and children were speaking =| Khomani, but he also notes that there was one ‘best’ speaker of =| Khomani who was the most conversant with the language, Ou Abram or !gurice; that others were not speakers of pure =| Khomani, and that Ou Abram’s children Malxas and /Khanako, who were also his informants, had forgotten the lore of their forefathers. Malxas was also fluent in Afrikaans and translated all Ou Abram’s folktales into that language (Maingard 1937: 237, 261). Within a year, Ou Abram was dead. I interviewed Malxas’s son at Nossop camp in the Kalahari Gemsbok Park in 1973; he spoke only Afrikaans and any remaining =| Khomani speakers had dispersed. The fate of =| Khomani follows a classic course: bilingualism, shrinkage of the language, shift. In this case the shift was to Nama and/or Afrikaans. One can see that when Maingard conducted his study, the process of obsolescence was well entrenched. It is interesting to read how both Maingard and Doke attributed phonetic imprecision, morphological variation and the stylistic impoverishment they found in =| Khomani to the conceptual style of the Bushman, in which he ‘is quite content with relative approximations, so long as he is understood by his fellows’ (Maingard 1937: 253, 260; Doke 1937: 87). Yet all these features are well-known symptoms of language decay. Maingard provides evidence of =| Khomani’s relationship to /Xam in the form of fifty-two words and other shared features. It is worth noting that this list far exceeds, in quality and quantity, those inadequately transcribed and limited sources that have so frequently been used to judge that a certain !Kwi variety or language is merely a version of some other !Kwi variety or language, and that on this basis there must have been mutual intelligibility between !Kwi languages and dialects. While it is certain that the two /Xam varieties of the Flat and Grass Bushmen6 recorded by W. H. I. Bleek and Lloyd hardly differed, and that /Xam and =| Khomani could not have been mutually intelligible, it is


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not at all clear from the meagre evidence available what degree of mutual intelligibility existed between these and any of the other !Kwi languages. We will never know the answer to this, but the question is worth noting because of its sociolinguistic importance. For instance, !X´oo˜ , spoken in south-western Botswana, and /’Auni share a number of related linguistic features and some common vocabulary because they are genetically related. But the !X´oo˜ do not understand a word of spoken /’Auni and would have to become bilingual or use a lingua franca in order to communicate. If this situation applied to any extent between the !Kwi languages of South Africa it would have had an impact on patterns of bilingualism and language shift and contributed to the death of the languages. In 1973 at Nossop camp I also interviewed /Okos, a woman who claimed to be the last speaker of what she called /Nuhci (i.e. /’Auo). This was probably close to the truth. I went through all the grammatical and lexical material Dorothea Bleek had published on the /’Auni language in 1937 and I found that /Okos had maintained the language in every detail. This is extraordinary. As with Jopi Mabinda, the last //Xegwi speaker, it seems that the language, having ceased to be a vital means of communication, must have assumed a powerful symbolic value which maintained the speaker’s identity in defiance of the forces that had consumed all the other !Kwi languages of South Africa. Recently, a few more elderly individuals with some knowledge of /’Auni or =| Khomani have been found in Gordonia. Independently, they have preserved a strong sense of their Bushman origins, but Afrikaans is their first language and the only language of their children. 5 THE SURVIVING KHOESAN LANGUAGES

There are still many vital Khoesan languages spoken in southern Africa. These are to be found in Namibia, where Ju still flourishes, and in Botswana, where the greatest variety of Khoesan languages is found. But the attrition continues. The language of the ‘Masarwa’ studied in 1913 by Dorothea Bleek at Khakhea in southern Botswana is dead; Eastern =| Hu˜a spoken in the Kweneng district of Botswana is shrinking and severely threatened; the Tyua dialect of Sepako in north-eastern Botswana and adjacent parts of Zimbabwe is moribund; Deti of the Rakops area is dead; the !X´oo˜ of the Aminuis Reserve in Namibia, whom Dorothea Bleek (1929: 2) studied in 1913 (she called the people /Nu //en), is moribund. In Namibia, there has been such a dramatic shift from Nama to Afrikaans and English that the vitality of the language is seriously threatened (Cluver n.d.b; Haacke 1989). Other surviving Khoesan languages are shrinking as a result of a lack of official interest, language education policy, and the economic and social conditions of speakers. There is also wholesale bilingualism in local varieties of Tswana.

The Khoesan languages


These languages are therefore threatened by pressures only slightly less dramatic, but no less severe, than those that led to the disappearance of the Khoesan languages further south. notes 1 This spelling of the more familiar ‘Khoisan’ has been adopted in this chapter following Nienaber’s (1990) discussion and rejection of it on linguistic grounds. The convention not only affects the term ‘Khoesan’, but is extended to other familiar, related terms. Thus ‘Khoikhoi’ becomes ‘Khoekhoe’ and ‘Khoi’ becomes ‘Khoe’ in all uses. In this chapter ‘Khoe’ and ‘Khoekhoe’ frequently have a special linguistic sense: ‘Khoe’ denotes a family of languages, one branch of which includes the ‘Khoekhoe’ languages of South Africa (Nama, Gri, !Ora) and Namibia (Khoekhoegowab); the other branch of the ‘Khoe’ family consists of the non-Khoekhoe languages, none of which is indigenous to South Africa. In its non-linguistic sense, ‘Khoekhoe’ is also applied to the people who speak or spoke one of the ‘Khoekhoe’ languages. In this latter usage, ‘Khoekhoe’ replaces the traditional and now discredited ethnonym ‘Hottentot’. The name ‘San’, derived from the Khoekhoe word saan, is a popular replacement for the ethnonym ‘Bushman’, which is widely perceived to be offensive. ‘San’, however, lacks any linguistic validity and it may even be confusing when used as an ethnonym. Thus, there is no valid family of ‘San’ languages, and some ‘San’ speak Khoe languages. Equally, there is no valid linguistic family of ‘Bushman’ languages; the people commonly referred to as ‘Bushmen’ speak languages from one of the three distinct Ju, Khoe or Southern families. 2 The term ‘Khoesan’ is linguistically misleading because it does not refer to a single family of languages. In fact, it is applied to three genetically unrelated groups of languages, which may be referred to for convenience as the Northern (including Ju, !Xung etc.), Central (including Nama, Cape Khoekhoe, Naro, etc.) and Southern (including /Xam, !Xung etc.) families (D. F. Bleek 1929). The Khoe languages do constitute a genetic unity, but not the so-called ‘San’ languages (Northern and Southern families), either with one another or with the Khoe languages. 3 There are currently 4,000 Bushmen living at Schmidtsdrift near Douglas in the northern Cape. They represent a proportion of the South African Defence Forces’s Bushman Battalion that was deployed in northern Namibia, and their families. The group consists of about 1,200 speakers of Kxoe, a Khoe (Central family) language, and !X˜u (!Xung), a Northern Bushman language. These languages are mutually unintelligible, and Afrikaans is used as a lingua franca among males and as a medium of instruction in school. Females are largely monolingual in either Kxoe or !X˜u. This large number of Bushmen represents the majority of Angolan Khoesan (L. P. Voster, personal communication), but obviously they are neither historically nor linguistically South African Khoesan. 4 The Bushmen at Bethulie had links with those from the Colesberg and Aliwal North areas. An interview with one in 1877 offers a rare piece of evidence concerning the lack of mutual intelligibility between certain neighbouring !Kwi varieties. The man, Toby or Kwa-ha, said: ‘I can speak Bushman language well, but I cannot understand the Bushmen of Riet River; their language is “too double”’ (Orpen 1877: 85). This presumably refers to a variety spoken about a hundred kilometres north in the


