Slang registers, code-switching and restructured urban varieties in South Africa
An analytic overview of tsotsitaals with special reference to the Cape Town variety
This paper examines the status of an informal urban variety in Cape Town known as Tsotsitaal. Similar varieties, going by a plethora of names (Flaaitaal, Iscamtho, Ringas) have been described in other South African cities, especially Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban (see also Sheng in Kenyan cities). This paper seeks to describe the essential characteristics of Cape Town Tsotsitaal, which is based on Xhosa, and to argue for its continuity with similar varieties in other South African cities. However, this continuity eventually calls into question many of the previous assumptions in the literature about Tsotsitaal and its analogues: e.g. the thesis that these varieties necessarily involve code-switching, or that they are pidgins, even ones that are creolising in some areas. More generally, this paper serves several purposes: (a) to comment on and elucidate why there is a proliferation of often contradictory names, (b) to examine the degree and types of switching in the different varieties, and (c) to clarify the relationship between what are essentially tsotsitaal registers and the urban languages they are part of.
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