Zimbabwean English

My English teacher used to say: “the Queen would be cross if she heard you say that” everytime someone made a grammatical error. I imagined the Queen, an old lady with glasses hanging down at the end of her nose as if she didn’t want to wear them, sitting in front of a computer receiving notifications everytime someone in the world ‘butchered’ the English language.

Every region in Africa has its own version of English. Some colloquialisms (apologies your Majesty I’m not sure if that’s plural for colloquial) are so unique that they clearly mark the speaker’s country of origin.

For example, you know you are from Zimbabwe if when you are sent to buy drinks for visitors you ask them “which Coke do you want?” (Coke is used as the generic name for all fizzy drinks). This can be confusing especially if you really want coke.

This trend stretches to cover all toothpaste (referred to as Colgate), washing powder (Surf), bleach (Jik) and many others.

When someone talks of ‘meat’ in Zimbabwe most often they are referring to beef. Chicken is not meat it’s chicken. So it’s not rare to hear someone say “we’ll buy some meat, sausages, some chicken and …”

While our English as Zimbabweans is rated highly in Africa our English accents are a different matter. Off course this is relative.

Ndebele speakers are well known for saying cackle when they mean kettle and lickle when they mean little because in most Nguni languages the ‘tle’ sounds more like ‘ckle’ when compared to English.

In 2006 I was fired from a job at a call centre in Cape Town because I didn’t have a ‘neutral’ accent (a.k.a I didn’t have a twang). There is no such thing as a neutral accent. My accent is influenced by the fact that I grew up in Bulawayo (predominantly Ndebele speaking area), went to a school where English was the language spoken in and out of class and had an English teacher who loved her job.

I’m against this idea of England being held up as some sort of default English setting as if people there speak the same English. Even the Queen has an accent. An accent shaped as much by her heritage as it is by her education, her social circles and her social standing as a Monarch.

English does not belong to anyone. All over Africa this language has been adapted to suit different localities. Given that this language is slowly eclipsing many of our indigenous languages especially among the younger people it is only fair that we be allowed to infuse it with a bit of local pzazz (again your Majesty my apologies). After all, one does one’s best.

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