Tsotsi Taal is a language that developed in the townships of South Africa and was popularized by the 2006 movie, Tsotsi. The language is made up of Indigenous languages, English, Afrikaans and slang terms.
“It is alternately known as, among others, Iscamtho, Flaaitaal, isiTsotsi, Ringas, Kasitaal etc. Speakers themselves may use a preferred term, a geographically specific term (e.g. isiTsotsi is common to Durban), or may not call it by any particular name…
The original variety of Tsotsitaal from the Sophiatown era (also often referred to as Flytaal/Flaaitaal or Kofifitaal) has been described as ‘essentially a language made up of elements of Afrikaans and other languages spoken in South Africa’ ” (Molamu 1995). Molamu suggests that it was a ‘pidgin’, which derived from a brand of Afrikaans spoken by black domestic workers, referred to as kombuistaal (‘kitchen language’), and that it relied on Afrikaans for its base language.
But Ha-ah! (“Ha-ah!” is used to express dismay or to say no. You can find the correct pronunciation on Mzansitaal’s website), this is not an academic article. We want to expose you to some of the ways that this lingo is used. Check this intense clip out to hear how they switch between Zulu, Tswana, Afrikaans, etc. without losing meaning…
Some phrases and words
Here are a few words/phrases you might come across if you meet a Kasified (familiar with the culture, mindset and realities of townships, villages, etc.) individual.
- Hola / Heita / Ek se – hello
- Fede / Feder / Fida ? – how are you? how is it going?
- Amashwang-shweng – refers to a nice/beautiful hair style by a lady.
- 411 – Giving someone the latest news and gossip.
- 6 no 9 – “same difference”. Like “potato, potatoe”
- Bogata or Bo4- means the police.
- Bling-Bling- ladies who are light in complexion.
- Blind- means something or someone is good or impressive.
- Tiger-ten rand note
- Chicken dust- chicken braai done by the roadside
- Dozo- It’s a cigarette.
- Gereza- hustle
- Nyana – a suffix, usually added to a word to minimize it
- Hooi Hooi- greetings (a phrase mostly used by radio and TV personality Dj Sbu)
- Izinyoka- means Thugs or thieves. Commonly used to refer to people who steal cables.
- Inja- it’s literal meaning is a dog. It it’s now commonly used as an expression of respect, and hence means a Top Dog. Uses: Brian Habana is a top dog
- Johnnie Walker- someone who doesn’t have a car
- Ku Million-it’s all good.
Websites / Useful Resources
If you are looking to better understand the people and culture, understanding the local slang, or even conversing in it, is a great way to get around and make connections with those who live in the kasis/townships. Learning tsotsitaal and kasi lingo can open up a whole new world of experiences, as you navigate the townships, and gain a deeper understanding of South African culture.
You can find more words and phrases on websites like https://www.mzansitaal.co.za/ and https://loxionlifestlye.wordpress.com/tag/tsotsitaal/ who’ve made the effort to compile a lot…
Watch this interview with Tumisang Moumakoe, Founder, General Manager and General Lingo Data Capturer at MzansiTaal:
We found a publication “Tsotsitaal: A Dictionary of the Language of Sophiatown” by Louis Molamu which won a dictionary award, and has gone into reprint by popular demand. Goodreads has it listed on their website in you’re interested
An artist and animator living in Cape Town and founder of Koba Illustration and Design published on their website a few interesting GIFs that we’ll include below. The context below is from their website:
“In South African township areas, young men have an informal way of talking amongst each other. There have been numerous debates surrounding the function, nature and origin of this urban informal male youth variety (Brookes, 2015:1). For my research project, I chose to investigate Tsotsitaal and the discourses surrounding it. I have chosen this particular area for research because of the interest I have for the way people communicate, whether it is through eye contact, touch, gesture or verbally. It should also be mentioned that my perception of Tsotsitaal has predominantly been linked to its criminal connotations, which I felt needed to be addressed.” .
One thing for sure is that the Kasi lingo doesn’t stop evolving. It’s like Steve Harvey said when he joked about ebonics in the US, he said “Do you know that ebonics change every week? I’ll tell you one thing; if you do have a dictionary, it better be in pencil!”
Otherwise, 2nd half tweede, we’ll catch you next time. Leave your comments and teach us a few new words or share what you’ve learned…
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