Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton November 25, 2017

Young white Afrikaans speakers in South Africa: A case of liminal identity?

  • Pedro Álvarez-Mosquera EMAIL logo
From the journal Folia Linguistica


Studies on post-apartheid South Africa have revealed the persistence of important social challenges in this country. From a sociolinguistic viewpoint, the ethnic diversity and the co-existence of the eleven official languages seem to play an important role in the identity formation of South Africans and the development of intergroup relations. Against the background of key socio-historical events, this article investigates the situation of young white Afrikaans South Africans. It is hypothesized that individuals belonging to this particular ethno-linguistic group represent a case of liminality or liminal identity. Data from two recent research projects on social categorization and language preferences (2012–2014) together with the results of an ongoing study on the role of social distance in the South African context (2014–present) are used to illustrate the current social situation of the young white Afrikaans group and analyse implications for its identity.


Adams, Byron G., J. R. Fons, Van De Vijver & Gideon P. De Bruin. 2012. Identity in South Africa: Examining self-descriptions across ethnic groups. International Journal of Intercultural Relations 36. 377–388.10.1016/j.ijintrel.2011.11.008Search in Google Scholar

Adhikari, Mohamed 2005. Not White enough, not Black enough: Racial identity in the South African Coloured community. Athens: Ohio University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Adhikari, Mohamed. 2009. ed Burndened by race: Coloured identities in Southern Africa. Cape Town: University of Cape Town press.10.26530/OAPEN_628130Search in Google Scholar

Alim, H. Samy. 2006. Roc the mic right: The language of Hip Hop culture. London: Routledge.10.4324/9780203006733Search in Google Scholar

Allport, Gordon W. 1954. The nature of prejudice. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.Search in Google Scholar

Álvarez-Mosquera, Pedro. 2012. Identidad y language crossing: El uso de inglés afroamericano por raperos blancos [Identity and language crossing: The use of African American English by white rappers]. Bern: Peter Lang.Search in Google Scholar

Álvarez-Mosquera, Pedro. 2015. The predominance of English in the South African context: An issue of identity. In Cristina Suárez-Gómez & Elena Seoane eds., Englishes today: Multiple varieties, multiple perspectives. Newcastle Upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.Search in Google Scholar

Anthonissen, Christine. 2009. Bilingualism and language shift in Western Cape communities. Stellenbosch Papers in Linguistics PLUS 38. 61–76.10.5842/38-0-48Search in Google Scholar

Aziakpono, Philomina & Ian Bekker. 2010. The attitudes of isiXhosa-speaking students toward language of learning and teaching issues at Rhodes University, South Africa: General trends. Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies 28(1). 39–60.10.2989/16073614.2010.488442Search in Google Scholar

Ballantine, Christopher. 2004. Re-thinking ‘whiteness’? Identity, change and ‘white’ popular music in post apartheid South Africa. Popular Music 23(2). 105–131.10.4324/9781315090450-7Search in Google Scholar

Beech, Nic. 2011. Liminality and the practices of identity reconstruction. Human Relations 64(2). 285–302.10.1177/0018726710371235Search in Google Scholar

Beukes, Anne-Marie. 2009. Language policy incongruity and African languages in postapartheid South Africa. Language Matters: Studies in the Languages of Africa 40(1). 35–55.10.1080/10228190903055550Search in Google Scholar

Bornman, Elirea, Pedro Álvarez-Mosquera, Vuyo Seti & Ruchelle Barker. 2014. Language choices in higher education: The case of black and Afrikaans-speaking white students at the University of South Africa Unisa. In Maurice Taonezvi Vambe & Bernard Mwansa Nchindila eds., Unisa School of Arts Conference Proceedings 2013, 172–183. Pretoria: University of South Africa.Search in Google Scholar

Brewer, Marilynn B. 1991. The social self: On being the same and different at the same time. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 17(5). 475–482.10.1177/0146167291175001Search in Google Scholar

Bucholtz, Mary. 1999. You da man: Narrating the racial other in the linguistic production of white masculinity. Journal of Sociolinguistics 3(4). 443–460.10.1111/1467-9481.00090Search in Google Scholar

Bucholtz, Mary & Kira Hall. 2005. Identity and interaction: A sociocultural linguistic approach. Discourse Studies 7(4–5). 585–614.10.1177/1461445605054407Search in Google Scholar

Casale, Dorrit & Daniela Posel. 2011. English language proficiency and earnings in a developing country: The case of South Africa. The Journal of Socio-Economics 40. 385–393.10.1016/j.socec.2011.04.009Search in Google Scholar

