Black and Coloured South African English
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Linguistic reflections of re-contextualised identities in global and local lingua-franca-discourse

Our project set out to discuss processes and products of identity constructions as they can be observed with participants in interactions in English as a lingua franca. Lingua-franca-interactions are those conversations which involve the participation of non-native speakers of English only. Communication in a lingua franca has often been described as a neutralised form of interaction, since it is claimed that having to interact in a second or foreign language deprives participants of the means needed to express their cultural identity. English is said to be reduced to its denotative function in lingua franca interactions, and as a consequence the interactions themselves are held to be of a transactional nature only. However, Meierkord (2002) documented a more complex situation in lingua franca communication: whereas some of the speaker in fact use a form of English, which contains neutral phrases only, other speakers express both their original identities as well as hybrid identities resulting from the recontextualization of their identity in the lingua-franca-context.

Against the background of these observations, the aim of the project is to discuss similarities and differences as regards the construction of identities in lingua franca interactions in international and local, i.e. in the South African contexts. These discussions are based on a conceptualisation of identity as being constructed by the speakers' individual acts of identity. These acts are conceived as being taken out of their original contexts and as getting recontextualised in the lingua-franca-interactions. Corpus Cover

A total of 25 hours of interactions between 55 speakers of different mother tongues in a number of different South African contexts were recorded, analysed and interpreted. The recordings have been digitised and stored on CD-ROM together with the corresponding transcripts; both are now made available to all the researchers involved in the project as well as to other bona fide scholars pursuing research in related fields. Within the context of this project, the data will be analysed with regard to the enactment of identities on the structural as well as on the interactional level.

The results so far reveal that English as an international lingua franca is just as heterogeneous as it is when being used at an international level. However, continuous contact between speakers of Black South African English and Coloured South African English seems to result in changes, particularly to the form of English spoken by our coloured interviewees, who tend to adopt features that have hitherto been documented for black speakers only. The „Publications“ section is regularly being updated with references to our latest findings.

The project received generous funding from the Volkswagen Stiftung under grants nos. II/79388 and II/82052 between 2003 and 2006. We also gratefully acknowledge the support of the University of Erfurt, particularly its English Department, but also its administrative departments.

The success of the project has resulted from the advice and support of many colleagues in South Africa. I am particularly endebted to Prof. Kay McCormick, Prof. Rajend Mesthrie and Kirsten Morreira of the University of Cape Town, Prof. Zubeida Desai of the University of the Western Cape, and Prof. Bertus van Rooy of the North-West University at Potchefstroom.


Partner Universities:

University of
Cape Town

University of
the Western Cape

North West



© Christiane Meierkord