South African English
The term South African English (SAfrE, SAfrEng, SAE, en-ZA) is applied to the first-language dialects of English spoken by South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

ns, with the L1
First language
A first language is the language a person has learned from birth or within the critical period, or that a person speaks the best and so is often the basis for sociolinguistic identity...

 English variety spoken by Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe is a landlocked country located in the southern part of the African continent, between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers. It is bordered by South Africa to the south, Botswana to the southwest, Zambia and a tip of Namibia to the northwest and Mozambique to the east. Zimbabwe has three...

ans, Zambia
Zambia , officially the Republic of Zambia, is a landlocked country in Southern Africa. The neighbouring countries are the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the north, Tanzania to the north-east, Malawi to the east, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia to the south, and Angola to the west....

ns and Namibia
Namibia, officially the Republic of Namibia , is a country in southern Africa whose western border is the Atlantic Ocean. It shares land borders with Angola and Zambia to the north, Botswana to the east and South Africa to the south and east. It gained independence from South Africa on 21 March...

ns, being recognised as offshoots.

There is some social and regional variation within South African English. Social variation within South African English has been classified into three groupings: Cultivated, closely approximating Received Pronunciation
Received Pronunciation
Received Pronunciation , also called the Queen's English, Oxford English or BBC English, is the accent of Standard English in England, with a relationship to regional accents similar to the relationship in other European languages between their standard varieties and their regional forms...

 and associated with upper class; General, a social indicator of the middle class, and Broad, associated with the working class and/or Afrikaans
Afrikaners are an ethnic group in Southern Africa descended from almost equal numbers of Dutch, French and German settlers whose native tongue is Afrikaans: a Germanic language which derives primarily from 17th century Dutch, and a variety of other languages.-Related ethno-linguistic groups:The...

 descent, and closely approximating the second-language Afrikaans
Afrikaans is a West Germanic language, spoken natively in South Africa and Namibia. It is a daughter language of Dutch, originating in its 17th century dialects, collectively referred to as Cape Dutch .Afrikaans is a daughter language of Dutch; see , , , , , .Afrikaans was historically called Cape...

-English variety. This is similar to the case in Australian English.


Like British English in Southern England, South African English is non-rhotic (except for some Afrikaans-influenced speakers, see below) and features the trap–bath split.

The two main phonological indicators of South African English are the behaviour of the vowels in kit and bath. The kit vowel tends to be "split" so that there is a clear allophonic
In phonology, an allophone is one of a set of multiple possible spoken sounds used to pronounce a single phoneme. For example, and are allophones for the phoneme in the English language...

 variation between the close, front [ɪ] and a somewhat more central [ɪ̈]. The bath vowel is characteristically open and back in the General and Broad varieties of SAE. The tendency to monophthong
A monophthong is a pure vowel sound, one whose articulation at both beginning and end is relatively fixed, and which does not glide up or down towards a new position of articulation....

ise both /aʊ/ and /aɪ/ to [ɑː] and [aː] respectively, are also typical features of General and Broad SAE.

Features involving consonants include the tendency for voiceless plosives to be unaspirated in stressed word-initial environments, [tj] tune and [dj] dune tend to be realised as [tʃ] and [dʒ] respectively (See Yod coalescence), and /h/ has a strong tendency to be voiced initially.


as in kit is split between the realisations [ɪ] and [ɪ̈] in General, and [i] and [ɪ̈~ə] in Broad. The split is an allophonic variation, with the fronter realisation occurring near velar
Velar consonant
Velars are consonants articulated with the back part of the tongue against the soft palate, the back part of the roof of the mouth, known also as the velum)....

 and palatal
Palatal consonant
Palatal consonants are consonants articulated with the body of the tongue raised against the hard palate...

 consonants, and the more central one occurring elsewhere. Cultivated SAE lacks this split, but this feature regarding /ɪ/ is a reliable sociolinguistic
Sociolinguistics is the descriptive study of the effect of any and all aspects of society, including cultural norms, expectations, and context, on the way language is used, and the effects of language use on society...

 marker for South African English in general. Before [ɫ], the vowel may be further back [ɯ̈].
as in dress is usually realised as [e], though it is lower ([ɛ]) in Broad, sometimes approaching [æ], especially before [ɫ]. Some varieties of Broad and General SAE place this vowel higher, around raised [e] or lowered [ɪ].
  • A slightly raised [æ] is the usual realisation for /æ/ (as in trap) in Cultivated and General. In Broad varieties, it is often raised to [ɛ], so that /æ/ encroaches on /ɛ/ for some speakers. A good example of this is South Africa sounds more like South Efrica.

