After spending 16 months in South Africa, I’ve adapted to South African English pretty well. I let tall sorts of improper grammar use fly by, not having the energy to correct people or explain the theories. But a few things really bother me. Borrow is not a reflexive verb-I cannot “borrow you” anything, but I can lend you something. But the point of this post is the phrase “Don’t you”.
“Keamogetswe, don’t you have a pen?”
“Jen, don’t you want to help me type this?”
“Don’t you have money for me?”
The accusatory tone of how they ask whether I have something, or whether I can do something, gets under my skin. I shouldn’t let it, but it grates on me until I get very frustrated. I keep reminding myself that it’s a different form of English, a different culture, and the 2nd or 3rd language of most people…but still…
Tell me, which sounds nicer:
“Can you teach this lesson?”
“Don’t you want to teach this lesson?”
What if I don’t? When phrased as South Africans say it, saying no is difficult. I makes me feel like I’m lacking good moral fiber if I’m not carrying a black pen, or that I’m a horrible person for not wanting to cover a crazed class of Grade 5s with no preparation.
I probably am just a horrible person.