Original Research

Code switching in contemporary isiZulu performance poetry

Bongephiwe Dlamini Myeni, Nakanjani Sibiya
Literator | Vol 42, No 1 | a1747 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v42i1.1747 | © 2021 Bongephiwe Dlamini Myeni, Nakanjani Sibiya | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 10 September 2020 | Published: 30 September 2021

About the author(s)

Bongephiwe Dlamini Myeni, Faculty of Arts, Department of African Languages and Culture, University of Zululand, Kwadlangezwa, Empangeni, South Africa
Nakanjani Sibiya, Department of African Languages, School of Arts, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa


Recent developments in isiZulu poetry have been marked by an emergence of performance poets whose poems have gained popularity with younger audiences. A constant feature in contemporary isiZulu poetry is a conscious deviation from adherence to rigid structural and formal linguistic requirements. Contemporary isiZulu poetry is also characterised by a shift from textual to performance-specific conventions that cater for radio, theatre, social-media platforms and so forth, and is more accommodative of linguistic dynamics that shape the current generation of artists and audiences. While contemporary isiZulu performance is a rather more recent innovation, it still owes its roots to oral poetry traditions and has evolved from literary art forms that were committed to memory and performed during family gatherings and communal events. This article explores code switching in contemporary isiZulu performance poetry and argues for appreciation of this phenomenon for its aesthetic appeal rather than as infringement on long-held attitudes about purity of artistic linguistic expressions. Hyme’s Ethno-poetic Theory will inform analysis of selected poems in this article. Ethno-poetic Theory focuses, amongst others, on how a performance displays literary qualities.


code switching; code mixing; contemporary poetry performance; ethnopoetics


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