Johanna Wilkie

Johanna Wilkie (Breaking the Wall of Silence in Windhoek): Johanna lived and worked in Rome, Italy for two years teaching English as a Second Language (ESL). After her return to hometown of Boston, she taught immigrants and college students ESL for two years before moving to Los Angeles to work as a program manager at a California non-profit. At the time of her fellowship, Johanna was studying for a Masters degree in international affairs and development at Georgetown University, and working toward a Certificate in Refugees and Humanitarian Emergencies. She also interned at the International Rescue Committee as an Africa Advocacy Intern.


05 Aug

English is the sole official language of Namibia, but it is the first language of very few people here.  Generally, black Namibians speak their home or tribal language – Oshivambo, Damara/Nama, Herero/Ovahimba, San, Caprivi, Batswana, and Kavango being the major ones – then learn Afrikaans and English in school.  Some also learn German.  So English is a second or third language for most people here.  Frankly I find it amazing how well most people that I meet speak it, considering that it has only been the official language since independence in 1990.  It has become one of the two lingua franca‘s of the country (or at least the major cities) in a very short period of time – the other being Afrikaans.

Namibians do have their own way of saying things, of course.  Many people call Namibian English “Namlish” to point out these differences in pronunciation and vocabulary with other English dialects.  Following are a few of my favorite Namlish expressions.  Some of these may also be used in South Africa, Botswana, or other African countries.

My dear – many people call me this upon meeting me, especially black Namibian women who are older than me.  Black Namibian men tend to call me sister or Mma (I am assuming it is similar to the Batswana term of respect “Mma” and have therefore spelled it the same way.  It is pronounced “meMA.”).

Are you fine? – Used equally to ask “How are you?” and “Are you OK?”

Even me/neither me – Used instead of “me too” and “me neither”

Learner/student – Children and teens in primary or secondary (high) school are called learners.  People who go to university are called students.

Bakkie – Actually from Afrikaans.  A bakkie is a kind of truck.  Honestly it looks just like a pickup truck to me but Namibians tell me that they are two different things.

Robot – Traffic light.  From my friends in South Africa I have learned that the same word is used there.

Honestly speaking – Used far more often than in the US, for emphasis.

Can you borrow me $10? – Namibians use “borrow” to mean both borrow and lend.

Is it? – A question of confirmation or disbelief, used regardless of the subject or verb originally used by the other person talking.  A couple of conversational examples:

A:  “I think Laura is cool.”   B:  “Is it?”

A:  “They don’t want to go to the soccer match tonight.”   B:  “Is it?”

Generally, Namlish uses many Briticisms (pants instead of the American underwear, for example, which I often forget to my embarassment) but surprisingly Namibians usually say soccer and not football.

If you’re interested, here is a website with a far more inclusive guide to Namlish.

Posted By Johanna Wilkie

Posted Aug 5th, 2009

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