Friday, November 6, 2009

South African Idiosyncrasies


The South African accent has many critics, especially those who come out of an older, more colonial mindset when only “The Queen’s English” was the acceptable standard. But even the most hardened must I think recognize the vibrant creativity of the language we speak down at the southern end of Africa and we fondly call “Seffrican”. Post 1994 not only brought huge political and social upheavals and changes but it is also changing the way we speak whoever we are, from whatever background, race or family.

There are many colourful Afrikaans terms that we use in every day talking out here and there is an increasing cross-cultural mix of Xhosa, Zulu and Sotho words that are or have become incorporated into “Seffrican” whatever race you may belong to. Einaa, Jislaaik, Nooit and Serioousss can be inserted anywhere into a conversation with the proper intonation and drawn out explosive sound to indicate surprise, questioning, horror, affirmation or confirmation of a statement. And each generation adds its own contribution. When I was a teenager we used to say “Kiff” for the American “Cool” and it’s still used to some extent but “Cool” has been adapted and you can say “Cool bananas” or “Apples” to indicate something is seriously fashionable or good. Amongst my son’s friends they say “SWAK” with great regularity to their seriously uncool parents. He was horrified to hear that during his grandfather’s youth that meant “Sealed With A Kiss” and was written on love letters.

So you might have a discussion as follows;

“We’re braaing tonight my boet/china/chommie/bhuti. Why don’t you bring some vleis and Charles Glass and we’ll have a lekker kuier? We can all check out the Blou Bulle and the Sharks” “Eish, or Aggh (something like the sound of a chain smoker trying to clear their throat first thing in the morning), ou swaer, the laaitie’s sick and I said to the old lady that I’d get him muti on the way home”

Translation: We’re having a barbecue tonight my pal/friend. Why don’t you bring some meat and Castle beers and we’ll have a nice visit. We can all watch the Blue Bulls and Sharks (Rugby teams)’ “Oh, old man, the kid’s sick and I said to my wife that I’d buy him medicine on the way home.”

At a braai, the men, most complete with beer ‘boeps’, show of their grilling skills while the women make salads, look after the kids and gossip on the other side. Due to their Herculean work of producing sometimes edible charred meat, the men then sit back and wait for their wives to serve them huge plates of food. National Heritage Day has also become National Braai Day and you are far more likely to find a complete cross-section braaing at the local park on that day than attending the boring politically correct celebrations in stadiums being addressed by politicians.

So we celebrate with vuvuzelas, that the whole world is going to know about after the Soccer World Cup here next year, we Shoshaloza along at cricket and rugby matches, most of us know at least some of the hybridized/bastardized national anthem, even if we struggle with the lines in Sotho and we wave and wear with abandon our brightly coloured flag that was criticized so fiercely when it first made its appearance. The ‘underpants/y-front/onderbroek’ flag now belongs to all of us and I think if anyone suggested that it was only meant to be an interim flag as was the idea in the beginning they would get very short shrift. We love our country, even if we don’t all love each other.

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