Stability of grammatical features of Black South African English
AbstractThis article explores the level of stability of some grammatical features of Black South African English (BSAE). The study involved testing a group of undergraduate speakers of BSAE using an exercise in which students judged the grammaticality of sentences and rewrote those they considered non-standard. Students were then alerted to grammatical differences between BSAE and Standard English (SE). Awareness of these differences developed during a student writing assignment in which BSAE features were discussed and compared with the standard forms, and students learnt to distinguish between SE and BSAE forms in assessing the rewritten sentences of their fellow students. After an interval of two months, the same participants were re-tested on their use of these features using a second similar grammaticality exercise. The results suggest that this minor intervention increased students’ ability to recognise most of the non-standard forms and rewrite them in the standard form. This indicates present lack of stability in the BSAE variety, and is in line with previous findings (Van der Walt and Van Rooy, 2002) that BSAE is in a transition phase in which standard and BSAE forms are both regarded as options. The study also found also that some features of BSAE are more stable than others. The last part of the article considers qualitative data reflecting students’ attitudes to BSAE and suggests that a sense of ownership of this variety might be an important step towards students’ extending their repertoire to include a more formal written variety.
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