Welcome to the School of English blog

Welcome to the School of English blog.

The School is made up of the most talented, energetic, creative and curious people, both  staff and students. The School’s blog will be the world’s window onto our own world and a showcase for the stories, opinions and problems that we want to share.

Our research, teaching and public engagement are the aspects of our professional lives that we consider to be centrally important to who we are as members of the School of English at Sheffield.

My own research focuses on language change—what it is and how it happens. Right now I am working on the story of language contact and multilingualism in Zimbabwe since 1980 when the British colony became legally independent. I’ve discovered (among other things) that far from there being just two kinds of English—a ‘mother tongue’ English and a second language variety of English (L1 and L2 respectively)—there are as many varieties as there are communities of speakers. A variety that has currency in the urban areas is ‘Shonglish’, is a complex blend of Shona morphology and phonology and lots of English phrasing and vocabulary. In the rural areas in contrast, very little English is spoken, and young urban blacks report that they have difficulty managing to use appropriate forms of language properly and consistently with people in the countryside.

In my field work in Zimbabwe, I have collected hundreds of interviews with people of all ages and experiences and from different backgrounds. They include people of all ethnicities and they speak in many different ways. Historically sharply divided along racial lines, Zimbabweans marshal a range of different linguistic identities and these are both complex and surprising.

For example, ‘Annie’, a bank manager in her 50’s, is the daughter of a white farmer and black farm worker. Her father had two families—a white English-speaking family that lived in the main homestead, and a black Shona-speaking family that lived in a farm workers’ compound on the very edge of the farm. Annie was sent to a boarding school for ‘coloureds’ and Indians, people of mixed race and Asians, in racially-divided Rhodesia in the 1960s. There, she learned English. As she says, ‘when I got to the school gates, I knew I had to speak English; but when I got home to the farm, I could speak Shona again’. Her own children speak English for the most part, and say that they have difficulty communicating with their Shona grandmother. Here are three generations of Zimbabweans, each with very different experiences and ways of identifying as Zimbabweans. Annie’s family is a striking example of the complexity of language, history and family that my work explores.

Annie’s story is just one of the hundreds that I have collected for my work on hitherto undocumented language practices in Zimbabwe. Watch this space for more!

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