(as in lot) ranges from [ɒ̈] to [ɔ]. notes a tendency towards [ʌ̈] in younger Cape Town and Natal
KwaZulu-Natal is a province of South Africa. Prior to 1994, the territory now known as KwaZulu-Natal was made up of the province of Natal and the homeland of KwaZulu....

 speakers of General SAE.
(as in strut) typically ranges from a low to mid centralised vowel ([ä] to [ɐ]) in SAE.
(as in foot) is generally realised as high, back centralised [ʊ]. There is little variation, except that there is very little lip rounding
In phonetics, vowel roundedness refers to the amount of rounding in the lips during the articulation of a vowel. That is, it is vocalic labialization. When pronouncing a rounded vowel, the lips form a circular opening, while unrounded vowels are pronounced with the lips relaxed...

 relative to other L1 varieties of English worldwide. The pronunciation of [ʊ] with added lip-rounding is associated with Broad, but is more a feature of Afrikaans English (AfkE).
(as in fleece) is a long close front vowel [iː] in all varieties. This distinguishes SAE from Australian English and New Zealand English, as the vowel is diphthong
A diphthong , also known as a gliding vowel, refers to two adjacent vowel sounds occurring within the same syllable. Technically, a diphthong is a vowel with two different targets: That is, the tongue moves during the pronunciation of the vowel...

al in the latter varieties.
  • For /ɜːr/ (as in nurse), a somewhat central vowel approximating the RP [ɜː] is used in Cultivated. In General and Broad, it is more rounded, and fronter: [øː]~[ø̈ː], as in French
    French language
    French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...


(the vowel in goose) is usually high central [ʉː] or fronter, significantly more forward than its RP equivalent [uː]. Cultivated speakers, however, produce a vowel closer to [uː]. notes a tendency towards [yː] in younger, and especially female, General speakers.
  • Except in the Cultivated variety, /ɑː/ (the vowel in bath) is low and fully back, [ɑː]. In Broad varieties, there is a tendency to produce a shorter rounder and raised vowel, so that it becomes [ɒ~ɔ]. Cultivated speakers realise a more central version of [ɑː]. The low and fully back [ɑː] distinguishes SAE from the other Southern Hemisphere varieties.

  • In Cultivated speech, /ɔː/ (as in thought) is quite open, like RP [ɔː]. In General and Broad, it is higher, [oː]. Broad varieties also have /ɔː/ in words like cloth and loss, where /ɒ/ is otherwise typical.

  • The norm for /eɪ/ (as in face) in Cultivated and General varieties is [eɪ]. notes a tendency for the onset to be opener the further one deviates from the standard, even to [æɪ]. Broad South African English is characterised by the onset being both open and back, [ʌɪ].

  • The Cultivated SAE realisation of /aɪ/ (as in price) is close to RP [aɪ]. In General and Broad, the articulation of the first element is often monophthongised to [aː]. In Broad, the first element is somewhat back, but more forward and higher than /ɑː/, and the offglide is often retained: [ɑ̈ɪ].

  • Cultivated SAE usually realises /aʊ/ (as in mouth) as [ɑ̈ʊ], while General again follows the tendency to monophthongise diphthongs, and often has [ɑː]. Broad has a much fronter onset, and retains the offglide: [æʊ].

  • In all varieties, /ɔɪ/ (as in choice) is usually [ɔɪ]; the onset can be as low as /ɒ/ for older Cultivated SAE speakers.

