Afrikaans as an index of identity among Western Cape Coloured communities

Alfred Mautsane Thutloa, Kate Huddlestone


In South Africa, reports on language shift have focused on instances of language shift from indigenous African languages to English. There is, however, also research that suggests that language shift is taking place from Afrikaans to English in the Western Cape. Anthonissen (2009), for example, notes in her research among Coloured communities that a shift has taken place from Afrikaans first language (L1), across three generations, to English L1. Against this backdrop, this paper investigates language shift in two semi-urban Western Cape Coloured communities; in particular, it examines what patterns of language shift/maintenance can be observed, and investigates sociolinguistic factors, such as age, language of schooling, socio-economic status and language attitudes, to which the observed patterns can be ascribed. The aim is to ascertain whether language shift, from Afrikaans to English has taken place, and which factors appear to encourage or discourage language shift in the two communities. Through the administration of a questionnaire to 50 households, 25 in each of the communities, the study this paper reports on examined language use across a number of domains: at home, in the community, in church, and in the workplace. It also explored the language attitudes of the participants (53 in total) towards Afrikaans in order to investigate the possibility that this language might be used for indexing their identity. The collected data does not provide any evidence of language shift from Afrikaans to English. However, there seems to be increased use of English in the public domains (such as the workplace and in the church), with Afrikaans being used almost exclusively in the intimate domains. It appears that Afrikaans remains a strong marker of identity in the two semi-urban Western Cape Coloured communities, despite English largely being regarded as the language of upward socio-economic mobility.

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ISSN 2223-9936 (online); ISSN 1027-3417 (print)

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