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Reddersburg area of the Orange Free State. I am grateful to T. Dowson for this reference. 5 Vaalpens was an ethnonym used by various commentators and Bushmen themselves to refer to groups of Bushmen from the south-western corner of the then Bechuanaland Protectorate. 6 The Grass Bushmen lived in the Katkop hills between Kenhardt and Brandvlei. The Flat Bushmen lived at various waterholes between Kenhardt and Van Wyk’s Vlei (Deacon 1986). bibliography Anders, H. 1934/5. ‘A note on a southeastern Bushman dialect’. Zeitschrift f¨ur Eingeborenen-Sprachen, 25: 81–9. Beach, D. M. 1938. The Phonetics of the Hottentot Language. Cambridge: Heffer. Bennie, J. 1823. Incwadi yokuqala ekuteteni gokwamaXosa. Grey Collection, South African Library, Cape Town. Bleek, D. F. 1927. ‘The distribution of the Bushman languages in South Africa’. In Festschrift Meinhof. Hamburg: Augustin, pp. 55–64. 1929. Comparative Vocabularies of Bushman Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1936. ‘Speech of animals and moon used by the /Xam Bushmen: notes on photographs’. Bantu Studies, 10: 163–203. 1937a. ‘Grammatical notes and texts in the /Auni language’. In J. D. Rheinallt Jones and C. M. Doke (eds.), Bushmen of the Southern Kalahari. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, pp. 195–200. 1937b. ‘/Auni vocabulary’. In J. D. Rheinallt Jones and C. M. Doke (eds.), Bushmen of the Southern Kalahari. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, pp. 201–20. 1942. ‘The Bushman tribes of southern Africa’. In A. M. Duggan-Cronin (ed.), The Bushman Tribes of Southern Africa. Kimberley: Alexander McGregor Memorial Museum, pp. 1–14. 1956. A Bushman Dictionary. New Haven, Conn.: American Oriental Society. Bleek, W. H. I. 1873. Report of Dr. Bleek concerning his Researches into the Bushman Language and Customs, Presented to the Honourable the House of Assembly. Cape of Good Hope Official Publications A17-’83. 1875. Second Report concerning Bushman Researches by W. H. I. Bleek, Presented to the Houses of Parliament. Cape of Good Hope Official Publications G 54-’75. Bleek, W. H. I. and L. C. Lloyd 1911. Specimens of Bushman Folklore. London: Allen. Boekkooi, J. 1988. ‘Murdered: the last of the Mountain Bushmen’. Sunday Tribune, 4 December. Brenzinger, M. 1992. ‘Language shift in East Africa’. In R. K. Herbert (ed.), Language and Society in Africa. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, pp. 287–303. Brenzinger, M., B. Heine and G. Sommer 1991. ‘Language death in Africa’. In R. H. Robins and E. M. Uhlenbeck (eds.), Endangered Languages. Oxford: Berg, pp. 19–44. Carstens, P. 1966. The Social Structure of a Cape Coloured Reserve. Cape Town: Oxford University Press.

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Cluver, A. D. de V. n.d.a ‘Afrikaans as ’n nasionale taal van Namibi¨e: ’n studie in taalgeskiedenis en taalpolitiek’. Unpublished MS. n.d.b. ‘Changing language attitudes: the stigmatisation of Khoekhoegowab in Namibia’. Unpublished MS. Crawhall, N. 1997. ‘Results of consultations with San and Khoe communities in Gordonia, Namaqualand and Bushmanland’. South African San Institute’s Third Submission to the Pan South African Language Board. Unpublished MS. Deacon, J. 1986. ‘“My name is Bitterputs”: the home territory of Bleek and Lloyd’s /Xam San informants’. African Studies, 45: 135–55. 1996. ‘The /Xam informants’. In J. Deacon and T. A. Dowson (eds.), Voices from the Past. /Xam Bushmen and the Bleek and Lloyd Collection. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, pp. 11–39. Dimmendaal, G. J. 1989. ‘On language death in eastern Africa’. In Dorian (ed.), pp. 13–32. Doke, C. M. 1937. ‘An outline of =| Khomani Bushmen phonetics’. In J. D. Rheinallt Jones and C. M. Doke (eds.), Bushmen of the Southern Kalahari. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, pp. 61–88. Dorian, N. C. 1989 (ed.) Investigating Obsolescence: Studies in Language Contraction and Death. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. du Plessis, J. 1965. A History of Christian Missions in South Africa. Cape Town: Struik. Elphick, R. 1985. Khoikhoi and the Founding of White South Africa. Johannesburg: Ravan Press. Elphick. R. and Malherbe, V. C. 1989. ‘The Khoesan to 1828’. In R. Elphick and H. Giliomee (eds.), The Shaping of South Africa. Cape Town: Maskew Miller Longman, pp. 3–65. Haacke, W. H. G. 1989. ‘Nama: survival through standardization’. In I. Foder and C. Hag`ege (eds.), Language Reform: History and Future. Hamburg: Helmut Buske Verlag, pp. 397–429. Harinck, G. 1972. ‘Interaction between Xhosa and Khoe: emphasis on the period 1620–1750’. In I. Thompson (ed.), African Societies in Southern Africa. London: Heinemann, pp. 145–69. Herbert, R. K. 1990a. ‘The relative markedness of click sounds: evidence from language change, acquisition and avoidance’. Anthropological Linguistics, 32, 1–2: 295–315. 1990b. ‘The sociohistory of clicks in Southern Bantu’. Anthropological Linguistics, 32, 3–4: 120–38. [Revised version in this volume, chap. 15] How, M. W. 1962. The Mountain Bushmen of Basutoland. Pretoria: Van Schaik. Jolly, P. 1994. ‘Strangers to brothers: interaction between south-eastern San and Southern Nguni/Sotho’. Unpublished MA thesis, University of Cape Town. K¨ohler, O. 1981. ‘Les Langues Khoisan’. In G. Manessy (ed.), Les Langues de l’Afrique subsaharienne. Paris: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, vol. III, pp. 459–615. Krauss, M. L. 1992. ‘The world’s languages in crisis’. Language, 68: 4–10. Kruger, B. 1966. The Pear Tree Blossoms: A History of the Moravian Mission Stations in South Africa 1737–1869. Genadendal: Moravian Book Depot. Lanham, L. W. 1964. ‘The proliferation and extension of Bantu phonemic systems influenced by Bushman and Hottentot’. In H. G. Lunt (ed.), Proceedings of the Ninth International Congress of Linguistics. The Hague: Mouton, pp. 382–91.


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Lanham, L. W. and D. P. Hallowes 1956a. ‘An outline of the structure of Eastern Bushman’. African Studies, 15: 97–118. 1956b. ‘Linguistic relationships and contacts expressed in the vocabulary of Eastern Bushman’. African Studies, 15: 45–8. Links, T. H. 1989. So praat ons Namakwalanders. Cape Town: Tafelberg. Louw, J. A. 1974. ‘The influence of Khoi on the Xhosa language’. Limi, 2: 43–93. 1977. ‘The adaptation of non-click consonants in Xhosa’. In A. Traill (ed.), Khoisan Linguistic Studies. Johannesburg: African Studies Institute, University of the Witwatersrand, vol. III, pp. 74–92. 1979. ‘A preliminary survey of Khoi and San influence in Zulu’. In A. Traill (ed.), Khoisan Linguistic Studies. Johannesburg: African Studies Institute, University of the Witwatersrand, vol. VIII, pp. 8–21. Maingard, L. F. 1937. ‘The =| Khomani dialect of Bushman: its morphology and other characteristics’. In J. D. Rheinallt Jones and C. M. Doke (eds.), Bushmen of the Southern Kalahari. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, pp. 237–75. Marais, J. S. 1968. The Cape Coloured People 1652–1937. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press. Meinhof, C. 1928–9. ‘Versuch einer grammatischen Skizze einer Buschmannsprache’. Zeitschrift f¨ur Eingeborenensprachen, 19: 117–53. Mostert, N. 1992. Frontiers. London: Jonathan Cape. Nienaber, G. S. 1963. Hottentots. Pretoria: Van Schaik. 1990. ‘Khoekhoen: spelling, vorma, betekenis’. African Studies, 49, 2: 43–50. Nienaber, G. S. and P. Raper 1977. Toponymica Hottentotica. Pretoria: Human Sciences Research Council. Orpen, C. S. 1877. ‘A contribution from a Bushman’. Orange Free State Monthly Magazine, 1, 2: 83–5. Orpen, J. M. 1874. ‘A glimpse into the mythology of the Maluti Bushmen’. Cape Monthly Magazine, 9: 1–13. Penn, N. 1991. ‘The |Xam and the colony’. Paper presented to the Bleek and Lloyd 1870–1991 Conference, University of Cape Town, 1991. Potgieter, E. F. 1955. The Disappearing Bushmen of Lake Chrissie. Pretoria: Van Schaik. Rademeyer, J. H. 1938. Kleurling-Afrikaans: Die Taal van die Griekwas en Rehoboth Basters. Amsterdam: Swats & Zeitlinger. Raper, P. 1972. Streekname in Suid-Afrika en Suidwes. Cape Town: Tafelberg. Ross, R. 1976. Adam Kok’s Griquas. A Study in the Development of Stratification in South Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Sales, J. 1975. Mission Stations and the Coloured Communities of the Eastern Cape 1800–1852. Cape Town: Balkema. Scholtz, J. du P. 1940. Naamgewing aan Plante en Diere in Afrikaans. Elsies Rivier: Nasou. Story, R. 1937. Manuscript collections of the Ki|hazi Bushman language. MS. Strassberger, E. 1969. The Rhenish Mission Society in South Africa 1830–1950. Cape Town: C. Struik. Thomason, S. G. and T. Kaufman 1988. Language Contact, Creolization and Genetic Linguistics. Berkeley: University of California Press. Treble Violl [pseud.] 1911. ‘Bushman hunting’. Cape Times Weekly Edition, 13 September.

