‘De-ethnicization’ in New Englishes: Perception and recognition of ethnicity in Namibian English

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review


Do New Englishes develop ethnically neutral forms? This study showcases a combined perceptual and variationist approach to this question, using the case of Namibian English. It seeks to locate ‘de-ethnicized’ Namibian English varieties in mismatches between variety perception and auditory variety recognition, assessed via an experiment involving 244 young Namibian respondents. Namibian voices are used as playback material as part of an ethnic recognition task. These voices are selected from a sample of 94 ethnically diverse informants from both government and private schools in Namibia's capital city following a phonetic characterization of all sampled individual varieties. While the respondents are sometimes unsure as to whether some specific Namibian ethnic groups speak a distinctive English variety, they generally endorse the notion that there is a ‘racial’ continuum of Namibian English varieties comprising ‘Black’, ‘White’, and ‘Coloured’ varieties. Meanwhile, vowel variation patterns among the informants, which I treat as a potential indicator of ethnoracial backgrounds, reveal an ethnoracially heterogenous variety cluster. This cluster is located in between a White cluster and a (mostly) Black cluster and displays combined Coloured, female, and private school associations. The auditory variety recognition task suggests that this cluster tends to be ethnically misrecognized by the respondents, as are women's voices in general, and non-White private school women's voices in particular. Still, the Black respondents largely recognize the Black informants’ voices as Black, irrespective of these voices’ ethnic background. The findings offer joint variationist and perceptual suggestions that Non-White women are gradually de-ethnicizing Namibian English across social classes. This trend possibly results in Black and Coloured varieties amalgamating into a local high-status English variety.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103355
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2022


  • Ethnicity
  • Language
  • Namibia
  • New Englishes
  • Sociophonetics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


Dive into the research topics of '‘De-ethnicization’ in New Englishes: Perception and recognition of ethnicity in Namibian English'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this