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Archive for the ‘Academic’ Category

Rajend Mesthrie and Jeanne Hromnik to Discuss Eish, but is it English? at HUMA

Eish, but is it English?: Celebrating the South African varietyAs part of the Institute for Humanities in Africa (HUMA) seminar and book lunch series, Rajend Mesthrie and Jeanne Hromnik will be discussing their book Eish, but is it English? Celebrating the South African Variety on 16 April 2012 at 1PM.

Mesthrie and Hromnik will be in conversation with Peter Anderson in the HUMA Seminar Room on the University of Cape Town’s upper campus.

Don’t miss it!

Event Details

  • Date: Monday, 16 April 2012
  • Time: 1:00 PM to 2:30 PM, lunch will be served from 12:30 onwards
  • Venue: HUMA Seminar Room,
    4th floor, Oppenheimer Institute Building,
    Upper Campus,
    University of Cape Town,
    Rondebosch | Map
  • Guest Speaker: Peter Anderson
  • RSVP:, 021 650 4592

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Rajend Mesthrie and Jeanne Hromnik Launch Eish, but is it English? at The Book Lounge

Jeanne Hromnik and Rajend Mesthrie

Yesterday evening Rajend Mesthrie and Jeanne Hromnik launched their book, Eish, but is it English? Celebrating the South African variety at The Book Lounge, where they kept word sleuths and lovers of the English language intrigued with historical anecdotes about the history and currency of English in South Africa.

Eish, but is it English?Providing the audience with a background to the development of the book, Jeanne Hromnik said the catalyst for writing Eish, but is it English was another book by Mesthrie, World Englishes, which Hromnik was drawn to for the seeming incorrectness of the title. Hromnik said she attended the launch of World Englishes, but after reading the book, found the text difficult to understand and the numbered paragraphs off-putting.

But it was the spoken and not written word that won Hromnik over. At the launch of World Englishes, Hromnik found herself identifying with the things Mesthrie was speaking about. Mesthrie, who used to feature on SAFM‘s now defunct Word of Mouth programme, was hesitant at first when Hromnik approached him with the idea of writing a book about language for an audience outside of academia. Later (at a time when he was immobilised and thus susceptible due to a knee operation), Mesthrie warmed to the idea.

Anyone who has ever been called out for inapproapriate or ungrammatical usage of English will take please in finding that, as Mesthrie reveals in the book, “in speech…we are all equally well dressed”. Furthermore, Mesthrie points out that “speaking a language well does not make you an expert on language, the same way that breathing oxygen does not make you an expert in biology”.

On the topic of South African colloquialisms, Mesthrie says it is actually very difficult writing a book about English without talking about the influence of other languages. He says every time we say “now now” or “quick quick” we are “paying abeyance” to Afrikaans and its Malay influences.

Mesthrie then read some passages from the book about the origins of the word “robot” and how in South African English the word has come to be associated with traffic lights. Mesthrie traced the word back to its Czech origins, “robota”, which means “forced labour”. Later, when an audience member challenged him on this translation, arguing that “robota” simply means “labour” and not “forced labour”, Mesthrie joked that in Eastern Europe perhaps all labour is “forced”. A third passage considered how black English is often seen as “not proper” for its placement of the subject in certain phrases where the subject is usually absent. However, Mesthrie argues that despite this being considered “incorrect” by the “language police”, this linguistic habit is far more logical than leaving the subject out of a sentence, as in the phrase, “As can be seen, …”.

Mesthrie conlcuded his talk with a “message of hope”, remarking that we are very fortunate to be living in a country that has English as a resource. He says mastery of the English language is such a sought-after skill that in places like South Korea families are broken up and their kids are sent away to learn English abroad. Said Mesthrie, “They are so desperate that they will send their kids to Potchefstroom!”

Eish, but is it English promises to be a highly satisfying read; it applies a linguistic microscope to South Africa’s history, revealing facts about our heritage we might not otherwise have known. The books also contains what Mesthrie calls “the most amazing sentence in the English language”, which was written, not by Shakespeare or JM Coetzee, but by a German missionary in South Africa. Despite pleas from the audience for him to reveal this sentence, Mesthrie displayed his more shrewd side by advising, “you will have to read the book to find out”.

