‘Tsotsitaal’ is one of a number of names given to a language phenomenon common to the major urban centres and, increasingly, rural towns of South Africa. The phenomenon involves a set of lexical items that are implanted into whichever South African language is being spoken. It is alternately known as, among other names, Iscamtho, Flaaitaal, isiTsotsi, Ringas, and Kasitaal. It is primarily spoken by black male South Africans, in particular, township residents who occupy the lower end of the socio-economic scale in South African society. Originating in the 1940s and 1950s in Sophiatown, Tsotsitaal was linked to a clothing style worn by young men in the township, which marked them as ‘streetwise’, so it was closely linked to the rapid urbanization and modernization of the townships of Johannesburg during that period. Linked early on to criminal gangs, it is today used by a broad range of speakers in South Africa, and the phenomenon appears to be countrywide.


Tsotsitaal Urban youth language Style Register South Africa 


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  1. Ikasi Ringas School of Tsotsi Taal (Facebook page):
  2. South African Informal Urban Language Varieties: The National Picture—Project website:

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© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Humanities Education Development UnitUniversity of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa

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