“They talk to us like children”: language and intergenerational discourse in first-time encounters in an African township

  • S.B. Makoni Department of English, University of Cape Town


This paper analyses language discourse in first-time encounters between young and old women in an African township. Forms of address, stories and complaints are analysed in terms of generational differences and similarities in identity ascription. Young women identify themselves on the basis of their ethnic membership and class, while old women do so on the basis of family relations and implied ethnic membership, which can be gleaned from their name and place of birth or origin. The discourse is marked by frequent complaints by old women to young women about the youth. Some complaints may be interpreted as masked forms of bragging. Old women complain that they [the youth] talk to us like children, but their words were initially used by the youth to describe old people. Within their use of language old women try to reinforce traditional power to withstand youth power and to retain some influence, even within non-familial intergenerational encounters.


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