Thursday, January 16, 2014

In spite of the 11 official languages communicating in Cape Town and in most of South Africa is fairly easy. Many Capetonians speak more than one language and most are able to speak a smidgen of English interspersed with some colourful isms from other languages such as Afrikaans and Xhosa. In fact, Cape Town owes much to the coloured people from the Cape Flats for the particularly animated, often purposefully comical way in which they communicate.

The languages of apartheid

Prior to 1994 English and Afrikaans were the two official languages and the apartheid government suppressed all indigenous languages. The deliberate inclusion of 11 official languages in the post apartheid constitution is a deliberate attempt to redress some of the thorny language issues of the past.

Cape Town’s three main languages

Most locals speak English, Afrikaans, Xhosa or a combination of these. The slang that arises from mixed use of all three languages (and others) is an interesting reflection of the multi-cultural changes that continue to take place not just in Cape Town but also throughout the rainbow nation. Visitors are often keen to know what these colloquialisms mean and how to use them in conversation.

5 Common South Africa slang Words

Eish (ay-sh)

This is a typically Xhosa or Zulu expression with a variety of applications from frustration and resignation to excitement and surprise. It’s one of those delightful one-size-fits-all exclamations where meaning is largely dependant on tone and facial expression.

Howzit (how-zit)

Everyday lingo for many South Africans, this is another way of saying “hi, how are you” or the shortened form of “how’s it going”?

Ja-nee (yah-nee-yah)

“Ja” is Afrikaans for “yes” while “nee” is Afrikaans for “no”. Oddly enough, “ja nee” means “sure” or “okay then”.

Lekker (leh-kah)

Ever hear the phrase “local is lekker”? You’re bound to hear it all over Cape Town and the rest of South Africa. “Lekker” is Afrikaans for “delicious”, “nice”, “good”. It’s an exclamation of approval.

Potjiekos (poy-kee-kaws)

This is a colloquial term for iron cauldron pot food usually cooked over an open fire. see the GOLD Restaurant. Try our Venison potjie recipe.

How to engage with locals and get a conversation going

In Cape Town Afrikaans is the most widely spoken language but you’ll find that English is the most commonly understood. Take some time to understand some local phrases and try to pick up some common Xhosa phrases and you’ll fit right in. Regardless, you’ll find Capetonian locals to be a generally helpful lot. A simple “hello”, “goeie dag” (Afrikaans) or ‘molo” (Xhosa) is sure to start a friendly interaction.

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