"Now you see it, now you don't"
Kay McCormick


English and Afrikaans are the two languages used in the Chapel Street community, an inner-city neighbourhood in Cape Town. There is a paradox at the heart of its sociolinguistic eco-system which this paper explores.

In the hearts and minds of the neighbourhood's residents, the two languages are strongly polarised in terms of what they represent socially, economically and politically. However, in vernacular speech they are inextricably interwoven, so much so that people don't always know which words are English and which are Afrikaans. Sometimes the two languages are used contrastively in bilingual conversations to achieve social or rhetorical effects. At other times speakers' awareness of drawing on two languages seems to be subliminal or absent. (This kind of variability in levels of awareness has been documented for other bilingual communities - see for example the papers in the collections by Milroy and Muysken 1995 and Auer 1998.) What is particularly interesting in this community, is that it is not only in vernacular speech that awareness of language difference is sometimes prominent and sometimes absent, this is also the case at a social level. Definition of self and other as "English-speaking" or "Afrikaans-speaking" can be a strong indicator of in-group / out-group status, one on which people act. However, it need not carry this weight. It can be ignored, over-ridden by other considerations. It can even be unremarked, as I saw in cases where siblings had chosen different language-based identities for themselves.

In seeking to account for the inconstant awareness of languages as different, I draw mainly on research in three fields: the history of language contact in Cape Town; the role of schools in the construction of awareness of language difference; the effects of social class stratification and racial segregation (and resistance to them) on perceptions of the two languages.

 

Sources Cited:

Auer, P. (ed.) 1998. Code-switching in conversation: language, interaction and identity. London and New York: Routledge.

Milroy, L. and Muysken, P. (eds) 1995. One speaker, two languages: cross-disciplinary perspectives on code-switching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.