Exploring language variation in the Afrikaans tabloids Son and Sondag

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Exploring language variation in the Afrikaans tabloids Son and Sondag

This article examines the vernacular styles used in the Afrikaans tabloids Son and Sondag. Studies focusing on language variation in Afrikaans have not paid much attention to the written representation of the vernacular in the print media (cf. Blignaut and Lesch 2014:20). Furthermore, no comparative corpus linguistic study has been conducted to investigate the colloquial forms employed in these two tabloids, which, according to the editors, are modelled on the vernaculars of the coloured and white working-class speaker of Afrikaans respectively. The colloquial language employed in Son is claimed to be based on Cape Vernacular Afrikaans.

This article has a two-fold purpose. The first is to determine which colloquial features could be identified in the selected news reports of the two tabloids, as well as the occurrence frequency of these features in an attempt to determine whether group-specific markers could be identified for the coloured and white working-class speaker of Afrikaans. The second purpose is to determine whether the nature of the news theme has any influence on the use of the vernacular style.

Central to this study is the concept of style. Style is viewed here as a multidimensional construct. Firstly, the vernacular styles employed in the tabloids could be viewed what "Bell has called […] an exercise in audience design" (Conboy 2006:14). According to Bell’s (2010:32–58) audience-design framework, speakers design their style primarily for and in response to the target audience. As such, style can be regarded as audience accommodation. Writers of tabloids do not attempt to integrate all the features of the relevant social dialect of the target reader, but in their stylisation focus on those distinctive features that the reader could easily recognise and identify with. The vernacular styles in tabloids could thus be seen as performed styles (cf. Coupland 2007:146). These performed informal vernacular styles in the tabloids are modelled on the vernacular of the lower socio-economic classes, which implies that certain linguistic variables could function as markers for both style and social class. This notion of style as audience design provides the necessary framework for the analysis of the stylised vernaculars in the two tabloids. Secondly, it is not only the audience that could influence the choice of a suitable style, but also the degree of formality. Labov (1970:19–22) viewed style variation in terms of attention paid to speech: the more formal the situation, the more attention is paid to speech. The degree of formality could be influenced by, among others, the nature of the topic. This means that news topics that are viewed as formal in nature will tend to employ the standard register more frequently.

The stylistic analysis conducted here focused only on one text type, namely news reports. The news reports that appeared in the Sondag issues from 28 July 2013 to 25 August 2013 and the Tuesday issues of Son from 4 November 2014 to 2 December 2014 were selected for analysis. Two analyses were conducted: firstly, the linguistic features of the stylised vernacular are determined, and secondly, the influence of the news theme on style shifting is examined.

The colloquial features adopted in the news registers of Son and Sondag are limited to lexical variation and include the following:

(i) Code-switching to English, which includes single-word switches (e.g. "Die cops is gebel"), multiple word switches ("trailer trash sexy looks") and morphologically embedded switches (e.g. "lugdiens-site", "gehijack", "gerape"). Single-word switches are by far the most frequently used in both tabloids. It was evident that the switches typically displayed the tabloid agenda: The switches in Sondag (e.g. "show", "fans", "band", "fake boobs") highlight the lifestyle of the Afrikaans celebrities and prominent persons, while in Son the focus on crime in the news stories is accentuated (e.g. "bail", "gangsters", "rapist"). Code-switching to English is portrayed in the news reports as a typical feature of the speech of both the coloured and white working-class speaker. Individual switches in Son occur twice as frequently as in Sondag, but when compared with everyday vernacular Afrikaans the switches in both tabloids still reflect a very low frequency. This under-representation of code-switched items in both tabloids could be seen as an intentional effort on the part of the writer not to alienate the target reader with a high density of code-switching which may be perceived by the reader as patronising, artificial or excessive (cf. Giles and Smith 1979:54). Code-switching is used in both tabloids selectively to create the perception that the tabloid is speaking the language of the reader.

(ii) Direct (literal) translations from English, which include Afrikaansified English words (e.g. "antie", "paartie", "tjommie", "pel"), existing Afrikaans lexemes with English meanings (e.g. "opgebreek" meaning "to break up a relationship") and grammatical interference (e.g. "Meeste van die dames …" (x Die meeste)). Sondag uses twice as many direct translations from English compared with Son. There is a greater tendency in Sondag to present English lexemes in an Afrikaans guise, which could be seen as an effective strategy by the writers of Sondag to make the English conceptual world their own (cf. Ponelis 1998:40).