  • There is a tendency among some Cultivated speakers not to round the onset of /oʊ/, so that a Cultivated realisation ranges around [ɛʊ] or [œʊ]. The onset is always rounded in General varieties, usually mid-low; but the off-glide is more central, sometimes unrounded, and there is once again a tendency to monophthongise. Thus, the "normal" General pronunciations of /oʊ/ would be [œʉ], [œɤ̈] or [œː]. In Broad, the onset is much further back, and unrounded: [ʌʊ].

  • In Cultivated, /ɛə/ (as in square) is pronounced [ɛə], as it is in RP. General speakers follow the tendency to monophthongise, and usually realise the long vowel [ɛː]. Broad speakers monophthongise and raise it to [eː].

(as in near) is usually [ɪə] in all varieties, with a tendency to monophthongisation in Broad, particularly after [j]. E.g. [njɪː] "near".
  • Words like cure are usually realised as diphthongal [ʊə] in Cultivated and General; but there is a growing trend, especially when the vowel does not occur after /j/ (sure), in General towards Broad's monophthongal [oː], perhaps slightly lower than /ɔː/. This probably accounts for the spelling of you're as your in everything from student essays to newspaper advertisements.

  • The unstressed (or secondarily stressed) vowel at the end of words like happy is usually a half-long
    Length (phonetics)
    In phonetics, length or quantity is a feature of sounds that are distinctively longer than other sounds. There are long vowels as well as long consonants .Many languages do not have distinctive length...

     [iˑ]. marks this as an indicator of South African English.

  • The unstressed vowel at the end of words like letter is realised as [ə] in all varieties.

  • The unstressed vowel at the end of words like comma is usually [ə], but may be as open as [ɐ] in Cultivated SAE; and also in Broad varieties close to Afrikaans English.


/p, b, t, d, k, ɡ/
The voiced
Voice (phonetics)
Voice or voicing is a term used in phonetics and phonology to characterize speech sounds, with sounds described as either voiceless or voiced. The term, however, is used to refer to two separate concepts. Voicing can refer to the articulatory process in which the vocal cords vibrate...

 and voiceless
In linguistics, voicelessness is the property of sounds being pronounced without the larynx vibrating. Phonologically, this is a type of phonation, which contrasts with other states of the larynx, but some object that the word "phonation" implies voicing, and that voicelessness is the lack of...

Stop consonant
In phonetics, a plosive, also known as an occlusive or an oral stop, is a stop consonant in which the vocal tract is blocked so that all airflow ceases. The occlusion may be done with the tongue , lips , and &...

 are distinctive in South African English, and voiceless plosives are generally unaspirated
Aspiration (phonetics)
In phonetics, aspiration is the strong burst of air that accompanies either the release or, in the case of preaspiration, the closure of some obstruents. To feel or see the difference between aspirated and unaspirated sounds, one can put a hand or a lit candle in front of one's mouth, and say pin ...

 in all positions in Broad South African English, serving as a marker for this subvariety. Other varieties aspirate a voiceless plosive before a stressed syllable. The contrast is neutralised in Broad.

Broad speakers tend to pronounce /t, d/ with some dentition.

Fricatives and affricates

/f, v, θ, ð, s, z, ʃ, ʒ, x, h/
South African English is one of the very few varieties to have a velar fricative
Fricative consonant
Fricatives are consonants produced by forcing air through a narrow channel made by placing two articulators close together. These may be the lower lip against the upper teeth, in the case of ; the back of the tongue against the soft palate, in the case of German , the final consonant of Bach; or...

In a language or dialect, a phoneme is the smallest segmental unit of sound employed to form meaningful contrasts between utterances....

 /x/, but this is only in words borrowed from Afrikaans (e.g. gogga [xoxə] 'insect'), Khoisan
Khoisan languages
The Khoisan languages are the click languages of Africa which do not belong to other language families. They include languages indigenous to southern and eastern Africa, though some, such as the Khoi languages, appear to have moved to their current locations not long before the Bantu expansion...

