Gay language in Cape Town: a study of Gayle - attitudes, history and usage

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This study focuses on the 'language' which emerged primarily from the white and coloured gay male populations of Cape Town during the apartheid years. With its roots in 'moffie' drag culture, the 'language' of Gayle, was last studied by Ken Cage in his 1999 MA dissertation for the Rand Afrikaans University, An investigation into the form and function of language used by gay men in South Africa which was the precursor to his 2003 book Gayle: the language of kinks and queens: a history and dictionary of gay language in South Africa, the only dictionary of Gayle. Gayle?s original function, to give white and coloured gay men a language of secrecy to be able to talk to one another in public without facing prosecution as well as to have an in-group language of belonging, is changing in post-apartheid South Africa. With LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intergender) rights improving in South Africa (same-sex marriages were legalised in 2006 making it the fifth country in the world and the first in Africa to do so), the original function of Gayle, for speakers to avoid prosecution, is no longer a legal threat. With more people openly sharing their sexual orientation and South African citizens in general becoming more educated and accepting of a variety of sexual orientations, Gayle continues to change. Via a comprehensive literature review and a qualitative, quantitative questionnaire, my research discusses the history, attitudes and usage of Gayle by speakers in Cape Town. This topic is important in sociolinguistics, particularly from a language and sexuality perspective as it will bring to light past and current attitudes and usages of gay language in Cape Town and South Africa. Gay rights are topical particularly with South Africa's legal advancements (compared with itself and other countries worldwide). With Cape Town being the 'gay capital of Africa', it is culturally important to document the gay community's 'language', which is reflective of other changes within the community.