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Tsitsipis, L. D. 1989. ‘Skewed performance and full performance in language obsolescence: the case of an Albanian variety’. In Dorian (ed.), pp. 117–37. van der Merwe, M. A. 1985. ‘Die Berlynse Sendelinge van Bethanie (Oranje-Vrystaat) en die Kora, 1834–1856’. South African Historical Journal, 17: 40–63. van Rensburg, M. C. J. 1984. ‘Finale verslag van ’n ondersoek na die Afrikaans van die Griekwas van die tagtiger jare’. Unpublished research report. Pretoria: Human Sciences Research Council. Westphal, E. O. J. 1971. ‘The click languages of southern and eastern Africa’. In J. Berry (ed.), Linguistics in Sub-Saharan Africa. Current Trends in Linguistics. The Hague: Mouton, vol. VII, pp. 367–420. Wilson, M. 1969. ‘The hunters and herders’. In Wilson and Thompson (eds.), pp. 41–74. Wilson, M. and L. Thompson (eds.) 1969. The Oxford History of South Africa, vol. I. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Winter, J. C. 1981. ‘Die Khoisan familie’. In B. Heine, T. C. Schadeberg and E. Wolff (eds.), Die Sprache Afrikas. Hamburg: Helmut Buske Verlag, vol. IV, pp. 329–74. Wright, J. 1971. Bushman Raiders of the Drakensberg 1840–1870. Pietermartizburg: University of Natal Press.


The Bantu languages: sociohistorical perspectives Robert K. Herbert and Richard Bailey


The present domain of the Bantu languages extends in an eastward progression from the Cameroon–Nigerian borderlands through the equatorial zone to the Kenyan coast and then southwards to the Cape. The geographic expanse is thus enormous, occupying fully one-third of the African continent, as is the degree of linguistic diversity. On account of the well-known problem of distinguishing languages and dialects, a precise count of the Bantu languages is not possible; their number is conservatively reckoned at about four hundred. Some 250 million people speak one or more of the Bantu languages as mother tongues today. This chapter considers the linguistic sociohistory of southern Africa, with particular attention to the Bantu languages. The term ‘Bantu’ (Bˆa-ntu) was coined by W. H. I. Bleek in 1857 or 1858 (Silverstein 1993 [1968]), and popularised through his Comparative Grammar (1862). Bleek noticed certain recurrent patterns among widely distributed languages on the African continent, and he happened upon the composite term Bˆa-ntu to name these languages and their speakers. The prefix ba-, the so-called class 2 prefix, is the plural marker for many noun stems with human referents in these languages.1 The stem *-ntu names representatives of the given class; hence Bantu is conveniently translated as ‘people/persons’. (Cf. Zulu abantu; Northern Sotho batho; Tsonga vanhu; Venda vhathu, etc.) Bleek’s coinage follows the frequent onomastic tradition where a group self-identifies itself as ‘(true/real) people’, reserving ethnonyms for outsiders.2 It is not possible to date with any certainty the arrival of the first Bantuspeaking Africans into the territory of present-day South Africa. It is clear, however, that their arrival preceded the arrival of European settlers by many centuries. The notion, long promulgated by many settler historians, that the first Bantu speakers crossed the Limpopo around 1652 is convenient fiction. To the contrary, archaeological research shows conclusively that there were Bantuspeaking groups who kept livestock and practised cultivation by at least 300 ad (Maggs 1991: 37). The precise relationship between these prehistoric groups 50

The Bantu languages: sociohistorical perspectives




er Nig



3.1 Present-day range of Bantu languages

and modern-day Bantu-language speakers remains an open question. It seems likely, however, that the earliest Bantu-speaking migrants were themselves displaced and absorbed by later arrivals some time after 1000 ad. It is often asserted that nine discrete Bantu languages are spoken in South Africa today: Northern Sotho (Sesotho sa Leboa), Ndebele, Sesotho (S Sotho), Swati, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, and Zulu.3 The theoretical issues associated with this delimitation will be discussed below. All nine of these languages are counted among the eleven co-official and co-equal languages recognised by the South African constitution (Act 108 of 1996).4 The history, delimitation, codification and promotion of these nine languages are of considerable interest to the historical sociolinguist. 2 WIDER RELATIONS: AFRICAN LANGUAGE PHYLA AND FAMILIES

The outstanding feature noted by Bleek in his description of the grammatical structure of the Bantu languages was ‘a concord of the pronouns and of every part of speech, in the formation of which pronouns are employed (e.g. adjectives and verbs) with the nouns to which they respectively refer, and the


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3.2 Guthrie’s language ‘zones’ (1967–71)

hereby caused distribution of the nouns into classes or genders’. Apart from the misidentification of prefixes as pronouns, Bleek’s statement is a reasonable description of that structural feature which continues to figure prominently in characterisations of the Bantu languages. Guthrie (1948: 11) lists two criteria which are determinative in the identification of a language as belonging to the Bantu family: 1 a system of grammatical genders, usually at least five . . . 2 a vocabulary, part of which can be related by fixed rules to a set of hypothetical common roots.5

The linguistic label Bantu is thus reserved for a group of languages exhibiting marked similarity in structure and vocabulary, both of which are presumed to derive from common ancestry. Guthrie (1948) developed a referential scheme for the Bantu languages, which divided them into geographical zones labelled A–T (later revised as A–S); subdivisions within the zones were grouped numerically, e.g. S.30 names the Sotho-Tswana languages, S.31 Tswana, S.33 Southern Sotho, etc.; each of the latter may name a dialect cluster, e.g. S.31b Kgatla, S.31d Kgalagadi, etc. Following the tradition of historical

The Bantu languages: sociohistorical perspectives









c Nubian



gay Son

Bamba ra

Hausa Kanuri Amharic Akan Yoruba







Luo Lingala Kongo




Hadza Sandawe


Phyla Afroasiatic Nilo-Saharan Niger-Congo




ho Sot Zulu



3.3 Distribution of African linguistic phyla (source: Williamson and Blench 2000)

linguistics, the term Proto-Bantu is reserved for the hypothetical ancestor language, the Ursprache, of the modern descendants distributed throughout the subcontinent. Greenberg (1963) was the first to establish the clear relationship between the Bantu languages and related languages called Benue-Congo, most of which are spoken in Nigeria and Cameroon. Prior to Greenberg’s classification, Bantu was generally taken to be an independent language family. The Benue-Congo family of languages is in fact a subfamily within a much larger phylum generally known as Niger-Congo. Grimes (1996) lists 1, 436 languages for Niger-Congo, making it the largest of the world’s phyla. The other major, independent language phyla of Africa include Afrasian (Afroasiatic), Nilo-Saharan6 and Khoesan.7 Only the latter has significant historic presence south of the equator; indeed, much of


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the region presently occupied by Bantu-speaking peoples may have originally been occupied by Khoesan speakers (Ehret 1997: 165). 3 BANTU LANGUAGES: THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT


The question of a ‘Bantu language homeland’

The two major questions that first arise in any discussion of the history of Bantu languages concern their place of origin and their spread. The first of these is considered to be settled: the original homeland of the Bantu languages is generally accepted as lying in the Cameroon–Nigerian borderland. Originally proposed by Greenberg and considered somewhat controversial at the time, there is virtually no dispute about this assertion today. Greenberg (1963) noted that the closest linguistic relatives of Bantu, other Benue-Congo languages, were to be found in this area. Further, the north-west of the Bantu-speaking area is marked by sharp linguistic divergence from the rest of Bantu; it is fairly widely agreed that there is a primary split within Bantu which separates the north-west (Guthrie Zones A, B, C and parts of D) from the rest of the Bantu languages (Williamson and Blench 2000: 34–5). The postulation of a homeland in the Nigerian–Cameroon borderland is in keeping with the belief that the linguistic homeland for a group of related languages is often located in the area of greatest linguistic diversity within the group. ‘In general, a homeland is the area in which the greatest concentration of linguistic diversity in the group is located or where its nearest relatives are found’ (Nurse 1997: 168). Thus, the claim is that the pre-Bantu community was a segment (or series of communities) of some Benue-Congo-speaking area. There is, however, a continuing debate about the spread of Bantu languages (and their speakers) throughout the African subcontinent. It is impossible to describe the linguistic prehistory of southern Africa in much detail. Most traces of pre-Bantu languages have been erased, as populations were displaced and absorbed by Bantu-speaking migrant groups. All of the Bantu languages are assumed to be descendants of a dialect cluster spoken north of the equatorial rain forest more than three thousand years ago. Knowledge of this hypothetical ancestor is based upon application of historical linguistics, including the comparative method and internal reconstruction. The reasons for the Bantu migrations are unknown, though it is generally assumed that changes in subsistence patterns may have created population pressures or opportunities. 3.2