Cornelissen, Scarlett & Steffen Horstmeier. 2002. The social and political construction of identities in the new South Africa: An analysis of the Western Cape province. The Journal of Modern African Studies 40(1). 55–82.10.1017/S0022278X01003810Search in Google Scholar

Coupland, Nikolas. 2007. Style: Language variation and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511755064Search in Google Scholar

Croft, William. 2009. Toward a social cognitive linguistics. In Vyvyan Evans & Stephanie Pourcel eds., New directions in cognitive linguistics, 395–420. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.10.1075/hcp.24.25croSearch in Google Scholar

Cutler, Cecelia. 2010. Hip-Hop, white immigrant youth, and African American Vernacular English: Accommodation as an identity choice. Journal of English Linguistics 38. 248–269.10.1177/0075424210374551Search in Google Scholar

De Klerk, Vivian. 2000. Language shift in Grahamstown: A case study of selected Xhosa speakers. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 146(1). 87–110.10.1515/ijsl.2000.146.87Search in Google Scholar

Department of Basic Education. Republic of South Africa (n.d.). Language in education policy (1997). Retrieved from (accessed on July 22, 2015).Search in Google Scholar

Dovidio, John F., Samuel L. Gaertner, Yolanda Flores Niemann & Kevin Snider. 2001. Racial, ethnic, and cultural differences in responding to distinctiveness and discrimination on campus: Stigma and common group identity. Journal of Social Issues 57. 167–188.10.1111/0022-4537.00207Search in Google Scholar

Du, Toit & Quayle Megan & Michael. 2011. Multiracial families and contact theory in South Africa: Does direct and extended contact facilitated by multiracial families predict reduced prejudice? South African Journal of Psychology 41(4). 540–551.10.1177/008124631104100412Search in Google Scholar

Dyers, Charlyn. 2008. Language shift or maintenance? Factors determining the use of Afrikaans among some township youth in South Africa. Stellenbosch Papers in Linguistics 38. 49–72.10.5774/38-0-22Search in Google Scholar

Erasmus, Zimitri. 2010. Contact theory: Too timid for “race” and racism. Journal of Social Issues 66(2). 387–400.10.1111/j.1540-4560.2010.01651.xSearch in Google Scholar

Finchilescu, Gillian & Colin Tredoux. 2010. The changing landscape of intergroup relations in South Africa. Journal of Social Issues 66. 223–236.10.1111/j.1540-4560.2010.01642.xSearch in Google Scholar

Finchilescu, Gillian, Colin Tredoux, Johan Mynhard, Jace Pillay & Lucena Muianga. 2007. Accounting for lack of interracial mixing amongst South African university students. South African Journal of Psychology 37(4). 720–737.10.1177/008124630703700404Search in Google Scholar

Gibson, James L. 2006. Overcoming apartheid: Can truth reconcile a divided nation? The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 603(1). 82–110.10.1177/0002716205282895Search in Google Scholar

Gibson, James. L. & Christopher Claassen. 2010. Racial reconciliation in South Africa: Interracial contact and changes over time. Journal of Social Issues 66. 255–272.10.1111/j.1540-4560.2010.01644.xSearch in Google Scholar

Greenfield, Derek. 2010. ‘When I hear Afrikaans in the classroom and never my language, I get rebellious’: Linguistic apartheid in South African higher education. Language and Education 24(6). 517–534.10.1080/09500782.2010.502969Search in Google Scholar

Hastie, Reid, Collin Schroeder & Renée Weber. 1990. Creating complex social conjunction categories from simple categories. Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society 28(3). 242–247.10.3758/BF03334016Search in Google Scholar

Haupt, Adam. 2006. Race, audience, multitude: Afrikaans arts festivals and the politics of inclusion. Muziki 3(1). 16–27.10.1080/18125980608538780Search in Google Scholar

Haupt, Adam. 2012. Static: Race and representation in post-apartheid music, media and film. Cape Town: Human Sciences Resource Council Press.Search in Google Scholar

Henning, Elizabeth & Graham Dampier. 2012. Linguistic liminality in the early years of school: Urban South African children ‘betwixt and between’ languages of learning. South African Journal of Childhood Education 2(1). 100–119.10.4102/sajce.v2i1.24Search in Google Scholar

Hewstone, Miles, Mark Rubin & Hazel Willis. 2002. Intergroup bias. Annual Review of Psychology 53. 575–604.10.1146/annurev.psych.53.100901.135109Search in Google Scholar

