Friday, September 12, 2014

Some updates on tsotsitaal research

Well it's been quite some time (I don't know how some academics manage to blog regularly and hold down their teaching & research duties as well!) and I came back to my blog and found there have been lots of hits on some of my posts, particularly the reference list and the lexical items list.. I'll try to post some more soon.

Some new developments in tsotsitaal research:

I had a second publication out last year: 'When you hang out with the guys they keep you in style': the case for considering style in descriptions of South Africa tsotsitaals. My co-author is Raj Mesthrie, and it's published in Language Matters.

Secondly, I've been editing a special issue on tsotsitaals for the journal Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies (SALALS). It should come out in the next month or so (Issue 3 2014), the manuscript has gone through to the publishers, so keep a look out for that one - I'm very excited about the publication! The contents list is as follows: 

Ellen Hurst

1) A social history of urban male youth varieties in Stirtonville and Vosloorus, South Africa
Heather Brookes and Tshepiso Lekgoro

2) The grammatical structure of Sowetan tsotsitaal
Hilde Gunnink

3) English tsotsitaals? - an analysis of two written texts in Surfspeak and South African Indian English slang
Rajend Mesthrie

4) A visual and linguistic comparison of features of Durban and Cape Town tsotsitaal
Ellen Hurst and Mthuli Buthelezi

5) Male youth talk in the construction of black lesbian identities
Tebogo Maribe and Heather Brookes

6) Why not use Sepitori to enrich the vocabularies of Setswana and Sepedi?
Thabo Ditsele

7) Language and youth identity in a multilingual setting: A multimodal repertoire approach
Anthea Bristowe, Marcelyn Oostendorp and Christine Anthonissen

8) Urban language research in South Africa: achievements and challenges
Klaus Beyer

Finally, we've just announced the second international conference on African Urban Youth Language, which will be taking place in Nairobi, in Kenya, at the end of next year. You can find the website here and there will be updates as we get closer to the time about keynote speakers, workshops and so on.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Publication on Tsotsitaal in JPCL

A new article by Raj Mesthrie and myself is now out in print (I received the hardcopy myself this morning). The details are as follows:

Slang registers, code-switching and restructured urban varieties in South Africa: An analytic overview of tsotsitaals with special reference to the Cape Town variety

Authors: Mesthrie, Rajend; Hurst, Ellen
Source: Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages, Volume 28, Number 1, 2013 , pp. 103-130(28)
Publisher: John Benjamins Publishing Company
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.

Monday, January 14, 2013

List of Tsotsitaal lexical items


I've been blogging links and so on but I think it's time to post some examples of Tsotsitaal lexicon. Here's a word list I've been developing featuring 46 tsotsitaal words & their meaning. Most of them also give a likely source.

amajita guys Eng. magic gardens
authi lad/young man  
grand fine/alright Eng
bra friend/brother  
cherry sweetheart/girl French Cherie
gidla sleep  
medi girlfriend/female Eng Maid
moja good/alright  
nyuku money Zulu
tiger ten rands Eng
vaya go/ go away Port vay
dladla home from archaic Zulu
heita hello  
ma-gents gentlemen Eng
ringa talk/chat Eng ring
sharp fine/alright/goodbye Eng
thayima father Eng Old Timer
bhari stupid  
chomi friend  Eng Chum
clever streetwise male Eng
hola hello Spanish
kasi township Afr. Lokasie
mfethu brother Zulu?
mpintshi friend  
ntwana girlfriend   
smoko trouble  
spana work Afr. 
bloma stay Afr. bloom
camtha talk/lingo  
check look Eng
cisha to kill Zulu to extinguish
daa there Afr. 
diski soccer Eng 'disc'
four five penis  
gata policeman  
gaz'lam friend Zulu lit 'my blood'
gcwala like/love  
lova/guluva loafer/thug Eng.
madala old man/grandfather  
ou-lady mother Eng.
six-nine urinate/toilet  
splasha wash Eng.
tekeni girlfriend from archaic Zulu
transi car Eng. Transport
vati water Afr. water
zol/zolo marijuana/a joint  

Monday, January 7, 2013

Online dictionary definition

Hey Tsotsitaal scholars!

I'm going to take a look over my next few blogs at existing descriptions of Tsotsitaal on the web. If you run a simple Google search for Tsotsitaal one of the first hits is a free online dictionary which gives the following definition:

tsotsitaal [ˈtsɔːtsɪˌtɑːl]
(Linguistics / Languages) South African a type of street slang used by tsotsis
[from Nguni tsotsi thug + Afrikaans taal language]

(see it online here

It's actually not a bad description, as far as it goes. It doesn't profess to any detail about the languages which constitute Tsotsitaal, and in its generic nature I think it manages to remain broadly correct. However, it is rather simplifying things to say it is used by tsotsis. My research suggests that lots of people use it who could never be accused of being tsotsis. On the other hand, there are many names for Tsotsitaal, and speakers rarely refer to their own style by the term Tsotsitaal which they do say is linked to criminality. 

A second question for me would be the etymology 'Nguni tsotsi thug'. In the South African English dictionary, tsotsi is defined as 'a young black urban criminal' rather than a thug, which I think is more accurate to its usage.  Furthermore, as a footnote in a recent paper I wrote with Raj Mesthrie explains, the origins of the term tsotsi are contested:

Huddleston (1956:81) suggests that the term Tsotsi originally referred to a style of narrow-bottomed trousers, and came from the American slang term zoot-suits used by members of gangs. This etymology is contested by those who link it to the Sotho verb go tsotsa ‘to rob’ (see Glaser 2000:50-1).

In my next post I'll have a look at the Wikipedia article on Tsotsitaal, which myself and my reserach students agree is in need of an update!

Long list of African Youth Language references

Heye all,

To get the New Year off to a productive start, here's a list of useful references for Tsotsitaal and other African Youth Language varieties.

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Beck, Rose Marie (2011). Urban Languages in Africa, in: Africa Spectrum, 45, 3, 11-41.

Bembe, Princess (2006). The use of slang among black youth in Gauteng. Thesis (MA), University of Johannesburg.

Bembe, Princess & Anne-Marie Beukes (2007). The use of slang by black youth in Gauteng. Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies 25(4):463–472.

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Brook, Karolina (2010). Interactions of South African languages: Case study of Tsotsitaal. Conference paper presented at Global Wordnet Conference, Mumbai, India. [Online] Accessed: [2011, 04/06].

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Butler, Judith (1990). Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory. In Sue-Ellen Case (ed.) Performing Feminisms: Feminist Critical Theory and Theatre, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 270-282,

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Childs, G. Tucker (1997) The Status of Isicamtho, an Nguni-Based Urban Variety of Soweto. In Arthur Spears & Donald Winford (eds.) The Structure and Status of Pidgins and Creoles. Amsterdam, Benjamins, 341-367.

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Friday, November 16, 2012

On the radio

UPDATE! You should be able to listen to the recording of my interview here:

I'm going to be live on national radio at 1.30pm this Sunday 18th November talking about our conference next year on African urban youth languages... listen on South African radio station SAfm 104-107.

You should be able to listen to the recording here:

Radio Interview on Afircan Urban & Youth Languages conference 2013