Perceptions of “new Englishes”: responses to the use of Swazi English in newspapers in Swaziland

De Koning, Joanne (2009-03)



The concept of ‘new Englishes’ developed as a result of the relatively new perception of English as an adapting and evolving language within increasingly wider global contexts. According to McArthur (1992:688) the term “new Englishes” refers to "recently emerging and increasingly autonomous variet[ies] of English, especially in a non-western setting, such as India, Nigeria, or Singapore." Such varieties of English develop from an English, traditionally recognised as standard, to become distinctly individual: they retain some cultural and linguistic characteristics of the standard English but additionally represent and include many aspects of the culture and language of the country in which the new English functions. These new Englishes are lexico-grammatically sophisticated and as viable as any of the traditionally recognised standard Englishes. The “new languages” are used intranationally and internationally and so are not only a result of intercultural communication; they also facilitate and enable intercultural communication. This thesis investigates (i) Swazi English (SwE) as a ‘New English’ and (ii) the perceptions that Swazis themselves, as well as speakers from other language communities, have of SwE and its users. Swaziland is a landlocked country in the northeast region of Southern Africa and one of the last remaining monarchies on the African continent. English was introduced to Swaziland during the 1800’s and remained one of the official languages alongside siSwati after Swaziland achieved independence from Britain in 1968. English in Swaziland continued to develop despite increasingly restricted access to input from English first language speakers of British descent thus resulting in SwE developing independently of any external norm. SwE now appears to be a stable variety of English that is not only spoken but also written in newspapers, in government and legal correspondence and in the public relations documents of Swazi companies. The research for this thesis identifies a number of lexical, syntactic and semantic features of SwE that are different from those of standard British or American English. These features of SwE occur frequently and consistently in newspaper articles. Nevertheless, as indicated by the research results of this thesis, SwE continues to be perceived as an error-ridden second language variety rather than as a new English in its own right. Furthermore, the language prejudice is extended to users of SwE as many judge the intelligence, credibility and trustworthiness of writers of SwE negatively on the basis of linguistic features that cannot be indicators of character, skill or competence. This prejudice gives rise to stereotyping which is a barrier to effective intercultural communication.

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