An ethnographic and socio-semantic analysis of lexis among working-class Afrikaans-speaking coloured adolescent and young adult males in the Cape Peninsula, 1963-1990

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The study is an investigation into the distinctive, predominantly Afrikaans lexis of adolescent and young adult working-class coloured males in the Cape Peninsula, acquired in social anthropological, psychosocial and sociolinguistic research between 1963 and 1991 (the period of lexical usage is limited to the preceding year). Issues raised by the investigative method, ethnographic participant observation, in regard to subjective data, are also explored. The lexis reflects a lexicogrammatical code of a regional dialect used by all generations in their speech community. Youths construed by speakers as enacting respectability use the lexis of parents or switch to varying degrees into middle-class ("standard") Afrikaans or English. The distinctive lexis of working-class adolescent and young adult male age-sets is thus confined to those construed by speakers as enacting disreputability, delinquency or both. In folk myth and lexicogrammatical code, working-class speakers distinguish four working-class communal identities and corresponding lexicons within the working-class dialect: the respectable, disreputable, delinquent and outcast, constituting a religio-political hierarchy construed in terms of cosmically and socially ordained intracommunal stratification, social status, peer-group association and valence and development of identity. For reasons of space· this study is confined to the disreputable lexicon, which, together with the delinquent lexicon, is termed ou roeker tale (old smoker terms), created and maintained by adolescents and young adults only, although both are used to a lesser extent by many older speakers. The data are organized broadly in terms of communal identity and lexicogrammatical code, and are presented in three parts. The first is an ethnography of folk constructions of communication, language, dialects, communal identities and lexicogrammatical codes, drawing on an exegesis of the socio-semantics of lexis. The second is an ethnography of the communal identities, communal lexicons and their lexicogrammatical codes themselves between 1963 and 1990, focussing on ·working-class male disreputability. The third part is a semantic, grammatical and etymological lexicon of disreputable lexis in ou roeker tale, numbering 2,211 items. Halliday's (1976) formulations of antilanguage are applied to the data and criticized. The major instances of overlexicalization are presented and interpreted. The study concludes that the concept of antilanguage is heuristically valuable but simplistic, one-sided and limited insofar as it pertains to dialect. Its fundamental codal rule of static antagonism is reformulated in terms of ambivalence, creativity and development in communal identity. Issues of methodology, theory and further research are raised in summary.

Bibliography: p. 558-580.