An analysis of metaphorical idioms in South African Indian English

Suren Naicker


This study looks at a selected number of expressions used in the variety of English known as “South African Indian English” (SAIE). Mesthrie (1992, 2010a) compiled a dictionary of expressions used within this language variety, which is the primary source of data for this study. Mesthrie has also published numerous scholarly works documenting various aspects of SAIE (cf. Mesthrie 1991, 1992a). A selection of five metaphorical idioms have been chosen for analysis, and the meanings as put forth by Mesthrie (1992, 2010a) have been cross-checked with 10 native speakers of SAIE, as well as the author’s native-speaker intuitions. The informants were all middle-class, professional, educated persons of Indian origin, who speak English as a first language; they were all between 30 and 60 years of age, and reside either in Johannesburg as internal economic migrants from Durban, or currently reside in Durban. As this analysis is undertaken through the lens of Conceptual Metaphor Theory, the various metaphorical idioms are analysed as expressions of underlying conceptual metaphors, which confirms the idea that many entrenched idiomatic expressions are surface manifestations of underlying conceptual metaphors, and therefore part and parcel of the same human conceptual system. The analysis follows an adapted format used by Kövecses (2010), whereby the metaphorical idiom is stated, followed by the meaning, then the underlying conceptual metaphor. A table illustrating how the idiom is typically mapped in context, followed by a brief discussion of the import, is also in line with Kövecses (2010). One of the key findings is that this is indeed a viable approach to the study of idioms in general, and a more comprehensive study should be made of more expressions like these to see whether or not all entrenched expressions can be viewed as emanating from underlying conceptual metaphors. 


South African Indian English; Conceptual Metaphor Theory; Cognitive Linguistics; metaphorical idioms

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

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