 (e.g. Gamtoos, the name of a river), Scots (e.g. loch) and German (e.g. Bach). Many speakers use the Afrikaans voiceless uvular
Uvular consonant
Uvulars are consonants articulated with the back of the tongue against or near the uvula, that is, further back in the mouth than velar consonants. Uvulars may be plosives, fricatives, nasal stops, trills, or approximants, though the IPA does not provide a separate symbol for the approximant, and...

 fricative [χ] rather than the velar.

The tendency for /θ/ to be realised as [f] (See: Th fronting) is a stereotypical Broad feature, but is more accurately associated with Afrikaans English.

As in many varieties of English, word-final /v, ð, z, ʒ/ are usually voiceless, and are distinguished only by the length of the preceding vowel.

In Broad varieties close to AfkE, /h/ is realised as voiced [ɦ] before a stressed vowel.


/m, n, ŋ/
The nasals are not distinctive markers for any variety of South African English; though /n/ may be dental [n̪] before dental consonants.

In Broad and some General SAE varieties, /j/ strengthens to [ɣ] before a high front vowel: yield [ɣɪːɫd].

/r/ is usually postalveolar
Postalveolar consonant
Postalveolar consonants are consonants articulated with the tongue near or touching the back of the alveolar ridge, further back in the mouth than the alveolar consonants, which are at the ridge itself, but not as far back as the hard palate...

 or retroflex
Retroflex consonant
A retroflex consonant is a coronal consonant where the tongue has a flat, concave, or even curled shape, and is articulated between the alveolar ridge and the hard palate. They are sometimes referred to as cerebral consonants, especially in Indology...

 [ɹ] in Cultivated and General SAE, while Broad varieties have [ɾ] or sometimes even trilled [r]. The latter is more associated with the L2
Second language
A second language or L2 is any language learned after the first language or mother tongue. Some languages, often called auxiliary languages, are used primarily as second languages or lingua francas ....

 Afrikaans English variety, though it is sometimes stigmatised as marker of Broad. SAE is non-rhotic
Rhotic and non-rhotic accents
English pronunciation can be divided into two main accent groups: a rhotic speaker pronounces a rhotic consonant in words like hard; a non-rhotic speaker does not...

, losing postvocalic /r/, except (for some speakers) liaison between two words, when the /r/ is underlying in the first (for a while, here and there etc.) However, intrusive /r/ is not represented in other contexts: (law and order) [loːnoːdə]. The intervocalic hiatus that is created by the absence of linking /r/ can be broken by vowel deletion, as in the example just given; by a corresponding glide
In phonetics and phonology, a semivowel is a sound, such as English or , that is phonetically similar to a vowel sound but functions as the syllable boundary rather than as the nucleus of a syllable.-Classification:...

 [loːwənoːdə], or by the insertion of a glottal stop
Glottal stop
The glottal stop, or more fully, the voiceless glottal plosive, is a type of consonantal sound used in many spoken languages. In English, the feature is represented, for example, by the hyphen in uh-oh! and by the apostrophe or [[ʻokina]] in Hawaii among those using a preservative pronunciation of...

: [loːʔənoːdə]. The latter is typical of Broad SAE. There is some evidence of postvocalic /r/ in some Broad Cape
Cape Province
The Province of the Cape of Good Hope was a province in the Union of South Africa and subsequently the Republic of South Africa...

 varieties, typically in -er suffixes (e.g. writer). This could be under the influence of Afrikaans (and it is a feature of Afrikaans English); or perhaps a remnant of (non-RP) British English
British English
British English, or English , is the broad term used to distinguish the forms of the English language used in the United Kingdom from forms used elsewhere...

 from the settlers. Postvocalic /r/ appears to be entering younger people's speech under the influence of American
American English
American English is a set of dialects of the English language used mostly in the United States. Approximately two-thirds of the world's native speakers of English live in the United States....


/l/ is clear [l] syllable initially, and dark (velarised) [ɫ] syllable finally. When /l/ occurs at the end of a word, but before another word beginning with a vowel, it tends to be realised as clear in Cultivated SAE.

