So, Banele asked me why kids who were sent to former Model C schools in the early 90s still twang today?
The psychology behind the sending of kids to these schools is the root of how the twang came about. Black kids in the early 90s were sent to former white schools by their parents as a way to access a better education. That was the plan. What was not accounted for was how exactly they were to fit in. When the black kids arrived at these schools, carrying the parent’s hopes and dreams , they were met with a definite truth; they were not wanted there.
In terms of language, You have to consider that many of the kids that were sent to these schools were very young. Also, they didn’t speak English full time. And, the schools didn’t give a shit. So they had to quickly learn and the only way to learn was from the white kids and teachers. But now, when you’ve spent your whole life speaking one language and then being forced to learn another, there will be an accent.
For these kids it was somewhere between not quite white and not quite black. A kind of twang. There was no ‘normal’ black accent.
A lot of things happened to black kids in those schools that will never be spoken of. But I’ll say this; those kids didn’t even know that they had an identity until it was being ripped out of them. Meanwhile, back in the hood, the perception was that if you went to a white school it meant you wanted to be white. The ‘better education’ had now been translated into ‘wanting to be better than others’ and the twang was the a marker of that dynamic.
Here’s the kicker, many parents would put their white-school-attending black children on display to friends and relatives. They’d be like, ”we pay a lot of money for that school, come say something in English to prove that you’re indeed getting a better education”. The kid would rattle off some random sentence in a language that they were still grappling with, the friends and family would walk away smirking at how the kid thinks they are better.
The twang was an in between accent for a youth dealing with a conflicted, in-between identity caught between the scorn of black people and white people. Don’t let your wokeness make you forget that in the early 90s whiteness was an accepted measure of success.
Were those kids trying to sound white? No. They were trying to fit in. Because their parents were swimming in debt and could risk being kicked out of school. Was it a sign of arrogance? If you are caught between two worlds, you either develop an inferiority complex, or an ‘arrogance complex’ to protect yourself. Both are coping mechanisms.
So, back to the question, why do they twang today?
Because it is their identity. If you have spent your whole life in an in between world then that world becomes their identity.
Ask Zulu people from KZN what they think of isiZulu saseSoweto. Ask Zulu people from eSoweto why they don’t sound like abantu baseKZN.
What is the standard/acceptable black English accent?
Photographer: William Stitt