Theo Coggin

A blog on communications

Eish! English is wonderful!

One of my colleagues is updating her skills by doing a course at University on teaching English as a second language. She says that one of the most interesting parts has been the construction of words.

English has a wonderful array of words. Being a dynamic language, it is able to assimilate new words with consummate ease.

Coat_of_arms_of_South_Africa.svgI often think that we in South Africa are luckier than most. South Africa boasts eleven official languages, and that is before one counts the unofficial languages such as those spoken by the ǀXam  people (none of their languages is official even though the country’s Coat of Arms bears its motto in a Khoisan language, viz ǃke e: ǀxarra ǁke which translates literally to “Diverse people unite”).

It also does not take into account a language such as Fanagalo, a pidgin (simplified language) based primarily on Zulu, with English and a small Afrikaans input. The language is spoken by miners whose home tongue is varied in order to ensure that they have a common understanding when they communicate deep underground. It is spoken mainly in the gold, diamond, coal and copper mining industries in the country and to a lesser extent in the Democratic Republic of the CongoNamibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

The importance of English embracing changing trends has always held an element of excitement for me. Colleagues and friends who possibly have a more purist bent towards English may not necessarily agree.

But the phenomenon of English adopting new words, and seeing them used in their epicentre of English usage – I have in mind universities such as Cambridge and Oxford, let alone the palaces of the United Kingdom – has been around as far as South Africa is concerned for donkey’s years. Thus the word veld(sometimes spelt veldt), meaning the open planes of the vast South African landscape, has long been in use, as has another Dutch word, trek.

Both these words have wonderful descriptive qualities about them.

Unsurprisingly therefore, latter day words such eish, an expression that can probably be best translated as wow! is now in common usage. braaiAs is a word such as braai, meaning barbeque. These have international flavours  (pun intended!).

More localised are words such as eikona, meaning No! Then there is a derivation of a word widely used such as broeks (meaning pants of various assortments) when used in the context of “look at that house with the lovely broekielace on its stoep” (stoep being another import and used in the USA spelt stoop). In this case the word broekielace means the steel lattice work which serves as a beautiful architectural decoration in many South African homes.

English is a rich language and communicators should explore its use to the utmost.

Please let me know of any words that you come across often from any language. We would all be interested.

Reference: some of the information has been sourced from Wikipedia.

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4 thoughts on “Eish! English is wonderful!

  1. It’s very interesting to learn about the origins of words and how words are formed etc. Thanks for a great blog.

  2. Reblogged this on Just another day in my life and commented:
    I am the person who has decided to go and learn how to teach English as a second language as described in this blog. I find the way that words are formed and its origins most fascinating. This is a great blog and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

  3. Chris Coggin on said:

    Apartheid is another word that has found ready acceptance internationally, even though the concept itself was abhorred. I haven’t heard eish used in Australia but amongst more recent migrants it may be, I guess. I still use broekies and muti much to the amusement of my youngest grand children (we used it in old Rhodesia as well so I suppose it still has currency in Zim. Back then, whites in Zim had quite an array of unique English words in their vocab).

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