Rhoticity in Black South African English – a sociolinguistic study

  • Dieter Hartmann
  • Sabine Zerbian

Abstract

This article investigates the phenomenon of rhoticity in the speech of  black speakers of South African English. Historically, South African English is non-rhotic. Thus, any shift towards a rhotic variant is a significant language change. Thirty-nine interviews were conducted with both males and female participants. The two groups were evenly split into more and less affluent groups. It was found that rhoticity in Black  South African English is preferentially a female phenomenon, found  most frequently in affluent female speakers. Male speakers also  exhibit this feature but less frequently so. Of the affluent females 90% displayed some degree of rhoticity. None of the less affluent males displayed any rhoticity. The data gathered seem to suggest that a covert prestige exists amongst men to use their African languages. This is in contrast to the overt prestige amongst women to use English. The research thus isolates an important socio-economic stratification, providing evidence that both gender and affluence influences the degree  in which a group creates a new language variety. We also speculate about reasons for the adaptation of rhoticity in affluent, female speakers, thus providing the basis for a follow-up study in which the sociological dimension of this linguistic phenomenon is explored in more detail.

Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies 2009, 27(2): 135–148

Author Biographies

Dieter Hartmann
Department of Linguistics, University of the Witwatersrand, Private Bag 3, Wits 2050, South Africa
Sabine Zerbian
Department of Linguistics, University of the Witwatersrand, Private Bag 3, Wits 2050, South Africa
Section
Articles

Journal Identifiers


eISSN: 1727-9461
print ISSN: 1607-3614