Short biography

Professor Mesthrie completed his MA in Linguistics at the University of Texas (Austin) and his PhD in Linguistics at the University of Cape Town in 1985. He was Head of the Linguistics Section of the Department of English Language and Literature (1998 to 2009), and is currently Professor of Linguistics and research chair in the School of African & Gender Studies, Anthropology & Linguistics.   He is a past President of the Linguistics Society of Southern Africa (2001-2009) and a past head of the Linguistics Section at UCT (1998-2009).  He was elected honorary life executive member of the Linguistics Society of Southern Africa in 2012.  Previous duties have included trusteeship of the National Language Project (directed by Neville Alexander), membership of the English National Language Body (convened by Parliament as part of the PAN SA Language Board), and chair of the NRF rating committee for Language and Literature.  He is currently an executive member of the International Society for English Linguistics and an elected member of the SA Academy of Science.   Prof. Mesthrie has published widely in the field of Sociolinguistics, with special reference to language contact and variation in South Africa.  He is the series editor of CUP’s Key Topics in Sociolinguistics, and was co-editor of the Cambridge University Press journal English Today, which produces scholarship mostly on English in multilingual, global and migratory contexts, and currently serves as advisory editor. He is a board member of another 12 journals in the fields of sociolinguistics; historical linguistics; globalisation and English; South African sociolinguistics; and sociology and African studies.  Amongst his  publications are Language in South Africa (CUP 2002), World Englishes (with Rakesh Bhatt, CUP 2008), A Dictionary of South African Indian English (UCT Press 2010), A Handbook of Sociolinguistics (CUP 2011), and the more “popular” book, Eish, but is it English: celebrating the South African variety (with the journalist Jeanne Hromnik, Random House & Umuzi, 2011).

Prof. Mesthrie holds a current A-rating from the NRF.

Research interests

Linguistics generally; more specifically, Sociolinguistics, with special emphasis on language and social change, examining sociolinguistic practices “from below” in relation to:

  • Multilingualism and language contact,
  • Sociolinguistic variation and change,
  • Sociophonetics of English in post-apartheid society,
  • Sociolinguistic theory,
  • Social history & dialect lexicography.

Research relevance

Prof. Mesthrie was awarded the South African Research Chair in view of the significance of sociolinguistics in understanding heritage, culture and social change in a multilingual society, one in which migration has been a salient feature in its past history and present composition. Sociolinguistics offers tools to examine interactions between different languages (and thus of their speakers) and to examine at a very sensitive level the degree of social change occurring in society. While language can be used as a tool of domination, it can also be used to bring people together and to afford them new opportunities. The research details new ways of understanding sociolinguistic practices, especially that of the younger generation.  It also covers linguistic adaptations made by new African and Asian migrants as they attempt to assimilate to older South African society.

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