Alternative Histories of English

By Richard Watts; Peter Trudgill | Go to book overview

6

Building a new Englishdialect

South African Indian English and the history of Englishes 1


Rajend Mesthrie

Introduction

The imperial and colonial predispositions of the British in the modern period set off linguistic processes which made the mostly linear history of English up to that point rather more complex and challenging for the historian. The growth of English is certainly tied to the rise of the United Kingdom as a major shipping and capitalist power from the eighteenth century on. That English has always co-existed with other languages is often downplayed in traditional accounts; in the history of global language English this oversight takes on particular significance. Whilst some handbooks now tack on descriptions of extra-territorial varieties in Canada, the USA, Australia and South Africa, the history of English has gone beyond the linguistic practices of the descendants of Anglo-Saxons in colonial environments. The colonised, dispossessed and economically dominated have their histories of English too. The sailor, merchant, soldier, slave driver and/or missionary were initially responsible for the introduction of English abroad: later, teachers as we know them came to be involved. Sometimes the teachers were soldiers, as two brief examples from British rule in Africa show. Caleb Shivachi (1999) cites the role of the Kings' African Rifles in disseminating a knowledge of English in east Africa in the early twentieth century. In nineteenth century Natal (South Africa) in an early attempt to provide education to Indians on some sugar estates, discharged soldiers from the Indian army were recruited, since they had acquired some knowledge of an Indian language. This project was soon abandoned for, as the Superintendent's report of 1880 wryly put it, 'their conduct was not such as to command the respect of those among whom their work lay' (Brain 1983:205). The first generation of missionaries who followed upon the early traders and slave drivers were in quite a few territories either L2 (second language) speakers from Holland, Germany and France, with a varied competence in English ranging from the minimal to the competent (Mesthrie 1996b, 1998), or broad dialect speakers (Moorhouse 1973; Mesthrie 1992a: 21). Input from standard southern British English and/or Received Pronunciation (RP) was in the first generation of missionary contact in Africa very rare.

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