Bantu and Bantoid

As mentioned above, the identification of individual languages as Bantu is not without problem or controversy. The terms Bantoid, Semi-Bantu, SubBantu, etc. have been used in the literature, though their theoretical status

The Bantu languages: sociohistorical perspectives





Mambiloid (Narrow) Bantu

Dakoid Jarawan Tivoid Beboid

North-west Other Bantu

Wide Grassfields Ekoid-Mbe


3.1 Bantoid language relationships (source: Williamson and Blench 2000: 35)

has occasionally been questioned. The problematic cases are languages in the north-west of the Bantu domain which reveal intriguing similarities to Bantu, though they are sufficiently divergent to warrant a separate treatment. Williamson (1971) introduced a distinction between ‘Wide’ and ‘Narrow’ Bantu, which she claimed was useful to adopt in discussing the Bantu borderland: NARROW BANTU refers to the Bantu of Meinhof and Guthrie (zones A, B, C, D, E, F, G . . . ), also sometimes called ‘traditional Bantu’ (by this is meant those languages traditionally accepted by Meinhof, Homburger, Doke, Cole, Meeussen, and Guthrie etc. as Bantu). WIDE BANTU is meant to embrace Narrow Bantu as well as certain aberrant or geographically non-contiguous groups in the Cameroons and Nigeria. These languages are not as typically ‘Bantu’ as the ‘Narrow Bantu’ languages.

There was much looseness in this framework, and it has been subjected to considerable debate and elaboration over the past three decades. The most pressing issue is the relationship between Bantu and adjacent languages, a problem that is acute in south-western Cameroon where there are a number of languages that are transparently related to Bantu, though ‘not Bantu’. The label Bantoid is now often used to name Bantu and these closest relatives, i.e. Bantu is today seen as a subgroup within a larger Bantoid unit. A number of scholars have offered opinions and models on the question of Bantu’s closest linguistic relatives within the Benue-Congo sub-branch of Niger-Congo. The major dispute is about the exact placement of Bantu within the larger Bantoid branch; the delimitation of Bantu from the other Bantoid languages is certainly not straightforward (Watters 1989: 404ff.; Blench 1997: 94; Maho 1999: 40–5; Williamson and Blench 2000: 34–6). The details of this debate are not relevant to present purposes; the integrity of (Narrow) Bantu


R. K. Herbert and R. Bailey

within the Niger-Congo tree is generally not disputed, though see Bennett and Sterk (1977) for a contrasting view. Williamson and Blench (2000: 35) propose that there is a basic split within (Narrow) Bantu between the North-west (Guthrie’s Zones A, B, C and part of D) and ‘Other Bantu’, though they recognise that there are also some grounds to separate East and South Bantu from all of the remaining Bantoid languages. Piron (1998) gives a detailed description of the analytical problems in subgrouping within Bantoid.


The spread of Bantu languages: out of the forest and beyond

The notion of a ‘Bantu expansion’ originated in the late nineteenth century. The idea, originally promoted by Sir Harry Johnston (1858–1927) and his contemporaries, was that marauding Bantu armies marched forward, conquering land and populations, with an unstoppable military might. The march of Bantu-speaking invaders was generally accepted as the explanation for the spread of Bantu languages throughout the present domain. In its most common form, the invaders comprised males alone; presumably, women and children would have slowed the march. There were few details regarding chronology, but it was generally believed that the ‘Bantu hordes’ arrived in South Africa during the period of European settlement at the Cape. Werner (1933) suggested that local men were killed, and that the invaders married the local women. As Herbert (chap. 15, this volume) notes, the ‘myth of invading Bantu males’ has been seriously overplayed in the literature and is deficient in important conceptual and analytical details. In place of militaristic ‘invasions’, ‘conquerors’, ‘armies’ and ‘hordes’, it is perhaps more accurate to think of opportunistic agricultural migrants. It was only in the 1960s that Roland Oliver’s (1966) work in African history attempted a synthesis of the material from linguistics, history and archaeology. Advances in archaeology, coupled with increased sophistication in historical linguistics, allowed scholars to set aside the myth of the invading Bantu and replace it with another scenario. In this latter view, the spread of the Bantu languages was linked to the spread of metalworking, agriculture and village life, and (perhaps) the replacement of small-statured huntergatherers with larger (presumed) speakers of Bantu languages (Phillipson 1977, 1985). By the 7th century ad, related people had spread throughout subequatorial Africa. Since these later occurrences coincide with an introduction of agricultural economies, new forms of society and metallurgy, and domesticated plants and animals previously unknown, even in wild form, in the subcontinent, it is safe to conjecture that this constellation of traits was brought into the region by people who had not previously lived there. Since these early settlements are all found in regions now populated by

The Bantu languages: sociohistorical perspectives


Bantu speakers, it is also reasonable to believe that the arrivals of agricultural societies and Bantu speakers are synonymous. (Vogel 1997: 436)

That is, population growth replaced conquest as the modus operandi of Bantu language spread. By this time, radiocarbon dates had yielded sites in the far south from 1,600 years ago. The original outward movement of peoples and languages (Eastern Bantu) from the purported homeland was assumed to have taken place in the past 2,500–3,000 years. Certain difficulties in the dispersal model became apparent in the 1980s. Most notably, there was a mismatch of data from Iron Age archaeology, which was concentrated in central and southern Africa, with the crucial missing data from historical linguistics, especially in southern and central Cameroon, the hypothesised homeland for the Bantu languages. The chief critic of the expansionist viewpoint was Jan Vansina (1979, 1980). In more recent work, however, Vansina (1995) has accepted the idea of an expansion from a homeland located somewhere in north-west Cameroon. Notably, he rejects the idea of a single great expansion caused by population pressure from the adoption of agriculture and iron working. 3.4

Eastern and western Bantu

Following Guthrie (1967–71), the Bantu languages have been commonly divided into a Western group, spoken in forested central Africa and regions to the south-west including Angola and Namibia, and an Eastern group, spoken on the savannahs of the east and south-east. All of the South African Bantu languages are classed with the Eastern group of languages. As Vogel (1997: 436) noted, reconstructed vocabularies for earliest Bantu already had words relating to pottery manufacture and the cultivation of root crops. This suggests that the first outward movement of speakers from the homeland occurred after the practices of pottery manufacture and agriculture were established in the homeland 5,000–6,000 years ago, but before metallurgy and stock-keeping were established. Words for the latter cannot be reconstructed for the proto-language. Much of the archaeological evidence for Bantu expansion comes from ceramic traditions, whose interpretations are disputed. Phillipson (1977) argued for separate Eastern and Western streams on this basis. It is worth noting that most of the Early Iron Age ceramic facies south of the Limpopo belong to a single (Western stream) tradition. Huffman (1989) argued for a complex migration of Eastern Bantu speakers during the Late Iron Age, originating in the interlacustrine area in East Africa about 1000 ad. Simultaneously, there was another movement of people from western areas, represented by a disjunction in the ceramic record in central Africa.


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3.4 Guthrie’s Eastern–Western Bantu division

The Eastern Bantu established themselves in the interlacustrine region, having acquired the habits of keeping stock and smelting metals somewhere in East Africa. The earliest firm evidence for Bantu speakers in the area of the Great Lakes dates to about 2,500 years ago. Most recent models of expansion postulate that Proto-Bantu was spoken in the extreme north-west of the present Bantu domain as early as 5,000 years ago, this date being required to explain the degree of divergence between Bantu and its closest linguistic relatives in Benue-Congo. It is possible that a differentiated community (or indeed chain of communities) speaking Proto-Bantu may have existed in the homeland for several centuries. There is some good reason to believe that the ancestral Western Bantu migrated first and that a Proto-Eastern Bantu language differentiated in the homeland prior to migration. Vansina (1995) has argued that one needs to conceptualise the spread of languages as a succession of migrant waves southwards, especially through the river valleys and along coastal areas. He hypothesises an initial movement of people from the homeland towards the Great Lakes, differentiating into Western and Eastern groups of languages en route. Sometime during the last millennium bc, a subset of Eastern peoples (the Mashariki) moved into the Great Lakes area of Africa and fairly quickly began an expansion across eastern Africa and southwards (Ehret 1997: 165). Successive waves of outmigrating people met with earlier emigrants, and the

The Bantu languages: sociohistorical perspectives


consequent intermingling of populations perhaps explains the difficulties of subgrouping languages within Bantu. 3.5

