A history of the Bhojpuri (or "Hindi") language in South Africa

Doctoral Thesis


Permanent link to this Item
Journal Title
Link to Journal
Journal ISSN
Volume Title

University of Cape Town

Although Indian languages have existed in South Africa for the last 125 years, there are no academic studies of any of them - of their use in South Africa, their evolution and current decline. Many misconceptions persist concerning their names, their structure, and status as 'proper' languages. This thesis deals with the history of one such language, Bhojpuri (more usually, but incorrectly, referred to as "Hindi"). I attempt to trace the origins of the South African variety of this language by examining the places of origin of the original indentured migrants who brought it to South Africa. A complex sociolinguistic picture emerges, since these immigrants came from a very wide area in North India spanning several languages. I also attempt to describe the early history of Bhojpuri in South Africa as a 'plantation' language. Subsequent changing patterns of usage are then detailed, including phonetic, syntactic, lexical and semantic change. The influence of other South African languages - chiefly English, but also Zulu, Fanagalo, and other Indian languages - is described in detail, as well as changes not directly attributable to language contact. A final section focusses on the decline of the language and the process of language death. From another (more international) perspective this study lays the foundation for comparisons between Bhojpuri in South Africa and other 'overseas' varieties of it, spawned under very similar conditions, in ex-colonies like Surinam, Fiji, Mauritius, Guyana, Trinidad and others. Such a comparative study could well make as great a contribution to general and socio-linguistics as the study of creoles has in the recent past. Information concerning this unwritten language was gathered by field-work throughout Natal. This involved informal interviews with over two hundred fluent speakers, including four who had been born in India during the time of immigrations. The study also draws upon the author's observations on language practices as an 'inside' member of the community under study.

Bibliography: pages 308-318.