Rastafarian-herbalists’ enregisterment of multilingual voices in an informal marketplace

Quentin Williams


What do we mean when we talk about “multilingual voice” in the post-apartheid sociolinguistic context of South Africa? In this paper, I explore this question by reporting on an ethnographic fieldwork project that involved the participant-observation of Rastafarian-herbalists trading goods in an informal marketplace. I focus in the paper on Rastafarian-herbalists’ language practices and participation in ideological debates surrounding the ethics of Rastafarian religious practices as they navigate the complex yet regimented linguistic landscape of the informal marketplace in which they trade their goods. Furthermore, I explore in the paper how the marginalized trading lives of the Rastafarian-herbalists are characterized by the daily negotiation of power and diversity discourses as they try to define their voices. Their engagement with diverse multilingual populations, I argue, not only provides them with excellent opportunities to expand their multilingual repertoires, but also teaches them to manage strategically “multilingual voices” in interaction in order to sell their products. I argue further that although we cannot take stock of all types of marginalization, we should develop sociolinguistic approaches that are not only sympathetic to the marginalization of people and languages in the everyday, but also attune our methodologies to accurately capture experiences in small places such as the ones where Rastafarian-herbalists trade.


multilingualism, voice, informal markets, ethics

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5842/49-0-674


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

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