(iii) Colloquial expressions, which include direct borrowing from English (e.g. "forbidden fruit"), hybrid expressions (e.g. "hy bat vir die ander span"), directly translated expressions from English (e.g. "leerling het brood in die oond") , "own" colloquial Afrikaans expressions (e.g. "sterk gevriet getrek") and variations on existing Standard Afrikaans expressions (e.g. "nog pienk agter die ore"). Colloquial expressions are used more frequently in Sondag than in Son, and provide a colourful and vivid presentation of the news story. The frequent occurrence of "own" colloquial expressions in both tabloids, amidst the dominance of English, signals the vitality of colloquial Afrikaans.

(iv) Clippings (e.g. "porn", "doom") and (v) taboo words (e.g. "gatgabba", "moerse"), which occur more frequently in Sondag than in Son.

(vi) Nicknames (e.g. "Steve Losgulp Hofmeyr") and (vii) interjections ("watwou!"), which occur only in Sondag.

(viii) Afrikaans-specific colloquial items, which include commonly used colloquial items which are widely diffused in the Afrikaans speech community (e.g. "tjoekie", "hol", "daai", "jol") and less commonly used colloquial items which are limited to certain social groups or regions (e.g. "stukkie", "mang", "jongens"). Sondag uses twice as many commonly used colloquial items and also reflects a greater lexical variety compared with Son. For the less commonly used colloquial items there is, surprisingly, not much difference in terms of frequency between Son and Sondag. A limited number of distinctive group-specific markers were identified in Son (e.g. "mang", "tikkop", "gevriet getrek", "sy kop haak uit", "five bob").

The stylistic analysis revealed that there is not much difference between the two stylised vernaculars employed in Son and Sondag. The variation in the two tabloids is by far lexical variation, with very limited grammatical variation. The similarity between the vernacular styles in Son and Sondag (which, as mentioned, are said to be targeting different working-class speakers of Afrikaans) could be the result of an under-representation in Son of the typical lexical and grammatical features that characterise Cape Vernacular Afrikaans. The vernacular style adopted in the news register of Son, which the editorial staff claims to be based on Cape Vernacular Afrikaans, does not include any of the grammatical features that are viewed typical of Cape Vernacular Afrikaans, e.g. vowel raising (e.g. in "wietie"), affrication (e.g. in "djy"), post-vocalic r-deletion (e.g. in "wee"), and the redundant use of the adjectival degree morpheme -er (e.g. in "bietere"). The lexical variation in Son also does not sufficiently reflect the rich source of dialectal items and expressions that are characteristic of Cape Vernacular Afrikaans. This seemingly intentional undershoot of the typical dialectal features of Cape Vernacular Afrikaans in Son results in the vernacular styles adopted in Son and Sondag displaying more similar colloquial features. The difference between the vernacular styles is reflected in the frequency rate of the vernacular forms: Sondag uses nearly twice as many vernacular forms (with the exception of code-switched items) as Son. It was evident from the stylistic analysis that Sondag displays a greater variation of colloquial forms than Son in their news reports, while Son focuses in their stylisation mostly on code-switching to English and Afrikaans-specific colloquial items. The vernacular styles performed in Son and Sondag could be described as a widespread colloquial Afrikaans with limited group-specific markers.

In the second analysis the influence of the news theme on style-shifting was examined by way of comparing the following two groups of news reports with each other: news reports with a frequency of less than one colloquial form per 100 words and news reports with a frequency of more than one colloquial form per 100 words. The first group of news reports is regarded as reflecting a more standard register, while the second group is viewed as displaying a more vernacular style. The study found that the news theme seldom influenced style variation. The use of a formal standard register seemed to depend on who the writer of the news report was rather than the nature of the news theme.

A considerable number of the target readers of Son and Sondag viewed the stylised vernaculars favourably, which underscores the value of adopting spoken varieties of Afrikaans as written codes for certain genres. The written representation of spoken varieties could enhance the legitimacy of these varieties in more formal domains. Further comparative studies into the vernacular styles adopted by the different registers in the tabloids could provide valuable insights into how spoken varieties of Afrikaans are stylised in various written domains.

Keywords: audience design; Cape Vernacular Afrikaans; code-switching; formal; informal; register; social dialects; Son; Sondag; spoken varieties; style; tabloids; vernacular styles

Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans: ’n Verkenning van taalvariasie in die Afrikaanse poniekoerante Son en Sondag

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