A Dictionary of South African Indian English


Rajend Mesthrie
University of Cape Town


Bunny chow, larney, lakker, roti-ou, thanni, Satyagraha, Kavady ... these are all terms from South African Indian English, an important dialect in South Africa, particularly KwaZulu-Natal, and one of the better-known varieties of English in the Linguistics literature. It arose out of the language accommodations that occurred as Indians arriving in South Africa in large numbers in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries adjusted to life in a new colony. Out of a high degree of multilingualism, it was English that eventually became the main language of South Africa’s one-million-strong Indian community. Yet because of the colonial and apartheid hierarchies and separations, English developed as a major dialect in the community drawing to a large extent on its own resources. Today it is a vibrant dialect, increasingly found in plays and novels and even advertising in South Africa.

A Dictionary of South African Indian English is based on hundreds of hours of dialect interviews and close word-for-word transcriptions, and on historical, literary, culinary and other sources. Altogether 1700 terms are given explanations, pronunciation guides where necessary, language origin, examples of their use and citations from literature. This book is the author’s tribute to this aspect of South African culture and ultimately a contribution to the broader sociolinguistic literature.


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27 June 2022


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