As a South African expat, you probably know this already…South Africans communicate in such a unique way that even their accents have accents! It’s true. While South Africans are known to have fairly unique English accents, they also have a range of “sub accents” (well, sort of), such as an Afrikaaner accent, Durban accent, Cape Town accent and so on. Yup; it can get pretty confusing at the end of the day. If you are a born and bred South African, you will have no problem telling these accents apart, but if you are exposed to it for the first time as a foreigner, chances are that you won’t be able to quite put your finger on where the accent is from and sometimes might not even quite know what the other person is trying to say.
The Many Faces of the South African Accent
South African should be an entire language in its own right. The country features 11 official languages that are spoken widely across the country. There’s no telling what language you are going to encounter when stopping to chat with a stranger on the street. While it can get confusing, it really is something that is quite charming about South Africans.
Wherever you have ended up, perhaps you’re missing some of these common South African accents.
- The Famous “Afrikaaner” accent:
Afrikaaner accents are typically acquired when an Afrikaans person speaks English. There’s a very tell-tale twang that gives away the fact that the speaker is in fact Afrikaans. The Afrikaans South Africans must be doing something right though, because in 2019, Afrikaans accents were voted second sexiest in the world!
- The English South African accent:
English South African accents are often mistaken for British accents. It’s not really surprising is it? After all, it was British colonists who brought English to the country. If you’re being mistaken for a Brit in your new home country, now you know why! Tell them you’re South African and see the confusion register on their faces.
- Melting Pot of Languages:
South Africa isn’t called the “Rainbow Nation” for nothing. The country’s major centres, such as Cape Town and Johannesburg, are melting pots of cultures and therefore languages too. You can walk through the city and hear several different languages being spoken. And that’s what makes SA so truly unique.
South African English is actually influenced by a variety of other languages, which means that the average conversation could consist of mostly English with a few Afrikaans, Xhosa, Zulu (and many others) words thrown in there too. Anything goes and when a good phrase catches on, it sticks around – as you may already know.
You really have to be South African to truly understand what exactly is being said. If someone tried to translate “South African” into direct English, there’s no doubt that they would become somewhat lost in translation! That doesn’t need much explanation, ek sê! And that’s just for example, of course!
South African Sayings & Phrases – South Africanisms!
It’s not just the South African accent that’s funny. How South Africans use their accents for humour is also quite funny. Some things just sound funnier when said in a South African accent, don’t they? As it turns out, South African accents, phrases and sayings can all be considered quite bizarre and unusual to other people! Perhaps you have had someone raise a confused eyebrow at you recently after spurting forth some or other ‘South Africanism’ – revel in it… it’s a sign that you are truly unique.
Uniquely South African Phrases and Sayings That Confuse Other Countries
To communicate as a South African is a unique experience and because of that, there are many things that a South African might say that other countries find quite peculiar. Some of these are:
- “Just now” or “now-now” – It doesn’t mean now, by the way. Instead it means some time in the future…but with no fixed time limit attached. It’s quite a mysterious saying, isn’t it? ‘Just now’ never really comes in some instances.
- “Yes no” or “ja nee” – This is also quite a confusing phrase. It doesn’t mean both yes and no – it means somewhere in between. Okay, that’s just confusing. The actual meaning of ja nee is “okay”. It is neither a hard yes nor a hard no. Teach your new colleagues and friends this one! They are bound to love it!
- “Shame” – South Africans typically use “shame” to say that something is cute or to show compassion and empathy. It’s often used as follows: “ag shame” or “shame man” or “hai shame”. It’s not uncommon to hear someone say something like “Ag shame, did you hear that Bertie was in an accident?”
South Africanisms Just Sneak Out, Wherever You Are
When out and about in your new hometown, you might find yourself reverting to South Africanisms that just aren’t understood. You might find yourself saying something like “shot left” (which means you want a lift to somewhere nearby or around the corner), “I need a dop” (meaning you would like a drink), or “I am leaving for the jol now” (meaning that you are heading to the pub, club or agreed meeting point).
It’s not uncommon for South Africans to mix languages when communicating. For instance, it’s quite normal to hear someone saying “Eish, I am sorry that I missed your call, Liefie. I will meet you at the jol”. Don’t worry…this doesn’t set you apart from people. Instead, it makes you stand out as unique. And how cool would it be to teach your new friends and colleagues a little bit of home grown South African lingo. Bring a little South African into your new environment – share the love and lifestyle!
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