Hogg, Michael A. 2000. Subjective uncertainty reduction through self-categorization: A motivational theory of social identity processes. European Review of Social Psychology 11. 223–255.10.1080/14792772043000040Search in Google Scholar

Hogg, Michael A. & Williams D. Kipling. 2000. From I to we: Social identity and the collective self. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research and Practice 4. 81–97.10.1037/1089-2699.4.1.81Search in Google Scholar

Hornsey, Matthew. J. & Michael A. Hogg. 2002. The effects of status on subgroup relations. British Journal of Social Psychological Society 41. 203–218.10.1348/014466602760060200Search in Google Scholar

Kamwangamalu, Nkonko M. 2003. Social change and language shift: South Africa. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics 23. 225–242.10.1017/S0267190503000291Search in Google Scholar

Ko, Sei Jin, Charles M. Judd & Irene Blair. 2006. What the voice reveals: Within- and between-category stereotyping on the basis of voice. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 32. 806–819.10.1177/0146167206286627Search in Google Scholar

Lanehart, Sonja L. 1996. The language of identity. Journal of English Linguistics 24. 323–331.10.1177/007542429602400407Search in Google Scholar

Litosseliti, Lia. 2003. Using focus groups in research. London: Continuum.Search in Google Scholar

Mälksoo, Maria. 2012. The challenge of liminality for International Relations theory. Review of International Studies 38. 481–494.10.2307/j.ctt9qcxbg.16Search in Google Scholar

Marques, José M. & Dario Paez. 1994. The ‘black sheep effect’: Social categorization, rejection of ingroup deviates, and perception of group variability. European Review of Social Psychology 5(1). 37–68.10.1080/14792779543000011Search in Google Scholar

Marx, Hannelie & Viola Candice Milton. 2011. Bastardised whiteness: ‘Zef’-culture, Die Antwoord and the reconfiguration of contemporary Afrikaans identities. Social Identities: Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture 17(6). 723–745.10.1080/13504630.2011.606671Search in Google Scholar

McCorkmick, Kay. ed. 2002. Language in Cape Town’s District Six. New York: Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Mesthrie, Rajend. 1995. Language change, survival, decline: Indian languages in South Africa. In Rajend Mesthrie ed., Language and social history: Studies in South African sociolinguistics, 51–67. Cape Town: David Philip.Search in Google Scholar

Mesthrie, Rajend. 2006. Language, transformation and development: A sociolinguistic appraisal of post-apartheid South African language policy and practice. Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies 24(2). 151–163.10.2989/16073610609486414Search in Google Scholar

Moskowitz, Gordon B. 2005. Social cognition: Understanding self and others. New York: The Guilford Press.Search in Google Scholar

Neuman, W. Lawrence. 2006. Social research methods: Qualitative and quantitative approaches. Boston: Pearson.Search in Google Scholar

O’Driscoll, James. 2001. A face model of language choice. Multilingua 20(3). 245–268.10.1515/mult.2001.002Search in Google Scholar

Oaten, Megan, Kipling D. Williams, Andrew Jones & Lisa Zadro. 2008. The effects of ostracism on self–regulation in the socially anxious. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 27(5). 471–504.10.1521/jscp.2008.27.5.471Search in Google Scholar

Parkinson, Jean & Alison Crouch. 2011. Education, language, and identity amongst students at a South African university. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education 10(2). 83–98.10.1080/15348458.2011.563644Search in Google Scholar

Peirce, Bonny Norton & Stanley G. M. Ridge. 1997. Multilingualism in Southern Africa. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics 17. 170–190.10.1017/S0267190500003330Search in Google Scholar

Pettigrew, Thomas F. 1998. Intergroup contact theory. Annual Review of Psychology 49. 65–85.10.1146/annurev.psych.49.1.65Search in Google Scholar

Postma, Mariette & Dirk Postma. 2011. Who is laughing last in the South African classroom? A critical reflection on language in education. Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies 29(1). 43–54.10.2989/16073614.2011.583156Search in Google Scholar

Prinsloo, Dawn. 2007. The right to mother tongue education: A multidisciplinary, normative perspective. Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies 25(1). 27–43.10.2989/16073610709486444Search in Google Scholar

Rampton, Ben. 1995. Crossing: Language and ethnicity among adolescents. New York: Longman.Search in Google Scholar