Some (particularly older) Cultivated speakers retain a distinction between /w/ and /hw/ (see wine–whine merger), but this distinction is absent from General and Broad, which has merged both to [w].


There are words that do not exist in British or American English, usually derived from African languages
African languages
There are over 2100 and by some counts over 3000 languages spoken natively in Africa in several major language families:*Afro-Asiatic spread throughout the Middle East, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, and parts of the Sahel...

 such as Afrikaans
Afrikaans is a West Germanic language, spoken natively in South Africa and Namibia. It is a daughter language of Dutch, originating in its 17th century dialects, collectively referred to as Cape Dutch .Afrikaans is a daughter language of Dutch; see , , , , , .Afrikaans was historically called Cape...

 or Zulu
Zulu language
Zulu is the language of the Zulu people with about 10 million speakers, the vast majority of whom live in South Africa. Zulu is the most widely spoken home language in South Africa as well as being understood by over 50% of the population...

, although, particularly in Durban
Durban is the largest city in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal and the third largest city in South Africa. It forms part of the eThekwini metropolitan municipality. Durban is famous for being the busiest port in South Africa. It is also seen as one of the major centres of tourism...

, there is also an influence from Indian languages and slang developed by subcultures, particularly surfers. Terms in common with North American English
North American English
North American English is the variety of the English language of North America, including that of the United States and Canada. Because of their shared histories and the similarities between the pronunciation, vocabulary and accent of American English and Canadian English, the two spoken languages...

 include 'mom' (most British and Australian English: mum) 'freeway' or 'highway' (British English 'motorway'), 'cellphone' (British and Australian English: mobile) and 'buck
The dollar is the name of the official currency of many countries, including Australia, Belize, Canada, Ecuador, El Salvador, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan, and the United States.-Etymology:...

' meaning money (rand
South African rand
The rand is the currency of South Africa. It takes its name from the Witwatersrand , the ridge upon which Johannesburg is built and where most of South Africa's gold deposits were found. The rand has the symbol "R" and is subdivided into 100 cents, symbol "c"...

, in this case, and not a dollar
The dollar is the name of the official currency of many countries, including Australia, Belize, Canada, Ecuador, El Salvador, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan, and the United States.-Etymology:...


South Africans generally refer to the different codes of football
Football may refer to one of a number of team sports which all involve, to varying degrees, kicking a ball with the foot to score a goal. The most popular of these sports worldwide is association football, more commonly known as just "football" or "soccer"...

, such as soccer and rugby
Rugby union
Rugby union, often simply referred to as rugby, is a full contact team sport which originated in England in the early 19th century. One of the two codes of rugby football, it is based on running with the ball in hand...

, by those names. There is some difference between South African English dialects: in Johannesburg
Johannesburg also known as Jozi, Jo'burg or Egoli, is the largest city in South Africa, by population. Johannesburg is the provincial capital of Gauteng, the wealthiest province in South Africa, having the largest economy of any metropolitan region in Sub-Saharan Africa...

 the local form is very strongly English-based, while its Eastern Cape
Eastern Cape
The Eastern Cape is a province of South Africa. Its capital is Bhisho, but its two largest cities are Port Elizabeth and East London. It was formed in 1994 out of the "independent" Xhosa homelands of Transkei and Ciskei, together with the eastern portion of the Cape Province...

 counterpart has a strong Afrikaans influence. Although differences between the two are sizeable, there are many similarities.

Some words peculiar to South African English include 'takkies', 'tackie' or 'tekkie' for sneakers (American) or trainers (British), 'combi' or 'kombi' for a small van similar to a Volkswagen Kombi, 'bakkie' for a pick-up truck, 'kiff' for pleasurable, 'lekker'
for nice, 'donga' for gully
A gully is a landform created by running water, eroding sharply into soil, typically on a hillside. Gullies resemble large ditches or small valleys, but are metres to tens of metres in depth and width...

