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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton January 11, 2021

Cape Town Gujarati and its relation to Gujarati dialectology: A study of retroflex boosting

Rajend Mesthrie and Vinu Chavda


This paper has two purposes. Firstly, it provides a bird’s eye view of the characteristics of a variety of Gujarati in diaspora, viz. that spoken in Cape Town, South Africa for almost 150 years. Secondly it focusses on one notable feature, viz. the prominence of retroflexes over dentals, and connects this with other dialects of Gujarati in India and with Western Indo-Aryan. We analyse the speech of 32 speakers born or brought up in South Africa, and resident in Cape Town. We show that Cape Town Gujarati retains the dialect variation of late nineteenth century Gujarati as identified by Grierson, Sir George A. 1908. Linguistic survey of India. Vol IX, part II: Indo-Aryan family, Central Group – Rajasthani and Gujarati. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. In particular, it resembles the Surti dialect, in keeping with the fact that the area around Surat district provided the bulk of migrants to Cape Town in the nineteenth and twentieth century. We then focus in detail on a prominent, but little-studied, phenomenon of Gujarati dialects: the variable occurrence of retroflex stops where Standard Gujarati has dentals [t̪ t̪h d̪ d̪h]. We demonstrate the considerable amount of such “retroflex boosting” in the Cape Town variety. We provide a detailed and replicable methodology from variationist sociolinguistics for studying this boosting that we believe illuminates the study of its occurrence in modern dialects in Gujarat.

Corresponding author: Rajend Mesthrie, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, South Africa, E-mail:

Funding for this research was secured from a SARCHI (South African Research Chair) Grant No. 64805 (R. Mesthrie: Migration, Language and Social Change) and an NIHSS (National Institute of the Humanities in South Africa) Grant No. 201514. We also thank the University of Cape Town Faculty of Humanities research committee for financial support. The map of Gujarat was expertly drawn by Thomas Slingsby of the UCT Libraries GIS Lab. Thanks are due to all the interviewees who gave graciously of their time, to Mr. Kanu Sukha for assistance during fieldwork, and Dr. Usha Desai for her input into Gujarati research in South Africa.


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Published Online: 2021-01-11
Published in Print: 2020-03-26

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