'\Major English dialects':
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South African English

South African English is the dialect of English spoken in South Africa and surrounding countries, notably Namibia and Zimbabwe.

South African English is not unified in its pronunciation: this can be attributed to the fact that English is the mother tongue for only 40% of the Caucasian (white) inhabitants (the remainder having Afrikaans as their mother tongue) and only a tiny minority of black inhabitants of the region. The dialect can be, however, identified by many loanwords, mostly from Afrikaans, but increasingly also from isiZulu and other African languages. Some of these words, like "trek", have seeped into general English usage.

Traditionally, South African English has been spoken by white South Africans, but a distinct Indian South African form of English has long existed, and an equally distinctive black South African English is developing very rapidly. Convergence between these sub-dialects can be observed, but it is a slow process.

Table of contents
1 Pronunciation
2 Vocabulary
3 Idioms


South African English spoken by whites bears some resemblances in pronunciation to Australian and New Zealand English, but has also been heavily influenced by Afrikaans.

The most noticeable difference in pronunciation is probably the flat "i", so that "six" is pronounced in a way sounding like "sucks", and "today" like "to die". This is a part of the vowel shift that has occurred in South Africa as well as New Zealand. Below; the latter word is how the former word sounds-like to the ears of a non-South African:

  • pan --> pen
  • pen --> pin
  • pin --> pun
  • pun --> pan

One difference between South African English and New Zealand English is in the pronunication of 'ar' and 'ow', as in the pronunciation of the sentence 'park the car downtown'.

  • New Zealand: pahk the kah dehwn tehwn
  • South Africa: pawk the kaw dahwn tahwn

Those with Afrikaans as a mother tongue will pronounce 'k' or 'c' as 'g', and 't' as 'd'. The back-trilled "R", also found in Scottish speech patterns, also features strongly.

  • Cape Town --> guyp-down
  • Pretoria --> bri-dorr-ya

English as spoken by black South Africans is influenced by intonation and pronunciation of African languages:

  • work --> weck
  • win --> ween
  • car --> kah
  • book --> boook
  • fast -- fust


There are words that do not exist in
British or American English, usually derived from Afrikaans or African languages.

  • ag - oh
  • baas - boss
  • bioscope - cinema, movie theatre (now dated)
  • biltong - dried meat, similar to jerky
  • boerwors - spicy sausage
  • braai - a barbecue, to barbecue
  • bakkie - a utility truck, pick-up truck
  • doos - idiot (can also mean female genitalia)
  • impi - horde of warriors
  • ja - yes
  • jislaaik! - wow!
  • jol - to have fun, to party
  • kaffir - very derogatory term for black person
  • kak - shit, crap
  • kiff - (adj.) cool, neat, great, wonderful
  • kugel - Jewish woman, usually affluent
  • lekker - nice, good, well, OK
  • mealie - millet corn, staple diet
  • moffie - male homosexual (derogatory)
  • ou (plural ouens) man, guy, bloke
  • rand currency, divided in to 100 cents, also used in plural 'ten rand'.
  • rooinek (literally 'red neck') derogatory term for English person
  • sies - expression of disappointment, annoyance - ag, sies, man
  • sadza - Zimbabwean term for mealie
  • sarmie - sandwich
  • soutpiel - (literally 'salt dick') derogatory term for English-speaking white South African*
  • shebeen - illegal drinking establishment in black township
  • sommer - for no particular reason, just because
  • trek - to move, to wander
  • tsotsi - thug, criminal, bandit
  • yebo - yes

*On account of his supposed divided loyalties- one foot in South Africa, the other in England, and genitals in the sea.

There are also a few unique constructions in South African English, where common English words take on new meanings:

  • ablutions block - outside toilet, washroom also in Australian English
  • boney - motorcycle (from the Triumph Bonneville)
  • book of life - national identity document
  • bunny - loaf of bread filled with curry, speciality of Durban (also bunny chow)
  • cafe - grocery shop
  • china - mate, pal (from rhyming slang 'china plate'= mate)
  • coloured - mixed race
  • cool drink - soft drink, fizzy drink
  • dam - reservoir
  • goose - girl, young woman, girlfriend
  • hang - heck, hell (a hang of a lot)
  • hey? - eh? is/isn't that so?
  • homeland - separate state for black South Africans under apartheid
  • howzit - hello, how are you, good morning
  • just now - A short time from now
  • matric - school certificate
  • now now - later on (later than "just now")
  • I beg yours? - I beg your pardon?, Sorry?, Please explain? ''also in Australian English
  • izzit (is it) - an all purpose exclamative, equivalent to "really?"
  • robot - traffic light
  • sharp - good, well, OK
  • shame! - interjection; used when speaker believes something is unfortunate.
  • tackies - sneakers, plimsolls, sports shoes; also car tyres.
  • township - urban area for black South Africans under apartheid


The influence of Afrikaans accounts for idioms in South African English like "are you coming with?" (are you coming with us?), and the ubiquitous "hey?" instead of "isn't it?", "aren't you"?).

  • He's not coming with, hey? He's not coming with us, is he?

  • She'll be here just now. She'll be here soon.

  • Ja well, no fine. Things are okay, so-so.

Another influence is the use of the word 'comma' as in decimal comma, instead of 'point' as in decimal point.

  • The rand closed at 7,25 [seven comma two five] against the US dollar. The rand closed at 7.25 [seven point two five] against the US dollar.

Speakers of African languages may confuse 'he' and 'she', as the third person singular is often the same. "Madam is not here. He is in England."