Language of the Cape Flats
Language of the Cape Flats

Awe! Hulle wietie vi os, om te se, da is drie ouviesil lengwiejes innie Kaap, ma wat vannie lengwiej wat os wietie ? Hulle moenie dink hulle kan vi os swak maak moet osse lengwiej 'ie. Os sal hulle wysmaak van osse ding.

The above is a demonstration of the way most people on the Cape Flats speak. It is written as it is spoken and, therefore, can be very confusing, even to the very people who speak like this, unless it is read aloud.

( Click play on the audio icon to listen to how the above is spoken.)

Translated into English, it means the following:

Hey! We are told that there are three official languages in Cape Town, but what about the language that we speak ? They must not think that they can undermine our way of speaking. We will show them a thing or two.

The problem with this translation is that, while it correctly translates the words, it does not necessarily capture the meaning, because the meaning depends on the context in which the above was said, and even more importantly, the tone of voice that was used. So for example, the simple word "Awe!" could be an expression of surprise, anger or disappointment, depending on how it was spoken.

So what is my point with all of this ?

Basically, that in the context of South Africa having 11 official languages, three would be applicable in Cape Town; namely, English, Afrikaans and Xhosa. However, most people on the Cape Flats, while regarded as Afrikaans speakers, in fact speak what is commonly called "Kapie-taal". It is predominantly Afrikaans, but includes English and a few Xhosa words as well- amongst older people it is also not uncommon to find a few Dutch words. The problem is that the way in which these languages are corrupted and combined to make up Kapie-taal, means that in the end, what is spoken bears very little resemblance to the original languages.

So the word 'official', which in Afrikaans is 'amptelik', becomes "ouviesil" in Kapie-taal. To make it even worse, people on the Cape Flats tend to speak very rapidly and with a sing-song type of voice which, if you're not used to it, can sound quite comical.

Kapie-taal is not to be confused with what is known as "fly-taal" or "tsotsi-taal". The latter two are normally used to refer to the style of speaking adopted by township gangsters, and lately, by black yuppies. They're all very similar, in that they tend to consist of a combination of languages which have been corrupted to the extent that a "new" language is produced. The difference, however, is that for many people on the Cape Flats, Kapie-taal is the language they speak and unlike tsotsi-taal, it is not regarded as something unusual, certainly not on the Cape Flats.

The exciting thing about the language of the Cape Flats, is that it is dynamic and is forever in a process of change, as new experiences and situations are incorporated into it. It is also a very expressive language in which the words used often seem to have no direct bearing on the subject of discussion, but illustrates the point being made in a way which is unimaginable in the English language. Two examples (these incidents are not necessarily true. I'm inventing them for the purposes of demonstration):

Someone asks a minibus-taxi driver the cost of a trip from Athlone to Mowbray. The reply is that it will cost a "De Klerkie".
Now unless you understand the context within which this discussion is taking place, it does not make sense at all. After all, what the hell is a "De Klerkie"?
The simple answer is that South Africa's two-rand coin was minted for the first time during the period when FW de Klerk (ex-State President) was at the height of his political career. The two-rand coin was promptly dubbed a "De Klerkie". In other words, a trip from Athlone to Mowbray would cost two rands.

This second example illustrates the expressiveness of the Cape Flats language:

A mother is complaining about her five-year old who refuses to walk anywhere, but who does not hestitate to get into anyone's car to be driven somewhere, and she says: "Hy wil net voetjies hang" (literally translated as "he just wants to have his feet hanging"). Now the connection between "voetjies hang" and driving in a car is not very obvious, except when you think about it- when a five year old sits in a car, his or her feet normally do not reach the floor i.e. they're hanging in the air, therefore "hy wil net voetjies hang". Quite something, isn't it?

Nou ja, my blas. Julle moenie nog ko sikkel moetie ouens vannie Toun nie. Os ken julle gedagtes en os tel nogal'ie oppie. Ek gan vi julle notch...

( Click play on the audio icon to listen to how the above is spoken.)