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Books LIVE tweeted from the launch using #livebooks:

At the launch of Eish, but is it English by Rajend Mesthrie & Jeanne Hromnik #livebooksThu Nov 24 15:51:40 via Twitter for iPad

Jeanne Hromnik starts the discussion #livebooks Nov 24 16:01:22 via Twitter for iPad

Hromnik: the catalyst for the book was World Englishes, a book co-authored by Mesthrie #livebooksThu Nov 24 16:01:34 via Twitter for iPad

Hromnik went to the launch of World Englishes but found it disappointing – difficult to understand w/numbered paragraphs! #livebooksThu Nov 24 16:03:03 via Twitter for iPad

But when Mesthrie spoke, Hromnik realised that he spoke to everything she was interested in #livebooksThu Nov 24 16:04:09 via Twitter for iPad

Mesthrie: No one is ragged in their first language #livebooksThu Nov 24 16:08:45 via Twitter for iPad

Not always easy to say what is your first language #livebooksThu Nov 24 16:09:16 via Twitter for iPad

In South Africa especially people are accustomed to speaking a mixture of languages #livebooksThu Nov 24 16:09:46 via Twitter for iPad

One of Hromnik’s favourite sentences left out of book: In speech, at any rate, we are all equally well dressed #livebooksThu Nov 24 16:11:03 via Twitter for iPad

Hromnik mentions Lynne Truss’ Eats, Shoots & Leaves #livebooksThu Nov 24 16:12:12 via Twitter for iPad

Hromnik mentions Ashraf Garda’s use of “isn’t it” at the end of sentences as an example of SA English #livebooksThu Nov 24 16:13:57 via Twitter for iPad

JH mentions a trip out to Athlone & passing a sign selling “carrot’s” #livebooksThu Nov 24 16:16:57 via Twitter for iPad

Publication of Eish, but is it English coincided with the end of Word of Mouth – Hromnik describes this as a swan song #livebooksThu Nov 24 16:17:01 via Twitter for iPad

Hromnik: At the end of our book, I could finally understand World Englishes #livebooksThu Nov 24 16:18:22 via Twitter for iPad

Hromnik hands over to Rajend Mesthrie #livebooks Nov 24 16:19:56 via Twitter for iPad

Mesthrie says that speaking a language well does not make you an expert on language #livebooksThu Nov 24 16:19:48 via Twitter for iPad

RM: English gives us the best opportunity of telling South Africa’s story #livebooksThu Nov 24 16:23:18 via Twitter for iPad

Everytime we say “now now” or “quick quick” we are paying abeyance to Malay #livebooksThu Nov 24 16:24:11 via Twitter for iPad

RM: The book presents English as a reflection of everyone’s history, it is lighthearted and fun rather than serious linguistics #livebooksThu Nov 24 16:26:56 via Twitter for iPad

Mesthrie concludes that “eish” is the new “eina” #livebooksThu Nov 24 16:27:48 via Twitter for iPad

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Launch of Rajend Mesthrie and Jeanne Hromnik’s Eish, but it is English? at The Book Lounge

Eish, but is it English?: Celebrating the South African varietyJoin Zebra Press and The Book Lounge for the launch of Eish, but is it English? Celebrating the South African Variety by Rajend Mesthrie and Jeanne Hromnik.

Mesthrie and Hromnik will discuss the evolution of language in South Africa and the varieties of English on Thursday, 24 November at 5:30 for 6:00 PM

See you there!

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Forthcoming: Eish, but is it English? by Rajend Mesthrie and Jeanne Hromnik

Eish, but is it English?This November from Zebra Press, Eish, but is it English? by Rajend Mesthrie and Jeanne Hromnik:

Did you know that there was English in South Africa before the English? Have you ever wondered where the words ‘tsotsi’, ‘larney’, ‘gogga’ and ‘chakalaka’ come from? Do you know that the first sentence uttered by a South African in English was ‘Coeree home go’, by a kidnapped Khoikhoi man in 1613?