Reyes, Angela. 2002. ‘Are you losing your culture?’: Poetics, indexicality, and Asian American identity. Discourse Studies 4(2). 183–199.10.1177/14614456020040020401Search in Google Scholar

Rosch, Eleanor. 1978. Principles of categorization. In Eleanor Rosch & Barbara B. Lloyd eds., Cognition and categorization, 27–48. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Search in Google Scholar

Sacco, Donald F., James H. Wirth, Kurt Hugenberg, Zhansheng Chen & Kipling D. Williams. 2011. The world in black and white: Ostracism enhances the categorical perception of social information. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 47. 836–842.10.1016/j.jesp.2011.03.001Search in Google Scholar

Schaafsma, Juliette & Kipling D. Williams. 2012. Exclusion, intergroup hostility, and religious fundamentalism. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 48. 829–837.10.1016/j.jesp.2012.02.015Search in Google Scholar

South African Legal Information Institute (n.d.). National Education Policy Act, 1996 [No. 27 of 1996] - G 17118. on June 17, 2015).Search in Google Scholar

Statistics South Africa. 2012a. South African Statistics. Retrieved from (accessed on June 15, 2015).Search in Google Scholar

Statistics South Africa. 2012b. Census 2011: Census in brief. Retrieved from (accessed on June 15, 2015).Search in Google Scholar

Statistics South Africa. 2014. Quarterly Labour Force Survey. Retrieved from (accessed on February 6, 2016).Search in Google Scholar

Steyn, Melissa. 2005. White talk: White South Africans and the management of diasporic whiteness. In Alfred J. López ed., Postcolonial whiteness. New York: State University of New York Press.Search in Google Scholar

Sveningsson, Stefan & Mats Alvesson. 2003. Managing managerial identities: Organizational fragmentation, discourse and identity struggle. Human Relations 56(10). 1163–1193.10.1177/00187267035610001Search in Google Scholar

Tajfel, Henri. 1969. Cognitive aspects of prejudice. Journal of Social Issues 25(4). 79–97.10.1111/j.1540-4560.1969.tb00620.xSearch in Google Scholar

Tajfel, Henri & John C. Turner. 1979. An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In William G. Austin & Stephen Worchel eds., The social psychology of intergroup relations, 33–47. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.Search in Google Scholar

Tempest, Sue & Ken Starkey. 2004. The effects of liminality on individual and organizational learning. Organization Studies 25(7). 507–527.10.1177/0170840604040674Search in Google Scholar

Thutloa, Alfred Mautsane & Kate Huddlestone. 2011. Afrikaans as an index of identity among Western Cape Coloured communities. Stellenbosch Papers in Linguistics 40. 57–73.10.5774/40-0-39Search in Google Scholar

Tredoux, Colin, John Dixon, Stephen Underwood, David Nunez & Gillian Finchilescu. 2005. Preserving spatial and temporal dimensions in observational data of segregation. South African Journal of Psychology 35. 412–432.10.1177/008124630503500302Search in Google Scholar

Turner, John C., Penelope J. Oakes, S. Alexander Haslam & McGarty. Craig. 1994. Self and collective: Cognition and social context. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 20. 454–463.10.1177/0146167294205002Search in Google Scholar

Van Gennep, Arnold. 1960. The rites of passage. Translated by. Manika B. Vizedom & Gabrielle L. Caffee. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.10.7208/chicago/9780226027180.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

Van Heerden, Esther. 2009. Liminality, transformation and communitas: Afrikaans identities as viewed through the lens of South African arts festivals: 1995–2006. Stellenbosch: Stellenbosch University dissertation.Search in Google Scholar

Vossen, Rainer. ed. 2013. The Khoesan Languages. New York: Routledge.10.4324/9780203084465Search in Google Scholar

Webb, Victor. 2002. Language in South Africa, the role of language in national transformation, reconstruction and development. Philadelphia: John Benjamins.10.1075/impact.14Search in Google Scholar

White flight from South Africa: Between staying and going. 2008. The Economist. Retrieved from (accessed on July 10, 2015).Search in Google Scholar

Williams, Quentin E. & Christopher Stroud. 2015. Battling the race: Stylizing language and coproducing whiteness and colouredness in a freestyle rap performance. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 24(3). 277–293.10.1111/jola.12064Search in Google Scholar

Received: 2015-10-21
Received: 2016-1-21
Revised: 2016-8-26
Accepted: 2016-8-31
Published Online: 2017-11-25
Published in Print: 2017-11-27

© 2017 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

Downloaded on 11.12.2023 from
Scroll to top button