One of my research interests in the Northern Cape is wayfinding – it is the process of moving from your current location to a desired destination.
Certain parts of the province have limited to non-existent wayfinding signs and residents have to create wayfinding strategies.
One such strategy is the pronunciation of the word “straight” when giving oral route directions.
Ordinarily, straight is a direction indicator. Yet in some places in the Northern Cape, straight is also a distance indicator. Depending on the pronunciation of the word, one can get a rough estimation of the distance that is to be travelled.
The research findings suggest that are three ways in which the word “straight” is verbally pronounced when it is used as an indication of distance:
(1) “Normal” pronunciation of the word with no emphasis implies that the distance one has to travel is short.
(2) Repeating the word, for example “straight, straight” suggests that the distance to be travelled is relatively far.
(3) Elongating or stretching the word, for instance “straaaighttt”, hints that the distance to be travelled is considered to be extremely far.
Of course, oral distance estimation is a matter of personal perception – one’s straight might be another straaaighttt.
There are instances where straight tends to be the last instruction in oral route directions, for example, “Turn left at the school, turn right at the police station and go straight”.
Such an instruction further complicates wayfinding: What happens after one goes straight? How will you know whether you have reached your desired location (particularly if there is no written sign to announce it)?
As time-consuming as it is, if the desired location is not in clear sight after going straight; straight, straight; or straaaighttt, it is expected that you ask another person for additional assistance – hence the frequently used instruction, “Vra daar voor” (consult another person further down the route).
“Vra daar voor” is included in oral route directions by locals when they are aware that one’s desired destination is not easily locatable.
“Vra daar voor” is not an indication of mockery – it speaks to the reality that wayfinding in the Northern Cape continues to depend on human-to-human interaction, hence assisting lost wayfinders is a social norm.
- Dr Lorato Mokwena (PhD), Linguistics Department, University of the Western Cape