Wednesday Seminar: South Cape boorlinge and inkommers: looking local, sounding local, and the embodiment of place and belonging in (in)mobility

Yolandi Ribbens-Klein will give a talk examining the indexicality of Afrikaans rhotic variation, place and belonging. The talk is open to all!

Photo: Private

Ribbens-Klein is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow within Professor Rajend Mesthrie’s South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI; National Research Foundation) project ‘Language, Migration and Social Change’ in the School of African & Gender Studies, Anthropology & Linguistics, University of Cape Town, where she conducts sociophonetic analyses of rhotic variation in the speech of Afrikaans-English bilinguals.


In the context of geographic mobility, in-migration can contribute to changing, and sometimes conflicting dynamics amongst establish residents (i.e. locals) and newcomers. In this presentation, I will explore how locals and newcomers discursively construct place identities in terms of ideologies of locality and belonging. Modan (2007), and other sociolinguistic scholars such as Becker (2009), use the term place identity to refer to an aspect of social identity tied to locality. Furthermore, the sense of belonging to a specific place can be regarded as the embodiment of locality. Deumert (2014:18) states that the phenomenological notion of embodiment highlights ‘the way in which material objects become part of our bodily memory’ (see Bucholtz and Hall’s [2016] discussion of embodied sociolinguistics). The materiality I focus on is places or localities, where the embodiment of place relates to people’s lived experience, how they express being ‘(not) from here’, as well as the kinds of freedom and restrictions that places can have on the movement and location of bodies. Embodiment therefore involves notions of mobility and immobility. As argued by Blommaert (2010), a sociolinguistics of mobility considers how the movement of people involves the movement of different semiotic resources. I argue that (im)mobility per se is a semiotic resource, particularly seen in the notion of being a local or established resident, versus a newcomer.

The presentation will focus on how the embodiment of place – looking local and sounding local – is expressed in interviews conducted in 2011 with residents from a peri-urban, Afrikaans-dominant town called Houtiniquadorp (located in South Africa’s South Cape region). In Houtiniquadorp, the residents created emic place identities that involve historic struggles to belong, resistance to newcomers, and discourses of authenticity. Residents refer to themselves and others as boorlinge or inkommers. Boorlinge (lit. ‘bornlings’, cf. ‘earthlings’; translated as ‘locals’) refers to established, and largely non-mobile, Houtiniquadorpers who can trace their ancestral connection to the place through several generations. The relational opposite of boorlinge are inkommers (lit. ‘incomers’; translated as ‘newcomers’), which include recent arrivals, and residents who might have been living in the town since a young age, but were not born there, or whose parents were not born there.

Discourse analyses of interview narratives show, among other things, that boorlinge expressed a sense of visually recognising boorling bodies, through the way they walk, talk and behave. Crime and substance abuse were linked to discourses about troubled neighbourhoods and the inkommers living there. Some inkommers also described their experiences of being silent or peripheral bodies, where boorlinge deny them the right to speak about local matters. The argument is made that in-migration contributed to how residents position themselves and others as authentic or marginal Houtiniquadorpers, and in the process created various embodied place identities. The discussion moves towards conceptualising (in)migration as an object of discourse, rather than a straightforward analytical concept.



Becker, K. 2009. /r/ and the construction of place identity on New York City’s Lower East Side. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 13(5):634-658.

Blommaert, J. 2010. The Sociolinguistics of Globalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bucholtz, M. & Hall, K. Forthcoming. Embodied Sociolinguistics. In N. Coupland (ed.), Sociolinguistics: Theoretical Debates. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Deumert, A. 2014. Sociolinguistics and Mobile Communication. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Modan, G.G. 2007. Turf Wars: Discourse, Diversity, and the Politics of Place. Malden, MA and Oxford: Blackwell.

Published Oct. 24, 2017 12:04 PM - Last modified Jan. 16, 2018 11:25 AM