Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Migration, language & social change: Language as a means of bringing people together

Professor Rajend Mesthrie, SARChI Chair in Migration, Language and Social Change Linguistics, Faculty of Humanities, University of Cape Town

Professor Mesthrie’s Chair is based on the significance of sociolinguistics in understanding heritage, culture and social change in a multilingual society, one in which migration has been a salient feature. Sociolinguistics offers the tools to examine interactions between speakers of different languages and to examine sensitively the degree of social change occurring in society.

While language can be used as a tool of domination, it can also be used to bring people together and to afford them new opportunities. Migration is treated in the broadest sense, involving cross-border or trans-national migration, internal migration from rural to urban areas, as well as a kind of ‘social migration’ out of the former apartheid townships for black people into the ‘suburbs’, or even a daily trek from black township to ex-model-C school and back.

One completed sub-project on accents and social change was published in the Journal of Sociolinguistics (2010). It focuses on deracialisation in South Africa and the changing nature of multilingualism amongst middle-class youth. In particular it examines the role of accents in reflecting and sustaining new identities in which race is de-emphasized (but class is magnified).

Professor Mesthrie and his graduate students employ state of the art, computer-generated acoustic analyses of accent (via sound waves of our voices) as well as detailed investigations of speaker’s social backgrounds and attitudes in the sociological tradition. Other sub-projects relate to sociolinguistic changes amongst the working classes, in response to urbanization and the new media of globalisation.

Professor Ana Deumert leads a sub-project on how urban isiXhosa speakers are modernizing the language in the age of SMS and Facebook. Dr. Ellen Hurst leads a sub-project on language creation (Tsotsitaal) in the townships. Doctoral students and post-doctoral fellows are working on linguistic adaptations of Central and West African migrants in Cape Town.

Finally, Professor Mesthrie published a Dictionary of South African Indian English in 2010, detailing the linguistic creativity of one former migrant community of long standing in the country. His work on the Indian diaspora is of great interest globally, and forms, for example, a third of a course on this topic at the University of Heidelberg, Germany.

This article originally appeared in the Mail & Guardian newspaper as an advertorial supplement

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them.

Advertorial
Guest Author

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

R15m to rid Gauteng of dirty air

The World Bank is funding a plan to deal with air pollution in Ekurhuleni, Tshwane and Johannesburg

Reservations about ‘new deal’ for rhinos, lions, elephant, leopards

Draft policy promotes species playing their role in wilderness systems but one conservationist says leopards are being sold out

More top stories

Malawi moves to Maggie Mkandawire’s beat

Empowering her people through music and education, Maggie Mkandawire fights the Covid-19 pandemic in her own unique way

Vaccines split global recovery – IMF

The global economy will expand by 6% this year but the economic gap between nations is widening.

R15m to rid Gauteng of dirty air

The World Bank is funding a plan to deal with air pollution in Ekurhuleni, Tshwane and Johannesburg

Reservations about ‘new deal’ for rhinos, lions, elephant, leopards

Draft policy promotes species playing their role in wilderness systems but one conservationist says leopards are being sold out
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×