, 'dagga' for cannabis
Cannabis is a genus of flowering plants that includes three putative species, Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. These three taxa are indigenous to Central Asia, and South Asia. Cannabis has long been used for fibre , for seed and seed oils, for medicinal purposes, and as a...

, 'braai' for barbecue and 'jol' for party.

Contributions to English Worldwide

Several South African words, usually from Afrikaans or other indigenous languages of the region, have entered world English: aardvark
The aardvark is a medium-sized, burrowing, nocturnal mammal native to Africa...

; apartheid; commando
In English, the term commando means a specific kind of individual soldier or military unit. In contemporary usage, commando usually means elite light infantry and/or special operations forces units, specializing in amphibious landings, parachuting, rappelling and similar techniques, to conduct and...

; veld
The term Veld refers primarily to the wide open rural spaces of South Africa or southern Africa and in particular to certain flatter areas or districts covered in grass or low scrub...

; impala
An impala is a medium-sized African antelope. The name impala comes from the Zulu language meaning "gazelle"...

; mamba
Mambas, of the genus Dendroaspis , are a group of highly venomous, fast-moving land-dwelling snakes of Africa. They belong to the family of Elapidae which includes cobras, coral snakes, taipans, brown snakes, tiger snakes, death adders, kraits and, debatably, sea snakes...

; trek
Trek (disambiguation)
For the verb "to trek" see Trek.The term may also refer to:*The Great Trek, a migration of Africa's Boers*Mormon Trail, a movement to the Salt Lake Valley by Mormon pioneers...

and spoor
Spoor (animal)
Spoor is any sign of a creature. Spoor includes track, trail and droppings. Spoor is useful for discovering or surveying what types of animals live in an area, or in animal tracking.Generally droppings can be referred to as scat....


Recent films such as District 9
District 9
District 9 is a 2009 South African science fiction thriller film directed by Neill Blomkamp. It was written by Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell, and produced by Peter Jackson and Carolynne Cunningham. The film stars Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, and David James...

have also brought South African and Southern African English to a global audience, as have television personalities like Austin Stevens
Austin Stevens
Austin James Stevens is a South African-born herpetologist and wildlife photographer best known for hosting a series of snake documentaries. Austin is also the author of 2 books.-Biography:...


Large numbers of Anglo-Africans and other South African English speakers now live in Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and some Persian Gulf states and may have influenced their host community's dialects to some degree. South African English and its slang also has a substantial presence in neighbouring countries like Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Zambia.

English Academy of Southern Africa

The English Academy of Southern Africa (EASA) is the only academy for the English language in the world, but unlike such counterparts as the Académie française
Académie française
L'Académie française , also called the French Academy, is the pre-eminent French learned body on matters pertaining to the French language. The Académie was officially established in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII. Suppressed in 1793 during the French Revolution,...

, it has no official connection with the government and can only attempt to advise, educate, encourage, and discourage. It was founded in 1961 by Professor Gwen Knowles-Williams of the University of Pretoria
University of Pretoria
The University of Pretoria is a multi campus public research university located in Pretoria, the administrative and de facto capital of South Africa...

 in part to defend the role of English against pressure from supporters of Afrikaans. It encourages scholarship in issues surrounding English in Africa through regular conferences.

In July 2010, the English Academy of Southern Africa launched an online magazine for academic discussion related to English and teaching English as a subject in schools. This resource is called Teaching English Today and was developed by EvaluNet
EvaluNet Ltd is a South African-based developer of educational software headquartered in Cape Town. The company was founded in 1995 as Interactive Learning Solutions and changed name to EvaluNet in 1999. In September 1999, Naspers, a multinational JSE-listed media company, purchased a 49% share...

, an educational software development company based in South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

. The magazine is edited by linguist and academic specialist Dr Malcolm Venter, who founded the magazine and who works with the South African National Department of Education. Teaching English Today is affiliated to Teacher's Monthly
Teacher's Monthly
Teacher's Monthly is a South African-based web site that provides educational resources, lessons, videos, news and articles for teachers and educators...

, an online resource site for teachers.

Examples of South African accents

The following examples of South African accents were obtained from

See also

External links

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