Bilingualism and language shift in Western Cape communities

Christine Anthonissen


This paper considers a number of pertinent sociolinguistic aspects of a distinct process of language

shift recently noted in some historically Afrikaans first language (L1) communities established in the

Cape Metropolitan area. Particularly, it considers qualitatively how a number of families made

deliberate choices to change the family language from Afrikaans L1 to English L1. It elaborates on an

exploratory study undertaken in 2003, adding data collected in 2008 and 2009, investigating linguistic

repertoire and language choice in a number of families where there has been contact between English

and Afrikaans over a number of generations. The aim, eventually, is to characterise the nature of the

perceived process of language shift. The paper considers how widespread use of both English and

Afrikaans in communities that until recently were predominantly Afrikaans, impacts on linguistic

identities. It reports on structured interviews with members of three generations of families who

currently exhibit English-Afrikaans bilingualism where members of the younger generation are more

fluent in English. It finds that there is evidence of language shift, it reports on the circumstances that

motivate such shift, and concludes that the third generation presents either a monolingual English

identity where Afrikaans has a decidedly second language status, or a strong English-dominant

bilingual identity.


: bilingualism, family language, language shift, language identity

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ISSN 2224-3380 (online); 1726-541X (print)

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