South Africa is home to several unique varieties of English. This entertaining book traces the evolution of the language in the country, looking at the diverse forms of English spoken here, where they come from and how they fit into the world spectrum of English. Humorous and informative, it outlines the distinctive features of South African English and is packed with examples and explanations of common expressions, slang, pronunciations and typically South African words and phrases, including ‘bunny chow’, ‘just now’, ‘veldskoen’, ‘sundowner’ and, of course, ‘eish’. The text is enriched with up-to-date, often hilarious illustrations of key concepts.

About the authors

Rajend Mesthrie is a professor of linguistics at the University of Cape Town, where he holds a National Research Foundation (SARCHI) research chair. He has published widely in the field of sociolinguistics and has conducted extensive research on the varieties of English spoken in South Africa. His published works include A Dictionary of South African Indian English, Introducing Sociolinguistics, World Englishes and Language in South Africa.

Jeanne Hromnik has worked in South African publishing for many years as a book editor, commissioning editor and manuscript reader. She now puts language to use as a freelance editor and writer. Her short stories have been published in New Writing from Africa 2009 and The Edge of Things.

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Kelvin Grove Club Luncheon with Charles van Onselen

Masked Raiders: Irish Banditry in Southern Africa, 1880–1899Charles van OnselenKelvin Grove Club cordially invites you to a luncheon with Charles van Onselen. An acclaimed historian and author, van Onselen has won the Alan Paton Award for non-fiction and several International awards.

He has published extensively in leading historical journals. He is currently Research Professor in the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Pretoria.

His new book, Masked Raiders, follows the wild exploits of legendary brigands who ravaged the subcontinent between 1880 and 1899.

Join the club for a fascinating talk in the Ballroom on 22 July:

Event Details

  • Date: Thursday, 22 July 2010
  • Time: 12:00 PM for 12:30 PM
  • Venue: Kelvin Grove Club,
    144 Campground Road, Newlands
    Cape Town |Map
  • Cost: R115 plus a small service charge
  • To book: Kelvin Grove Club Reception, , 021 658 4500/01

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New from Charles van Onselen: Masked Raiders

Masked RaidersCharles van OnselenFor two decades before a railway system linked southern Africa’s principal cities in the mid-1890s, the world’s richest supplies of diamonds and gold were transported by coach and horses to distant ports for export. For Irish soldiers based at Fort Napier, Pietermaritzburg, the temptation of this fabulous wealth proved irresistible: they deserted by the score and, as members of the criminal ‘Irish Brigade’, embarked on a spree of bank, safe and highway robberies.

Masked Raiders follows the wild exploits of legendary brigands like the McKeone brothers and ‘One-Armed Jack’ McLaughlin, who ravaged the subcontinent, from the mining towns of Barberton, Kimberley and Johannesburg to the borders of Basotholand, Bechuanaland, Mozambique and Rhodesia. With tales of heists, safe-cracking, illegal gold dealings, prison breaks and hidden roadside treasure, the book reveals the potency of the highveld’s ‘criminal heroes’, a force – until now – largely hidden from history.

Startling new insights reveal how the hidden grammar of brigandage informed political actions of the day, such as the Jameson Raid, and how the movement of bandits across the interior helped shape the borders of what was to become modern South Africa. With inimitable storytelling flair, Charles van Onselen illuminates the intrigue and influence of a secretive, oath-bound brotherhood.

About the author

A graduate of Rhodes University, Grahamstown, and St Antony’s College, Oxford, Charles van Onselen is an acclaimed historian and author of The Seed is Mine and The Fox and the Flies. His awards include the American African Studies Association’s Herskovits Prize, the Institute of Commonwealth Studies’ Trevor Reese Memorial Prize and the Alan Paton Award for non-fiction. He has published extensively in leading historical journals in America, England and France, and has been honoured with visiting fellowships at Cambridge, Oxford and Yale. He is currently Research Professor in the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Pretoria.

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Image courtesy Random House Struik

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