Professor Rajend Mesthrie of UCT’s Department of English Languages and Literature recently launched a1700-word Dictionary of South African Indian English, published by UCT Press this year, which marks the 150th anniversary of the first ship bringing Indian labourers to then-Natal.
Mesthrie wrote the book as he feels that our current dictionaries of English in South Africa, excellent though they are, merely skim the surface of the riches that lie behind dialect, regional and ethnic usage in the country. As English spreads globally it’s bound to diversify. Sociolinguists like Mesthrie sees language as played out in living, changing communities, rather than something fixed and stored in dusty Oxford dictionaries and crusty Cambridge grammars. It is up to properly trained linguists to support and give credence to ordinary language used by ordinary people.
Mesthrie offers a few examples. There are religious terms like ‘Diwāli’, ‘Eid’,and ‘Kāvady’; culinary terms like ‘biryāni’ (so spelled), ‘bunny chow’, ‘rōti’ (not ‘rooti’) and ‘dhanya’. There are also neologisms (or new coinages) like ‘healthy’ meaning ‘fat’, and ‘future’ meaning ‘one’s future husband or wife’ (possibly an archaism from Victorian times). And of course, lots of slang: ‘lake’, adapted from the Afrikaans lekker, ‘pōzi’ for ‘house’ adapted from the Great War usage, meaning ‘going back into position’.