The southward movement

Bantu-speaking peoples in western Africa probably began migrating towards southern Africa perhaps as early as 2,500 years ago, certainly arriving during the first four centuries of the first millennium ad. These agriculturists moved into a territory that was sparsely populated by hunter-gatherers. It is important to stress that these earliest arrivals are not the direct ancestors of present-day Bantu language groups in South Africa. Rather, present groups reflect a later movement of Eastern Bantu speakers, probably along the coast and internal routes. Huffman (1989) suggests an equation of different pottery styles with separate ancestral movements of the Sotho-Tswana and Nguni-speaking groups. These more recent immigrants absorbed and displaced existing populations, which would have included earlier (Western) Bantu speakers. There is now growing agreement that the strict West–East split in Bantu languages is not tenable. Although much of Eastern Bantu, including the Southern Bantu languages, descends from an Early Iron Age nucleus in the interlacustrine area, migrations from the Western Bantu heartland during the Late Iron Age interrupted the southerly flow of languages and produced Westernaffiliated languages within the Eastern region. The background and arguments for this reanalysis are set out in Herbert and Huffman (1993) and Huffman and Herbert (1994–5). In brief, those authors suggest that the closest linguistic relatives for the Southern Bantu languages are to be found in East Africa. These groups are geographically discontinuous, apart from a narrow coastal belt, owing to a later movement of Bantu-speaking ‘matrilineal peoples’ from the west. These ‘Western Bantu’ speakers were absorbed by descendants of earlier Eastern migrants. The authors point to certain discontinuous traits in Eastern and Southern Bantu that can only be explained if one assumes an interruption of geographic continuity by other (Bantu-speaking) peoples. The typological features cited in support of Eastern and Southern relationship include patterns of diminutive and locative formation, patterns of relative conjugation, pronominal forms, reductions in noun-class oppositions, etc. Linguistic evidence is supported by archaeological and cultural data. 4 CLASSIFICATION OF THE SOUTHERN BANTU LANGUAGES

Linguistic classification is generally, though not always, taken to have historical implications. The distinction between classifications with and without such implications depends on the type of classificatory scheme, but these have


R. K. Herbert and R. Bailey

often been confused in the literature on African languages. Generally speaking, at least four types of classificatory schemes have been recognised: genetic, typological, areal and referential. The four types address different needs, goals and data; consequently, the methodologies vary from one type to another. The earliest classification schemes in Bantu linguistics were referential, i.e. they were admittedly ahistorical, designed solely to impose some system of reference upon the chaos presented by several hundred Bantu languages. The association of language groups into ‘zones’ is, however, a regular feature of early scholars’ work, most particularly Doke and Guthrie, the doyens of early linguistic classifications. Doke is perhaps more careful in not confusing referential and genetic classification, though both scholars admit to the use of geographic and linguistic criteria as well as arbitrariness in the choice of linguistic criteria for the delimitation of language zones. Guthrie (1948) divided the Bantu languages into sixteen zones, two of which included Southern (Eastern) Bantu languages. Zone S included Venda, Sotho and Nguni; Zone T included Shona, Tsonga, giTonga and Chopi. With the exception of Shona, which had been subject to detailed linguistic description (cf. Doke 1931), there was almost no published description of the Zone T languages in the 1940s. Since zones were exclusively referential, no claim was made about a closer relationship among languages within the zone and between languages across zones. Guthrie (1948: 70) does say about the Tsonga group that ‘there is a fairly close relationship’ with Zone S languages. It is important to note that the zones were not linguistic subgroups, though they were often interpreted as such by other scholars. In a later work, Guthrie (1967–71) eliminated Zone T by folding it in within Zone S, although there is still no claim that Zone S represents a valid subgroup8 (see map 3.2 above). Guthrie’s later classification identified the following grouped languages within the Southern Bantu zone (1967: II, 61–3, adapted): S.10 Shona

S.20 Venda S.30 Sotho-Tswana

S.40 Nguni

S.11 Korekore S.12 Zezuru S.13a Manyika S.14 Karanga S.15 Ndau S.16 Kalanga S.21 Venda S.31 Tswana dialects S.32 Kutswe (Northern Sotho) S.32a Pedi S.33 Southern Sotho S.41 Xhosa S.42 Zulu S.43 Swati S.44 Ndebele

The Bantu languages: sociohistorical perspectives S.50 Tsonga

S.60 Chopi


S.51 Tshwa (Mozambique) S.52 Gwamba S.53 Tsonga (Mozambique, South Africa) S.54 Ronga S.61 Chopi [Lenge] (Mozambique) S.62 giTonga (Mozambique)

The terms ‘South-eastern Bantu’ and ‘Southern Bantu’ are often used interchangeably to refer to the languages of Zone S, though the latter term is sometimes used to refer to this set of languages, excluding Shona. Ehret (1999: 53) excludes Shona from a ‘Southeast-Bantu’ subgroup which includes S.20–60 plus Lozi (K. 21), which he describes as ‘a nineteenth century creole of an S.30 language’ (1999: 49). In Ehret’s scheme, there are four co-ordinate branches on an intermediate family tree of which South-east Bantu is one: Mashariki (= Eastern Bantu)






South-east Bantu

N.20-40 except N.41



S.20-60 and K.21

3.2 Linguistic relations for Zone S languages (Ehret 1999)

The evidence for this particular structure is based upon shared innovations, though the published data do not address the integrity of the South-east Bantu subgroup itself, which seems to be taken for granted. There are regular sound correspondences in much inherited lexical material for the South African Bantu languages. Pedi





/f/ -f´ala -f´ela leswaf´o lefele

/h/ -hala -hela hahu hele

/fh/ -fh´al´a -fh´el´a fhafh´u (bet´e)

/ph/ -ph´ala -ph´ela i´ıphaph´u i´ıphela

scrape to end (v.i.) lung cockroach

A number of linguistic questions arise in modelling the spread of Eastern Bantu languages southwards to present-day South Africa. Most pressingly, there is the question of whether this assortment of languages represents a valid linguistic subgroup, or whether any shared similarities are due to shared inheritance, diffusion or other contact phenomena. In part, the answer depends on


R. K. Herbert and R. Bailey

whether differentiation into the distinct language groups occurred in East Africa before the southward movements of peoples or during/after the southward spread. The nine officially recognised South African languages are conveniently subgrouped: S.40 S.30 S.53 S.21

Nguni languages (Ndebele, Swati, Xhosa, Zulu) Sotho languages (Northern Sotho, Southern Sotho, Tswana) Tsonga (classed with Tshwa, Ronga, etc. in Mozambique) Venda (isolate, though possibly linked to Shona in Zimbabwe)9

The relations among the various Southern Bantu languages are usually represented along the lines sketched by Doke (1967):




Zulu Xhosa Tekeza



Ronga Tonga Tswa

S Sotho N Sotho Tswana

Chopi giTonga

3.3 Southern Bantu languages (Doke 1967)

Strictly speaking, only the lower-level groupings were asserted by Doke to have any genetic meaning; the higher level arrangement of five language groups was exclusively referential. Differentiations within subgroups Nguni and Sotho are best viewed as local phenomena, though there are some outstanding questions in this regard. One such question concerns the precise relationship of clusters of languages within Nguni. Mainly on the basis of phonological facts, it has been traditional to distinguish Zulu and Xhosa forms from a disparate collection of clearly related languages. This separation goes back to the work of nineteenth-century scholars, most notably A. T. Bryant. The term zunda is sometimes used for the former; the latter, often called tekela or tekeza languages, include Swati, Northern Ndebele, Hlubi, Baca, Phuthi and others. Among the phonological features setting Tekela apart is a distinctive affrication of alveolar stops (Z. -thathu, ‘three’; umuntu, ‘person’; thina, ‘we’ vs. Sw. -tsatfu, umuntfu, tsina) and the correspondence of zunda /z/ for tekela /t/. The more common citation name for the Swati language is in fact the Zulu form Swazi; compare also Zulu izimbuzi, ‘goats’ with Swati timbuti. Further, Zulu and Xhosa have three distinct points of articulation for click consonants whereas most of the Tekela dialects have a single position: Zulu -xoxa -qala -cela

Swati -coca -cala -cela

gloss chat begin ask for

(lateral click [||]) (prepalatal click [!]) (dental click [|])

