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Reviewed by:
  • Corpus Linguistics and World Englishes: An Analysis of Xhosa English
  • Sandra Kübler
Corpus Linguistics and World Englishes: An Analysis of Xhosa English. Vivian de Klerk. Research in Corpus and Discourse. London: Continuum, 2006. Pp. xiv + 247. $150.00 (hardcover).

The work reviewed here is a collection of thirteen chapters that document the creation, annotation, and investigation of a corpus of Xhosa English. All but two of the chapters are loosely based on previously published articles.

In the first two chapters, Vivian de Klerk describes the language situation in South Africa. Because of its recent history after apartheid, South Africa is one of the most exciting language areas, where we can observe and document the emergence of a new variety of English—Black South African English. In South Africa, English developed from a language spoken as a native language by a minority into a lingua franca, mostly because it is a good compromise among the eleven official languages: English is neither as stigmatized as Afrikaans nor as locally restricted as the indigenous languages. Additionally, it can be used in all official functions and offers access to higher education. Since English serves as a second language (L2) for a majority of the population, a process of vernacularization is to be expected, strongly influenced by the particular first language (L1) of a group. De Klerk’s book documents the English of Xhosa speakers in Eastern Cape Province. The author envisions the Xhosa English corpus that she has created as forming part of a larger Black South African English corpus, which should have subsections for every indigenous L1, and which would allow an investigation of differences between the varieties, on the one hand, and of the relationship of each variety to the norm, on the other. However, there do not seem to be any efforts under way to collect corpora for other L1 groups. But even with the restriction to Xhosa English, de [End Page 114] Klerk needed to determine how to define this variety. Since most of its speakers are either self-taught or learned English from nonnative speakers, they exhibit a wide range of language proficiency that often makes it difficult to distinguish between a non-standard variety of English and a lack of proficiency.

In chapter 3, de Klerk describes the creation of the corpus. She targeted an overall size of five hundred thousand words, comprised of individual files of approximately two thousand words, which sometimes necessitated the combination of shorter files or the selection of samples from longer files. Since Xhosa English is a spoken variety, the corpus is based on orthographic transcriptions of spontaneous dialogues, with an additional section containing classroom lessons and legal discourse. Only speakers of Xhosa descent were included and they had to have at least eight years of formal instruction in English or twenty years of exposure to “normal use of English in their daily lives” (p. 43). Additionally, de Klerk limited the sources of the language sample to native speakers of Xhosa in Eastern Cape Province, which is home to more than 80 percent of the Xhosa speakers. Although this provides a clear definition of the English variety described in the corpus, the exclusion of speakers from Western Cape, Northern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, and North West Provinces makes one wonder whether its scope may be too restrictive and may miss some characteristics of Xhosa English that are not present in its Eastern Cape variety.

The dialogues were recorded in natural surroundings by fieldworkers who actively participated in the dialogues. Although all speakers were native speakers of Xhosa, they were instructed to speak English rather than Xhosa, which would have been more natural in such a setting. De Klerk argues that this somewhat unnatural condition was preferable to a setting with one speaker of a different L1, whose contribution could not have been used for the corpus. Such a setting would not allow the investigation of the discourse structure of the dialogues. The dialogues were then transcribed orthographically and annotated in SGML. The annotation marks the separation of turns, pauses, laughter and other nonlinguistic noises, occurrences of forms from other languages (e.g., when Xhosa words are used), and relevant background...


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