South African English

People are often surprised when I tell them that South Africa has 11 official languages, and that not many people have English as a mother tongue. This existence as a small language with pressure from so many others makes South African English the most complicated variant of English in the world.



Group: Germanic

Subgroup: West Germanic


Black South African English, Indian English, Coloured English, Afrikaans English – variants of South African English


Around 3
457 467
 people use it as their home language in South Africa.

South African English is probably the most complicated variant of English anywhere because it has always existed in a complex multilingual and multi-cultural environment. English is one of eleven official languages, and mother-tongue English-speakers number just three and a half million in a population of over forty million people – under 9%. So the position of SAE is markedly different from that in multi-lingual but predominantly English-speaking countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the
USA. There is the potential for influence by many more languages than in other English-speaking communities, and these languages have widely divergent origins and structures.

General Vocabulary

A few notable South African English words:

dwaal – state of befuddlement

smaak – to like, to enjoy

lekker – nice

handlanger – assistant

skelm – dishonest person, rogue, rascal

veld -field/pasture

spoor – animal tracks

Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

3 thoughts

  1. I love the sound of the South African accent, as a general rule! Some of our recent neighbours were from there, but now relocated to the Democratic Republic of Congo, which sounds jolly scary to me but they take that and everything else in their stride and seem totally fearless.

      1. If it is any consolation I’ve taken to hating my original Liverpool accent, likewise it grates when I hear it now. You might still notice mine slightly with some words, but it is very much diluted these days compared to what it used to be like!

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