The use of "indigenous" and urban vernaculars in Zimbabwe

Sinfree Makoni, Janina Brutt-Griffler, Pedzisai Mashiri

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


This article analyzes the reasons for and the effects of the language shift in Zimbabwe represented by the increasing use of pan-ethnic lingua francas, or urban vernaculars, of local origin. It is suggested that essentialist/ primordialist assumptions about "indigenous" languages that feature prominently in current accounts of language endangerment should be made more complex by understanding their historical and social origins. In Zimbabwe, this means understanding the origins of Shona and Ndebele during the colonial period as the product of a two-stage process: codification of dialects by missionaries, and creation of a unified standard by the colonial regime. In the postcolonial context, these languages and the ethnic identities they created/reified are giving way to language use that indexes not ethnic affiliation but urbanization. The article adduces data showing that as Zimbabweans move with relative ease across language boundaries, urban vernaculars express their shared social experience of living in postcolonial urban environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)25-49
Number of pages25
JournalLanguage in Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Linguistics and Language


Dive into the research topics of 'The use of "indigenous" and urban vernaculars in Zimbabwe'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this