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Linguistic and Sociolinguistic Aspects of Variation in the Eastern Cape: Complexities of Xhosa Language Use

Journal article
Authors Eva-Marie Bloom Ström
Published in Studia Orientalia Electronica
Volume 6
Pages 90–120
ISSN 2323-5209
Publication year 2018
Published at Department of Languages and Literatures
Pages 90–120
Language en
Keywords Microvariation, morphosyntax, Bantu, corpus, South Africa
Subject categories African languages


This paper presents the results of a micro-variation project in which linguistic diversity of the Eastern Cape of South Africa is examined. It shows that regional variation in the Xhosa dialect cluster is minimal and that many older forms and sounds that have previously been reported on are no longer in use. With a specific focus on morpho-syntactic variation, the paper gives examples from a corpus of recorded, transcribed and glossed speech collected across the Eastern Cape. It is argued that spontaneous speech is crucial in analysing morpho-syntactic variation when it is on a fine, intralinguistic level. The paper gives a detailed overview of previous publications on the dialects of the area and relates this to current findings based on the recordings. It is shown that the presumed decline in dialectal differences is not paired with a decrease in linguistic identity which is connected to separate clans and kingdoms. The dwindling use of regional variables is explained by a longstanding situation of personal mobility, standardization and schooling. This paper contributes to our understanding of the linguistic complexities of the Nguni subgroup of Bantu languages. It concludes that any experienced differences between standard Xhosa and the language spoken at home is not due to regional variation, and that their causes should be sought elsewhere

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