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The Routes of English - BBC Radio 4
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The Long Trek to Freedom: South African English

Presenter Melvyn Bragg
Presenter Melvyn Bragg In 1994 the first free democratic elections in South Africa were held, bringing Nelson Mandela to power as the country's first black president. One of the other consequences was the elevation of nine African languages to equal status with English and Afrikaans. This week Melvyn Bragg examines the new-found strength and influence of the English language in the post-apartheid era. With Judge Albie Sachs and actor John Kani he assesses how the African languages will fare in the new South Africa against those two pillars of political and social advantage - Afrikaans and English. audio clip
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Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela became the first President of a non-racial South Africa in 1994. As part of his government's non-racial policies, the nine major native languages were elevated to the same status as English and Afrikaans. audio clip

Eastern Cape province coat of arms
Who were the British settlers who arrived in South Africa in 1820? They were part of government sponsored emigration and were from all sections of society, from the gentleman with servants to labourers. The immigrants settled around Grahams-town in the Eastern Cape. As would befit their origins, their dialects varied widely. By the next generation, though, there was only one regional dialect:'Eastern Cape English'. audio clip

Grahams-town, Eastern Cape Province
Grahams-town is typical of the linguistic demography of the country: only 10% are English speakers, yet it's viewed as an English speaking town. 'Eastern Cape English' developed the way it did because it absorbed various vowel sounds from different regions of Britain. A study is being carried out of English spoken by the native Xhosa people. Findings so far indicate a more literal pronunciation of English words.
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The Dictionary
A dictionary, now a standard work, has been compiled of this varied and complex form of English. It was produced under the threat of censorship from the then Afrikaner government. Vowel sounds provide a striking contrast between the native Bantu languages and English.

Albie Sachs, the architect of the language reforms, recognises that for many English is still the language of choice. But he noted that English speakers often held a superior view in relation to the other languages.

For the poet Fatima Dike the tensions between the languages can also provide amusement. She found though that the struggle of women could only be articulated in English, and writes movingly about it.
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Soweto demonstration
English became the language of freedom and the ANC adopted it. It was also the language of the international media. In Soweto in 1976 there was a revolt by pupils that proved a catalyst for renewed widespread opposition to the ruling Afrikaner government. It marked the beginning of the end of the apartheid regime. audio clip

YFM radio station logo
Children are now educated in a multiracial environment. Pupils from St John's College, in Johannesburg, recognise the importance of English in society.
A new music has developed, described as South African hip-hop, in which all the main languages are used. The YFM radio station has no language policy. A street dialect has also developed, a sort of Twentieth Century 'Creole'.
Under the apartheid regime English education was restricted. Mandela's generation speak better English than today's youth.
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John Kani, of the Market Theatre, Johannesburg
John Kani, artistic director of the Market Theatre in Johannesburg, addresses some linguistic issues:
He's from Port Elizabeth where in 1820 settlers arrived from England . He feels that the indigenous culture was ignored as the natives were educated in the new culture.

He remembers his father's pride at learning English. Yet he's suspicious of the language's oppressive undertones.

He refutes the claim that English is the linguistic winner in the country. Xhosa people have "colonised" English. English is spoken with a Xhosa accent and attitude. "We have a slave called 'English' and it serves us well".
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