Professor Rajend Mesthrie’s work in language and linguistics has focused on the significance of sociolinguistics in understanding heritage, culture and social change in a multilingual society, one in which migration is an important, if not a defining feature. Sociolinguistics offers tools to examine interactions between different languages, and to examine at a very sensitive level the degree of social change occurring in society.
Mesthrie completed his MA at the University of Texas (Austin) and PhD in linguistics at the University of Cape Town in 1985. He was head of the linguistics section of the department of English language and literature, and is currently professor of linguistics and DST/NRF SARChI Chair in Migration, Language and Social Change at UCT. He is a past president of the Linguistics Society of Southern Africa (2001-2009) and a past head of the Linguistics Section at UCT (1998-2009).
Mesthrie’s current research focuses on socio-phonetics, exploring issues of gender and substrate erasure among young, middle-class black South Africans, as well as the urban youth varieties that may be labelled tsotsitaals. His research has opened doors into the complexities of local cultures, ethnicities and social status. He is also undertaking research into the historical roots of Cape Flats English in relation to earlier languages such as those of the Khoi and San, Creole, Portuguese, Afrikaans and Indonesian and Indian languages.
Mesthrie has published widely in the field of sociolinguistics, with special reference to language contact and variation in South Africa. He is the series editor of Cambridge University Press’ (CUP) Key Topics in Sociolinguistics, and was coeditor of the CUP journal English Today, which produces scholarship mostly on English in multilingual, global and migratory contexts; he subsequently served as advisory editor. He is a board member of 12 other journals in the fields of sociolinguistics; historical linguistics; globalisation and English; South African sociolinguistics; and sociology and African studies. Among his publications are Language in South Africa (ed.), World Englishes (with Rakesh Bhatt), A Dictionary of South African Indian English, A Handbook of Sociolinguistics (ed.), and the more “popular” book, Eish, but is it English?: celebrating the South African variety (arising from a series of interviews with journalist Jeanne Hromnik).
Mesthrie was elected honorary life executive member of the Linguistics Society of Southern Africa in 2012. He is currently an executive member of the International Society for English Linguistics, an elected member of the SA Academy of Science, and president of the next International Congress of Linguists, to be held in Cape Town in 2018.