The Bantu languages: sociohistorical perspectives


Doke’s (1967) representation of the relationship among the various Nguni languages raises an important issue. In particular, the status of the Tekeza group as an ancestral unit opposed to Zulu and Xhosa has never been demonstrated; indeed, there is little reason to class these languages together other than on the basis of shared retentions that distinguish them from Zulu and Xhosa. The current linguistic situation in South Africa is complex on account of pressure from the standard languages, but there is little or no evidence to support the idea that Tekeza represents a linguistic subgroup. More likely, the so-called Tekeza group is a collection of languages spoken by peoples who were not subjugated and assimilated to Zulu. In cases where Xhosa and Tekeza share features, it is most safely assumed that Zulu has innovated. The larger issue for language historians is whether the collection of Zone S languages diverged prior to their arrival in southern Africa. There is no convincing evidence for a Proto-Southern Bantu (‘Proto-Zone S’) language from which the present-day languages descend. The demonstration of such a unit would depend on a set of innovations which characterise this group of languages and distinguish it from other Bantu languages. In the absence of such evidence, the genetic ‘unity’ of the Southern Bantu languages needs to be called into question.10 Huffman (1989), using ceramic evidence, argued that Sotho-Tswana and Nguni movements are reflected in separate migrations and ceramic paths, which he terms Moloko and Blackburn, respectively. The earliest Iron Age sites in southern Africa are all in areas either still or comparatively recently occupied by Sotho-Tswana. The Nguni seem to have been later arrivals. Following Louw and Finlayson (1990), Janson (1991/2) has suggested that Makua (Guthrie’s P.31), a Bantu language presently spoken in Mozambique, and Sotho-Tswana share a period of common development in present-day Zimbabwe; Janson’s hypothesis is based on similar developments in the two sets of languages, which he argues must be shared innovations. These innovations include the evolution of the Proto-Bantu prenasalised voiced stops into voiceless unaspirated stops, e.g. *mp > p; this unusual change does not occur elsewhere in Bantu. Bailey (1995b: 47) suggested that this change might be due to a Khoe or San substratum. There are other similarities between Makua and Sotho languages, especially the Sotho varieties that show less evidence of contact with Nguni speakers. The possibility of historical links between Sotho languages and Makua was first noted by van Warmelo (1927), though this observation is generally not cited in the later literature. Janson suggests that the Sotho-Makua community was displaced in the eleventh century by incoming Shona, Chewa and Sena groups with the results that Makua was removed to the north and east, separated from the other Southern Bantu languages, and Sotho-Tswana moved to the south and west, where it came


R. K. Herbert and R. Bailey









(S o

tho -Ts (Ng wana) uni)

Early Iron Age Nucleus

3.5 Sotho-Tswana and Nguni migrations (after Huffman 1989)

into contact with the Nguni. This hypothesis suggests that Makua is historically a Southern Bantu language, which has undergone change in contact with other Bantu languages; in certain regards, it is not typical of the languages of the area in Mozambique where it is today located. Apart from the low-level subgroups identified above, it is not possible to assert anything definitive regarding possible relations within the class of Southern Bantu (Zone S) languages. In part, the difficulty arises from language contact and diffusion over the past millennium. From certain limited perspectives, Nguni and Tsonga seem closely related. Baumbach (1987: 2) suggested that Tsonga is properly viewed as part of the Nguni cluster commonly called Tekeza or Tekela, which is co-ordinate with Zulu and Xhosa. Thus, the Tsonga group is, according to Baumbach, co-ordinate with the so-called Nguni Tekeza dialects (Swati, Bhaca, Phuthi, etc.) and, ultimately, a descendant of Proto-Nguni. However, Baumbach’s proposal has met with little enthusiasm.11 One cannot ignore the possibility that any linguistic similarities

The Bantu languages: sociohistorical perspectives















3.4 Proposed Nguni relations (Baumbach 1987)

between Tsonga and Nguni are the result of longstanding contact, or shared Southern Bantu heritage. There are few, if any, linguistic innovations that are shared by Tsonga and Tekeza, and the demonstration of such shared innovations is generally taken as a prerequisite to the postulation of common ancestry. As Herbert (chap. 16, this volume) notes, Zulu incursions into Tsonga-speaking territory are of longstanding duration, and Zulu was the prestige and dominant group. How such ‘despotic domination’ might have affected language practice is a topic for investigation. Louw and Finlayson (1990: 403) noted ‘strong affinities’ between Nguni and the Tsonga of South Africa and neighbouring Mozambique, but they also reported that more northern forms of Tsonga show ‘strong influences’ of Shona. Prehistoric language contact is, of course, one of the most confounding factors in reconstructing the linguistic history of the region. We do not know, for example, how historic movement of peoples displaced during the Mfecane (see chapter 1) might have affected language patterns. In part, the problem becomes all the more acute when we recognise the non-tenability of early models of monolithic movements, e.g. the notion that any whole, bounded speech community (‘a tribe’) relocated itself with no effect on language practice. The more likely scenario is that some populations were absorbed and that some displaced populations co-mingled to form new speech communities. Further, the data available to us are not ideal since language variation has been dramatically reduced on account of language standardisation and the promulgation of standard languages over the past seventy-five years in South Africa. For contact among the Bantu languages, there is the further problem that the languages themselves, precisely on account of their shared ancestry, are broadly similar in structure and shared vocabulary. The analyst is on firmer ground in reconstructing the effects of contact with Khoesan speakers, the earlier inhabitants of the region, on inmigrating Bantu languages (see chap. 15, this volume). At a general level, there is a rather poor understanding of historical relations among the various Bantu language clusters (Guthrie’s ‘groups’). To a


R. K. Herbert and R. Bailey

large extent, linguistic subgrouping within these groups (e.g. within Nguni, or Sotho-Tswana, or Tsonga) has not progressed significantly. Nicola¨ı (1998) provides a useful review of the many problems presented to historical linguists working exclusively with non-text-based data. This section is concerned with the traditional four clusters of Bantu languages in South Africa: Nguni, Sotho, Tsonga and Venda. As noted above, there is no convincing evidence for in situ differentiation of these clusters. There are so-called mixed languages, e.g. Phuti and Northern Transvaal Ndebele, but these are both more appropriately viewed as Nguni languages that have been Sotho-ised relatively recently rather than points on a linguistic continuum. Phuthi is relatively well described (Mzamane 1949; Donnelly 1999), whereas Northern Transvaal Ndebele (Ndrebele) is now virtually extinct under the influence of Northern Sotho. Wilkes (1999) provides a useful statement of Northern Sotho/Tswana influences on Southern Transvaal Ndebele.12 Although clearly a Nguni language, Southern Transvaal Ndebele shows important Sotho-Tswana influences in lexicon, phonology, morphology and syntax. The topic of language contact has been woefully understudied in South African linguistics, with the exception of urban vernaculars. 4.1

Nguni (S. 40)

The major Nguni languages are Ndebele, Swati, Xhosa and Zulu. The effect of language standardisation on the development of the separate Nguni languages is, of course, considerable. Louw (1983: 374) noted that the development of a single written standard for Zulu and Xhosa in the nineteenth century was precluded by competing missionary interests and rivalries, rather than by dialectal considerations. It is well known that linguistic autonomy has often to do with socio-political rather than linguistic criteria. The term Xhosa, originally one group’s eponym, has been vigorously promoted as a cover for unifying the various Cape Nguni groups. Within the past quarter of a century, there have been active campaigns to solidify the differentiation of Swati and Zulu. These campaigns have been vigorously promoted as part of socio-political agendas in both Swaziland and South Africa; the actual structural and lexical differences between the two are no greater than between two dialects of Zulu. Before the establishment of Standard Swati, Zulu materials were used for literacy; Standard Zulu was recognised and used by educated Swati. The creation of ‘language boards’ in the first half of the twentieth century was motivated, at least in part, by a perceived need to standardise the African languages. Standardisation is notoriously political as a process, and experiences in South Africa are no exception. The selection of ‘conservative’ rural varieties must been seen as the context of an eventual association of African-language speakers with rural homelands. For more than half a century, a centrepoint of

The Bantu languages: sociohistorical perspectives


political and education discourse was the location of ‘real’, ‘true’ or ‘proper’ Africans in the traditional homeland. So, for example, Zulu speakers resident in South Africa’s cities were ‘out of place’.13 Within the education arena, adherence to rigidly conservative rural language standards worked to the severe disadvantage of urban schoolchildren, many of whom consistently failed ‘mother-tongue’ matriculation examinations. The delimiting of South African indigenous languages has traditionally been associated with a delimitation of population groups. For a variety of reasons, central government sought a small, manageable number of population groups. Eventually, the language = cultural group equation was extended as a justification of the failed homeland policy of the apartheid government: language = culture = homeland. On the basis of this extension, the government sought to deny citizenship and residence rights to its African populations. Language census data are notoriously unreliable since there is little interest in defining what counts as ‘a speaker’. In South Africa, it is often taken to be axiomatic that Zulu persons speak Zulu, Xhosa persons speak Xhosa, etc. Bearing in mind their inherent unreliability, population numbers for the relevant language/population groups according to recent census data are:14 Zulu: 22.9% 9,200,000 in RSA;15 76,000 in Swaziland; 37,480 in Malawi Xhosa: 17.9% 7,196,000 in RSA; 18,000 in Lesotho Swati: 2.5% 1,013,000 in RSA; 650,000 in Swaziland Ndebele: 1.5% 587,000

These data are asserted to reflect the number of mother-tongue speakers. Bearing in mind that the majority of South Africa’s population is urban, multilingualism is widespread. There have been several calls to ‘harmonise’ the Nguni languages into a single written standard, the most recent by Alexander (1989). Since mother-tongue speakers of the various Nguni languages account for approximately 45 per cent of the national population, the implications and potential education and literacy consequences would be considerable. Alexander also called for a similar harmonisation of the Sotho-Tswana languages, which are spoken by an additional 24 per cent of the population. The two remaining African languages, Venda and Tsonga, which are spoken by 2.2 per cent and 4.4 per cent respectively, are language isolates within South Africa. Harmonisation was never seriously considered, and there was little popular support for the idea, which speakers perceived as a threat to their ‘traditional’ ethnic identities. Understandably, there was little appreciation of the relative recentness of the creation of standard languages, and for the government’s role in the selection, identification and reification of those ‘traditional’ identities. Whether harmonisation was linguistically practicable is an open question. See Msimang (1998) for a useful discussion of related issues in the harmonisation debate.


