WP88 Learning a supervernacular: textspeak in a South African township

Blommaert & Velghe
Collection: Key word


In this paper, we will focus on the way in which a woman we call Linda acquires, maintains and deploys a ?supervernacular? (Blommaert 2011), and how she does this in conditions of extreme marginalization. The supervernacular in question is a variety of ?textspeak?, a mobile phone texting code used in the Wesbank township near Cape Town, South Africa. As a variety of textspeak, the code used by Linda bears the usual characteristics of abbreviations, homophonic writing, emoticons and so forth; it is one of these extremely dynamic codes that characterize today?s new communicative environments. Linda, however, faces major problems: the macro-contextual circumstances of poverty, unemployment and social marginalization turn various forms of literacy into rare commodities; and to complicate things, her capacity for writing and reading is minimal; she is in all likelihood dyslectic. Notwithstanding these tremendous constraints, Linda uses textspeak intensively drawing on an intricate scaffolding system for literacy usage she developed herself.
In discussing the case of Linda?s use of textspeak, we will also have to consider the way in which the ethnographer?s own learning practices encountered Linda?s, and how this led to a new understanding of what textspeak is and what it means in communities such as the one we investigate. Linda?s case, thus, compelled us towards reflexivity.