What is The Standard/Acceptable Black English Accent?

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

  • TheLooz
    7th Sep 2017

    SO
    I emphatically disagree with the twang bit. Do you know that when children learn to speak, they mimic you and or their surroundings? That’s why you will find that some children who watch CeeBeebies have a touch of a British/English accent.
    Back to the article, why do kids that went to predominantly white schools still twang today? For the exact same reason people who were Bantu educated speak English in a “political/rural” accent – it’s how they were taught and what they heard. It’s the phonics and articulation of words, not because they tried very hard to be a certain way.
    I went to a white pre-school in 1993, first group of black kids there. My first friends outside of the ones from home were white, I knew how to speak basic English, but guess what? I picked up a twang, not because I was not proud to be from the hood or black, but because for 6 hours each day I heard white people speak that way and as such I spoke that way too.
    That being said, as young black people we need to look beyond this nonsense of what is acceptable or not from a twang perspective and focus on preserving our indigenous languages and culture, we have a mammoth task ahead to make sure that our kids speak pure languages and proudly so, we need to instil black pride in them. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a twang or lack thereof, as long as your message comes across well.

    • BurningBMX
      7th Sep 2017

      ‘That being said, as young black people we need to look beyond this nonsense of what is acceptable or not from a twang perspective and focus on preserving our indigenous languages and culture, we have a mammoth task ahead to make sure that our kids speak pure languages and proudly so, we need to instil black pride in them’

      I die many deaths when parents proudly say their kids can not speak an African language or they don’t want to confuse them with many languages. Language is part of anyone’s identity. Usually they have a rude awakening in corporate when they realize , the only way to deal with corporate it’s to do so as a proud black person and watch how they are careful on how they say things ????

      Wrt article as long as we don’t snigger like idiots when another black person doesn’t speak with a Model C/IEB accent,I am good.

      The Looz. I have no idea which rock I was living under when Nasty Nev released Fly away,heard it twice. I love it! And I am so many years behind.

      • TheLooz
        11th Sep 2017

        I’m currently going through the most, in my quest to support and help build my son’s English vocabulary, I’ve discovered that his baby sister is unable to speak vernac…the few words she says are English. I had taken it for granted because she fully understands vernac. So I now need to make a bigger effort to teach her her mother tongue. Times are tough.

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