R. K. Herbert and R. Bailey

It is also an open question whether the existence of a written standard language can lead to the development of a new spoken language in any meaningful sense. As Hag`ege (1990: 65–6) noted, ‘the intrusion of writing is a danger not only for the societies into which it enters, but for the languages themselves’. The difficulties of crafting and promoting a standard that is ‘no one’s mother tongue’ is amply described in the language planning literature. Instructively, one can compare the development and establishment of Union Shona in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in the 1930s with the South African situation. The South African linguist Clement Doke was the chief architect of Shona, which was a unified standard language for five major ethnic groups, speaking recognisably related forms of language (Doke 1931). After nearly three-quarters of a century, most Zimbabweans find it natural and commonsensical that a single standard serves for the varieties now known as Shona. Indeed, many of today’s citizens assert their identity to be Shona, an idea that would have been anathema for their Manyinka, Korekore, etc. greatgrandparents. Reactions to Doke’s unification and the subsequent ‘spelling wars’ in (then-) Southern Rhodesia are described by Fortune (1993). The promotion of Union Shona was made possible, in large part, because there was no existing standard that it needed to supplant. There are established standards that would need to be set aside in South Africa, which preclude consideration of the benefits of harmonisation.


Sotho-Tswana (S. 30)

The second largest of the present-day Bantu language groups is usually identified as Sotho-Tswana today, though the simple label Sotho was formerly used. There are three major standard languages recognised, usually known as Southern Sotho (Sesotho), Northern Sotho (Sesotho sa Leboa, based on Pedi) and Tswana. As noted above, these three clusters constitute about 24 per cent of South Africa’s population: Southern Sotho: 7.7% 3,104,000 in RSA; 1,493,000 in Lesotho Northern Sotho: 9.2% 3,695,000 in RSA; 11,000 in Botswana Tswana: 8.2% 3,302,000 in RSA; 1,070,000 in Botswana; 11,200 in Namibia; 29,500 in Zimbabwe

These three labels mask considerable linguistic diversity. Southern Sotho was the first to be codified, and it is the most homogeneous of the group. As is well known, in addition to being a linguistic issue, standardisation is also about control and power. Control of the standard occasionally equates with control of print, and as noted above it may be a useful tool in the shaping of identities. The active promotion of a standard language may have the effect of

The Bantu languages: sociohistorical perspectives


promoting language convergence, especially when the standard serves a large number of dialects. King Moshoeshoe noted in 1840 that the earliest efforts to write Sesotho (Southern Sotho), the language of modern Lesotho, would standardise the language and bring about a heightened sense of common unity among the Sotho peoples (Arbousset 1991 [1840]). The extinction of several Sotho dialects may be attributed to the spread of standardised Sesotho. Indeed, the practice of standardisation is essentially about the reduction of variation and diversity. Southern Sotho is considerably more homogeneous than either of the other recognised Sotho-Tswana language communities. Southern Sotho also shows the greatest cultural influence from Nguni, particularly Northern Nguni, including the adoption of hlonepho avoidance language by women (see chaps. 14 and 15, this vol.; Kunene 1958). On a linguistic level, Southern Sotho again shows considerable influence from (Northern) Nguni. For example, Zulu /ph, th, kh/ often remain unadapted as Southern Sotho /ph, th, kg/ whereas regular Sotho-Tswana development would predict /f, r, h/. Compare: Tswana k´amm´amos´o k´amos´o th´ata s´entle

N. Sotho kamosw´ane mosw´ana kud´u g´abots´e


-fetolela -g´ol´ofala

S. Sotho hosasa hoseng haholo hantle -phothatsa -phephetha -phetolla -kgolophala

Zulu k´usˆas´a e´ k´us´eni kakhˆulu kahl´e -ph´uth´aza -ph´eph´etha (-phendula) -kh´ul´uph´ala

gloss tomorrow in the morning a lot well (adv.) take something carelessly blow (as wind) translate, change to become fat

(The Southern Sotho examples have not been marked for tone in the above examples.) Tswana was originally known as Western Sotho, and the indeterminacy of naming the language and its speakers are once again instructive. The Kgatla dialect is the basis of the South African written standard. Some of the varieties included within the scope of Tswana, e.g. Sekgalagadi, are sufficiently divergent to warrant consideration – on linguistic grounds – as separate languages. Schapera and van der Merwe (1943: 3) noted that Sekgalagadi was no closer to Tswana than it was to Pedi or South Sotho. Janson (1995: 401) reported that Tswana and Kgalagadi are not mutually intelligible. Present-day speakers of Kgalagadi are dispersed over a large part of Botswana, in the Kalahari desert or around the fringes. There is some suggestion that Kgalagadi represents a ‘purer’ form of the language, uninfluenced by surrounding languages. This is, of course, not a tenable linguistic position to adopt. The promotion of a single identity follows from the use of Standard Tswana in the educational context. Janson (1991/2) argued that the phonology of Kgalagadi is more conservative than the rest of Sotho-Tswana.


R. K. Herbert and R. Bailey

The case of Northern Sotho is also instructive. The ‘ethnic group’ Northern Sotho was demonstrably invented by the Nationalist government to unify a diverse set of people, who formerly were called ‘the Transvaal Sotho’, sometimes distinguishing Northern Sotho and Eastern Sotho. Pedi, the language of one prestigious group, was selected as the basis for the standardised language. The range of linguistic and cultural diversity within the Northern Sotho group is very wide, so wide that van Warmelo declared that the ‘Northern Sotho language is a fiction’ (1974: 76). Van Warmelo also noted (1974: 72) that it was difficult to draw any real boundary between Tswana and the Northern Sotho cluster on linguistic grounds, and that the basis for differentiation was entirely political and administrative. The Northern Sotho peoples lack any traditional endonym, i.e. a name used internally to refer to the group of people, and were known as maAwa, based on a common form for the word meaning ‘no’ (NS awa; SS che; Tsw. nyaa) (Herbert 1996: 1346). In addition to the influence of North Nguni on South Sotho there is considerable evidence of contact from Nguni (perhaps North Nguni again) on the Sotho-Tswana group of languages as a whole. Laterals are absent from peripheral Sotho languages and dialects such as Kgalagadi, Phalaborwa, Lobedu, Dzwabo, Kgaga, Hananwa, Tlokwa etc. Bailey (1995b: 45) noted a relation between the distribution of laterals in Nguni, Sotho-Tswana, and Tsonga, and the spread of the Nguni central cattle pattern. Laterals are absent from the other Zone S languages, and these do not show direct evidence of Nguni contact. At another level, it is worth noting that the standardised forms of Sotho-Tswana languages are based on the speech of the largest and most successful groups (Kgatla, Ngwato, Hurutshe, Pedi, Southern Sotho), and it is these groups that were most affected by Nguni culturally and linguistically, absorbing other Sotho groups. The so-called relic languages such as Kgalagadi, Pai, Phalaborwa and Dzwabo are perhaps better sources for data on the pre-contact character of Sotho-Tswana. 4.3

Tsonga (S. 50)

Within South Africa, the term Tsonga is typically reserved today for groups of speakers resident mainly in Northern Province (62.8 per cent of all Tsonga speakers), but also represented in North West (8.9 per cent) and Mpumalanga (5.6 per cent) as well as in major urban centres, especially in Gauteng (21.8 per cent). The number of mother-tongue speakers is relatively small – 1,756,000, comprising 4.4 per cent of the South African population. An equal number of Tsonga speakers reside on the Mozambique side of the border, and there is also a small number (c. 19,000) resident in Swaziland, mainly refugees. The people who are called Tsonga had no real sense of shared or common identity until such identity was ‘discovered’ in their languages and customs

