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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton December 8, 2020

Metaphors and their link to generational peer groups and popular culture in African youth languages

  • Ellen Hurst-Harosh ORCID logo EMAIL logo and Fridah Erastus Kanana
From the journal Linguistics Vanguard


This article focuses on Sheng and Tsotsitaal metaphors in order to highlight the centrality of generational peer groups and popular culture in the formation of linguistic and social meaning within these language practices. Drawing on data from a comparative database, the analysis considers aspects such as generational narratives, the transition of a metaphor from a generational peer group context into a conventionalised metaphor, as well as multiple salience and ambiguity. We illustrate the use of metaphor in youth language and its relationship to popular culture, to make the case that youth language involves the innovation of new terms from popular culture. Metaphors are mini-narratives that index the particular culturally- and contextually-shared experiences of a generation of young people, and for this reason tend to be specific to a peer group. We therefore maintain that the term ‘youth language’ is useful because youth continue to drive the relexicalization process, which is the core of phenomena such as Sheng and Tsotsitaal.

Corresponding author: Ellen Hurst-Harosh, University of Cape Town, Humanities Education Development Unit, Rm 3.01.1 Leslie Social Science Building, Upper Campus, Rondebosch, 7701, Cape Town, South Africa, E-mail:


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Published Online: 2020-12-08

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