Tuesday, 9 October 2007

The rise of the generic Jo'burg accent

It's terribly un-PC to comment on people's accents, which is as good a reason as any, don't you agree, for making a few penetrating observations on pronunciation in general? No, I'm not going to bitch about the accents of some SABC reporters (although some of them are dire, aren't they?) or make sneering remarks about the way English-second-language speakers tackle this quixotic mother-tongue of mine. Having lazily never learned an African language - apart from Afrikaans, of which I have only a smattering - I am in no position to judge. I'm in awe of people who learn - by hook or by crook - several languages, and don't give a continental koeksister about how their accents sound.

But I would like to talk about a new, generic , middle-class young people's Johannesburg accent that I've noticed emerging in the past few years. It's spoken by young people between the ages of, at a guess, 10 and 29. It's a hybrid, mongrel, brak-sound: a sprinkling of Afrikaans, a dash of Model-C-school, a pinch of township/tsotsi-taal, and lots of weird inflections that I just can't pin down. You hear it coming from all sorts of people: schoolkids, students, bank-tellers, petrol-garage attendents, salesmen, call-centre staff, callers-in to talk shows, and in every fast-food take-away in the malls in Johannesburg.

If you'd like to hear this accent spoken, I suggest you tune in (if you're in Jo'burg) to the student radio station UJFM at 95.4 FM. Or you can listen to it online here

I wish I was a linguist, so I could give you some technical information about glottal stops and peri-dental tongue manoevres and de-inflected uvulotic-palate-gumming consistulations.

The most grating aspect of this accent is the treatment of the 'i' sound. 'Nine' is pronounced 'naan', and 'five', 'farve'. The word 'I've' has become 'arve'. Example:

Arve got news for yew. Ewe can inter our littest OR-sum comp-a-thish, by es-em-essin' the answer to the number narn-farve-farve-naan-farve-farve. OR-sum, doods!

[I've got news for you. You can enter our latest awesome competition, by SMS-ing the answer to the number 955955. Awesome, dudes!]

A second annoying feature of this accent is that words are spoken from the very front of the mouth. It's difficult to give an example, but imagine putting a scrubbing-brush on your tongue, and trying to twist your tongue around it so that it connects with the hard bit above. This means that bits and pieces of the words are swallowed:

Will, it's orright, arm not hessled. Sa wha if maar bor-friend dimped me. Utt's so, laak, kill, to be henging out with dufferent peeps. For one thing, there's no comp-a-tish. For nuther, arm nit wirried bit whit thit retard thinks of me. OR-some dood. Arm funished.

[Well, it's all right, I'm not hassled. So what if my boyfriend dumped me? It's so, like, cool to be hanging out with different people. For one thing, there's no competition. For another, I'm not worried a bit what that wanker thinks of me. Awesome, dude! I'm finished!]
The taam is now twenny past ten, kay? Did you know tha gaars laak looking at girls' ares? It's acks-shly naas, kay? If you sand in frunna the mirror for more than, laak, ten minnas err day, is too long, raat?

[The time is now twenty past ten, okay? Did you know that guys like looking at girls' eyes? It's actually nice, okay? If you stand in front of the mirror for ore than, like, ten minutes every day, it's too long, right?]

And then there are the words. (I love some of these; hate others in equal measure):

As-will (meaning 'as well', or 'me too'. 'Aswill, arv had a bad day')

Marself ('myself, or me' ; 'Marself, are had a bad day')

Issit? ('Could that be so? You're kidding?')

Sirrious? ('Are you serious?' Immortalised in a classic advert.)

Mar bed ('My bad'. An Americanism that sifted down to South Africa, meaning, roughly 'I'm in the wrong, sorry'.)

crigid ('Arm goin' to Wanderers to watch the criggid')

'Nodda problim' ('It's no trouble at all!'. A good sentiment, but I don't want call-centre staff to say this to me in response to every complaint I voice. Clearly, I'm phoning them to complain, there is a problem, duh)

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Muriel said...

Yess! (Or should I say Yiss!) Our current favourite is an SABC3 newsreader (Jozi based) who, while speaking almost faultless Oxford-accented English, puts the emPHAsis on all the wrong syLLAbles, so the only way you can make any sense of what she's saying is to listen to her in short bursts, then go into a sort of Zen trance and replay them in your mind. By the time you've finally worked out what she's said, she's on to the weather. Which probably explains why our family's current affairs knowledge is so slim.

tonypark said...

raaat sistah.

Pilgrim said...

My best (which is to say, least favourite) is the new hybrid Cape Town sjoe wow-Joburg teen accent. It's slightly stoned, a bit nasal and spoken with sort of narrowed, hunched shoulders, as if the speaker were expecting to be attacked. That "like" is, like, every second word, goes without saying: "Like, Ay think we just need to have hurp, hurp for the fewsha..." The most fascinating thing about it, though, and the only bit I like, is that if you close your eyes you can't tell who is speaking -- black kid, white kid (boy, girl). Laaik, simunye, you check.

meggie said...

It must be a world wide trend, with differing versions. We listen with a kind of fascinated horror to our Granddaughter & her friends.

Juno said...

Pilgrim, Meggie, we are obviously talking about the same sort of accent here (though obviously the Cape Town one is a, laak, hey-shoo regional dialect!

Heard another new word today: 'ullays'.

'Ah'm ullays telling misself...'

Oh, and Muriel, on the subject of syLLAbic stresses, couldn't agree more. I keep hearing 'the ProTEAS'; 'on the WEEKend' (pronounced 'weakened'); and 'deveLOPment'. Arrgh.

angel said...

holy crap this was funny...
truly- the accents on tv and radio drive me so batshit that i actually switch it off rather than torture "maahrsyelfff donchoono"
sometimes is doesn't even sound like english!!!
granted- i only speak english and afrikaans, but the slang the kids use drives me nuts- its so false!