The Bantu languages: sociohistorical perspectives


by Swiss missionaries early in the twentieth century, who bestowed the name Thonga, a Zulu form, upon the group (Harries 1988). Most of the people are now content to call themselves vaTsonga and their language xiTsonga. However, there is an alternate name for part of this group, Shangaan, which is an eponym for one of the Zulu chiefs, Soshangane, who subjugated many clans in the nineteenth century. This label is rejected by those clans that were never subjugated, but preferred by many who were. The analyst is thus presented with a group of people who are demonstrably similar in language and custom, with some sense of shared history, who variously self-label as vaTsonga and maShangana and call their language either xiTsonga or xiShangana. As noted above, a few analysts, most notably Baumbach (1987), have suggested a historical affiliation between Tsonga and Nguni, but this idea has met with little support. Bailey (1995b: 45) noted: ‘Impressionistically, the Tsonga group as a whole shares more phonological and grammatical features with Nguni than with any other Bantu language group. It may be that the relationship of genetic differentiation between Nguni and Tsonga occurred in situ.’ However, one must also allow that there has been considerable Nguni-isation of Tsonga varieties over several centuries, and in particular as a result of the Mfecane disturbances in the nineteenth century. The notion that Nguni and Tsonga (and other languages of Mozambique such as Ronga and Tshwa) differentiated in the present domain poses a significant challenge to the historical linguist. The other Tsonga group in South Africa is the so-called Tembe Thonga of KwaZulu-Natal, most closely related to the Ronga of Mozambique. This language is virtually extinct, though there are some older speakers, particularly women, who have full facility in the language. The label Gondzze is sometimes used for this variety of speech. 4.4

Venda (S. 20)

Venda is a language isolate. It is the smallest of all the indigenous African language groups in South Africa, with 876,000 speakers, about 2.2 per cent of the population; there are also 84,000 speakers in Zimbabwe. From a cultural perspective, it is frequently said that the Venda affiliate more closely with Shona than with any South African group. Similarly, the language shares features with Shona (Doke 1967: 154) and with Pedi (Northern Sotho), spoken to the south. Lexical similarities are the most striking, and it may well be that the language underwent a partial relexification as a result of Shona overlordship in the eighteenth century. Intriguingly, the musanda courtly language shows the greatest Shona influence, e.g. the term /-ponga/, ‘to kill’ is used when a chief is the subject of the sentence instead of the usual Venda /-vh´ulaha/. The form /-ponda/ L occurs in central Shona dialects with the specialised meaning ‘commit murder (by striking)’. Venda tradition holds that


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the ruling lineage in most chiefdoms came ‘from the north’, i.e. north of the Limpopo in present-day Zimbabwe. This would explain the higher frequency of Shona lexical items in the courtly language. Equally striking to the Shona influence is the absence of Nguni influence, which is pervasive in neighbouring Sotho languages; again, this suggests that the Venda were within a protective orbit when the Nguni were penetrating elsewhere in southern Africa. Venda is well described (Poulos 1990; van Warmelo 1989), and there is also a description of the musanda courtly language by Khuba (1993). Despite the lexical borrowings from Shona, there is no good evidence for Shona morphological or phonological influence on Venda. It should be noted that the influence of Shona on other neighbouring languages, e.g. Northern Sotho and Tsonga, has also confounded historical investigation. 4.5

Other languages and dialects

The above represent the officially recognised languages of South Africa. It is clear that there has been considerable movement of peoples and consequent linguistic influence over the past centuries. There are a number of endangered languages, whose status has been disputed for the past fifty years. Among the latter, the best-known example is Phuthi, a Nguni language showing extensive Sotho vocabulary, spoken by around 20,000 people in the Sterkspruit and Matatiele regions of the eastern Cape, and in several parts of southern Lesotho (Donnelly 1999). Similarly, there is some interest in Lovedu although it has lost much of its distinctive character under the influence of standardisation to Northern Sotho. Once again, there are claims to Shona ancestry for the people, a relationship that is manifest in ritual life. One may also include the Tembe-Thonga of KwaZuluNatal among groups of mixed languages, though Thonga has effectively ceased to be a language of everyday speech. The most complete description of language use in this community is by Ngubane (1992), who prefers the label isiZulu sase Nyakatho, which he glosses as ‘Northern Zululand Zulu’, or isiNyakatho ‘Northern language’, reflecting both political and linguistic fact. The South African government, through the auspices of the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, has expressed some support for the revitalization of endangered languages. However, there is little known about the present state of these varieties, which have undoubtedly suffered under fifty years of apartheid classification and education. It seems unlikely that the effects of this standardisation could be undone, though it may be possible to engage in some linguistic description of varieties used by very old speakers. The Pan South African Language Board (PANSALB), established in 1995, has been charged with the allocation of funds for the preservation and development of African languages, but has showed little inclination to support sociolinguistic (as opposed to applied linguistic) work on the Bantu languages.

The Bantu languages: sociohistorical perspectives



A consideration of the socio-history of Southern Bantu languages reveals that there are more questions than answers available to scholars. While there is no question about the Bantu character of all nine of the officially recognised indigenous South African languages and the linguistic classification of these into four distinct groups (Nguni, Sotho-Tswana, Tsonga and Venda), it is not possible to demonstrate whether two or more of the latter groups represent a valid (higher level) linguistic subgroup. Indeed, the historical unity of the Southern Bantu languages (with or without Shona) remains an empirical question for investigation. It is worth noting that this characterisation is largely true for the vast majority of Bantu language groups. The extent to which prehistorical contact, bilingualism, movement and so forth obscured speechcommunity boundaries and eventually confounded linguistic inheritance is an obvious complication for historical linguistics. At the same time, linguists are on firm ground in recognising an ‘eastern quality’ for all of the Southern Bantu languages. Prior to standardisation, the linguistic situation in South Africa no doubt consisted of a chain of language varieties rather than recognisable, homogeneous speech communities. The creation of ‘tribal groups’ is clearly, in some very large measure, a product of colonialism and its residue (see e.g. Harries 1988). One needs to recognise that the number nine is simply the output of historical accidents and design perpetrated by missionaries and government agents. Of course, the successful promulgation of these nine ‘identities’ among the indigenous population has been variously, though largely, successful. The challenges for sociolinguists working in South Africa are manifold. These include the uncovering of linguistic history and relationship with a view to reconstructing the lineage of the nine indigenous languages with official status. Equally daunting is the challenge of discovering the effects that language standardisation, under the aegis of the former language boards, has had on linguistic diversity. In the present dimension, the challenges are to document patterns of language use and change. Within the scope of the latter topic is the constitutional directive to provide for the development and protection of the country’s linguistic resources. The sociolinguistic future of South Africa’s indigenous languages will depend on the creation of conditions and incentives for their maintenance and promulgation throughout the citizenry. notes 1 Doke (1993[1960]: 80) notes that, according to Alice Werner, the original coinage may have been Sir George Grey’s. The form builds upon an earlier suggestion by Barth that they be called ‘the Ba-languages’. 2 Indeed, the form bantu and its cognates reveal such exclusive marking even in the modern-day languages. Forms deriving from muntu (sg.) in the various languages



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name a person like the speaker; Europeans and other non-Bantu speakers are excluded from the scope of the term. Bantu are ordinary people, ‘true people’. Whites cannot be bantu since they lack *ubuntu, ‘the quality of personhood’. This observation is not to argue that the Bantu languages or their speakers are inherently racist. Rather, the point is that Bleek’s original coinage nicely captures the scope of his intended distribution since outsiders are excluded. There is some ongoing debate within South Africa as to whether African language names should be cited with or without the language appropriate prefix, e.g. Zulu or isiZulu, Tsonga or Xitsonga/xiTsonga. Within this chapter, languages names are cited in their most common forms within the scholarly literature, which are usually prefixless. Bailey (1995a: 34–5) identifies many of the structural problems inherent in the proposal that native forms, including class prefix, be the citation form in other languages. The other onomastic controversy surrounding language names in South Africa is the family name Bantu, which despite its genealogy was applied to racist discriminatory policies during a long period in recent South African history. As an ethnonym, the form is highly offensive in South Africa. Its usage is restricted to languages (Bantu languages, Bantu-speaking peoples). Khumalo (1984) suggested that the term Sintu be used in its place, based on the Zulu/Xhosa prefixal form isi- (< ProtoBantu *ki-), e.g. isiZulu, and Sotho-Tswana se-, e.g. Setswana. This class 7 prefix precedes most language names in South Africa, e.g. isiZulu. More recently, Maho (1999: 264) makes a similar proposal and suggests that Proto-Bantu be appropriately named Kintu, which would presumably have the meaning ‘the (true) language’. The data on Bantu language names are complex; lu- and li- prefixes are common outside the south and east, and many ki- (and its derivatives) names show an initial l- that may be a remnant prefix. Venda is unique among the southern languages in having two endonyms, Tshivenda (< *ki-) and Luvenda (