South African English

by Penny Silva, managing editor of A Dictionary of South African English on Historical Principles (1996) and a revision editor at the Oxford English Dictionary.


The English language in South Africa (SAE) dates from the arrival of the British at the Cape of Good Hope in 1795. As was the case in most British colonies, English was introduced first by soldiers and administrators, then by missionaries, settlers, and fortune-seekers. English took root during the 19th century as a southern African language, as a result of the British settlements of 1820 (in the Eastern Cape), 1848–51 (in Natal), and the subsequent rushes to the diamond mines of Kimberley and the gold mines of theWitwatersrand.

Modern South African English is part of a complex linguistic and cultural mix. The Constitution of 1994 recognizes 11 official languages, namely English, Afrikaans, and the nine major African languages (including Zulu, Xhosa, Setswana, and Sesotho), as well as additional ‘community and religious languages’ such as Khoisan, Telugu, Hindi,Portuguese, Hebrew, and Arabic.

The official languages of South Africa
Sepedi, Northen Sotho
Sesotho, Southern Sotho
Siswati, Swazi


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