Multilingualism in late-modern Cape Town: a focus on popular spaces of Hip-Hop and Tshisa-Nyama


This research project developed out of an interest in studying the dynamics of multilingual communication, multilingual practices and multilingual spaces in Cape Town. As a result of recent research on the dialectics of language and space by Blommaert as well as Collins and Slembrouck, it sought to investigate how youth went about doing multilingual communication in spaces where they practiced popular cultural forms such as Hip-Hop and Tshisa-Nyama (Burning-meat), also known here as popular spaces. The theoretical tenets of the notion multilingual citizenship was the driving force behind the design of this research project in recognising the effects of extensive social transformation in South Africa, with accompanying issues of voice and agency in rapidly evolving contexts undergoing urban transformation. Globalisation, also, is changing the way people’s mobility is defined in local urban enclaves and local institutions and how much such social transformation bring together speakers of all walks of life, cultures and nations. In this way, multilingualism could be understood as politically embodied social practices and ideologies of language that normalize but also prefigure in different spaces and institutions.

The project data base comprises data collected around the idea of multilingualism as a ‘spatial concept’, i.e. the form that interacting languages take, how they are practiced by speakers and how multilingualism is perceived is largely determined by the affordances of particular ‘places’. The archive can be used to investigate: (1) The language practices of migrants moving from one locale to another, crossing borders and the question of how localised and creative such practices are; (2) the semiotic transformation of how different spaces serve as affordances for different organizations of multilingualism, and how identities are formed semiotically through these spaces and multiple languages; and (3) perceptions and productions of space emerging through stylization of urban identities of various lifestyle spaces, language and late-modernity, or the spaces for the development of new varieties.