The Afrikaans and Dutch languages are like brothers and sisters.
The dominant languages to some 27 million people throughout the world,
they can be studied and enjoyed. For Dutch and Flemish people Afrikaans
is a precious language, because it resembles Dutch. Here you can read
how and to what extent this African language resembles the European
Dutch language. The rich vocabularies of both Afrikaans and Dutch and
the origins they have in common are interesting subjects to Dutch
linguists and people who study languages as a hobby.
the African Dutch Language
against Afrikaans - African Renaissance (?)
AFRIKAANS, THE AFRICAN DUTCH
When the Dutch set foot on the southern tip of Africa,
Dutch would be one of the languages on the continent. There, at the Cape of
Good Hope, in the second half of the seventeenth century, the Dutch East
India Company (VOC) planted a refreshing station for the vessels that
were halfway their voyages. Because of close contacts with non-Europeans
and influence from Low German, the Dutch dialects evolved into what is now known as Afrikaans; this
mature, modern language is the mother tongue of 16 million people. But
the present government does not like Afrikaans, so the use of the
language is actively abolished in schools, universities, courts and
other public places.
Twenty years after the first settlement the
seventeenth-century VOC-employees would start families. Asian slaves arrived to serve as workers
in the small community. As in many colonies at the time the slaves were speaking a Portuguese-based pidgin
with Malay elements. A pidgin can best be characterised as a basic, corrupted contact language.
At the time, the Dutch on the Cape spoke diverse dialects of the
western provinces of the Netherlands. Meanwhile, families increased
and here and there racial mixing took place. In the eighteenth century
some indigenous Hottentot people (a Negroid tribe) also mixed with the
Dutch and most Dutch families had Hottentot nannies to look after their
children while they were working for the VOC, or for themselves on their
own land (there were many free farmers).
The nannies had been speaking western Dutch pidgin languages
dialects. The children that the nannies were taking care of would
adopt this 'Learners' Hollandic Dutch'. Their parents
often used sailors slang words and Malay terms for products and customs
that had been hitherto unknown to speakers in the Dutch motherland.
Hence, European and African Dutch were developing separately from each
In a later stage of the eighteenth century, hundreds of
Northern and Western Germans were hired as East India Company workers, who mingled
easily with the Dutch, leaving their traces in the local language.
Still, the contribution of the nannies was the biggest; within one
generation the initial Dutch dialects were extinct and the nannies'
learners' Dutch was used instead by the new generation. Here we have
white people speaking Dutch that was literally coloured by slaves and
Soon this Cape Dutch would worry the authorities, who would
try to dutchify the Capetonians, who, in turn, were reluctant to learn
official Dutch. The ensuing -- third -- generation would rather consider
themselves African: "Africaander" and their language gradually
became known as Africaansch; Afrikaans. They no longer lived only
in Cape Town or the adjacent farming villages. Many of then migrated
land inward, to eke out for an existence, free from ties with the Dutch
dominating government-like East India Company.
But, in a way, Afrikaans was 'redutchified'; the Bible --
usually the only book a family had -- was written in Standard Dutch.
This influenced vocabulary and grammar and it prevented the Dutch children from
fully adopting their nannies' pidgin. But it also prevented
the new language from total annihilation by standard Dutch because the
slightly standardised new language could function well on most levels of
daily life. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries' various language
emancipation movements opposed to the official language, but they were
also inspired by it; Dutch was an example because it completed Afrikaans
vocabulary. Its influence would organise Afrikaans grammar and it unified the different
local and ethnic varieties of Afrikaans.
version of Afrikaans spoken by the white farmers in the eastern part of
the vast Cape Colony eventually became the official version. In the twentieth
century all other dialects
were considered inferior. After being
particularly ignited by the war against the British, Afrikaner nationalism had made Afrikaans a
modern, adaptive and full-fledged language that would be suitable for every
imaginable place and level of society.
Some characteristics of Afrikaans will be given here
below. Compared to Dutch, Afrikaans looks like a simple, somewhat
child-like variety of Dutch, which is understandable when we look at its
history. Its simple spelling is its most characteristic feature. Although it was
conceived by Dutch experts on orthography such as Koldewijn, written
Afrikaans attracts a Dutch person's attention because the language's orthography is both close to
spoken Afrikaans and to the way Dutch people would transcribe instances of spoken dialects
from the west of the
Netherlands. This is because the experts firstly wanted the spelling of Afrikaans to exacly match
its pronunciation. And the -- also historically
explicable -- parallels with Dutch dialects often aroused a feeling of linguistic familiarity,
or it makes them laugh when they mistake texts in Afrikaans books and newspapers for
explicitly transcribed 'bad' Dutch. So to Dutch laymen written Afrikaans resembles strongly
vernacular Dutch dialects,
and its modern spelling comes across rather unsophisticated and, at times, incorrect and too phonetic.
Another striking element of Afrikaans is its simple
grammar. Verbs have no personal flexion (e.g. they do not change when
he does something or when they do
something). Time tenses are also simple; there is present, past and
future, but past can only be expressed by using the past particle and
its auxiliary verb (e.g. I have looked and not I looked). Like in
English, but different to Dutch, nouns have only one definite
article (e.g. the is always die, whereas in Dutch
there are the neutral and the feminine/masculine het and de definite articles).
Also worth mentioning is the
deletion of medial g in between vowels (cf.: Dutch regen >
Afrikaans reën [rain]; Dutch bruggen > Afrikaans
brûe [bridges]). Most other significant differences with standard
Dutch have their origins in the Dutch motherland and cannot be
considered Afrikaans innovations.
Today Afrikaans is the dominant language of 15,2
million people, regardless their racial backgrounds. It is the second largest
language of South Africa, leaving English on a fourth place.
Nevertheless, it is on the demise. English is widely promoted by the
government, dismissing Afrikaans in most public institutions and
services. The status that Afrikaans had yesterday, is today being
deliberately abolished in favour of English, although the South African
constitution states that there are eleven official, equal languages in
the country. The new government ignores the cultural value of Afrikaans
as an African language. As in many post-colonial countries; the recognition
of multiple official languages will only further provide English with the status of the 'necessary',
connecting, neutral lingua franca. This problem will be addressed in the following section.
Afrikaans - the African Renaissance
smaller languages and cultures in the Western world, these languages too
face the culturally withering effects of globalism and they
sometimes even have to deal with a hostile government; the latter
is the case in South Africa. Relatively small languages, that are being
sustained by locally based communities, are perishing because of the
dominant, global doctrines of egalitarianism, cultural relativism and
consumerism, which regard these vital local cultures as old-fashioned or
anti-egalitarian obstructions in the way to lucrative world markets and
global mass-culture. Like in the times of Apartheid, cultural
imperialism is taking place in South Africa again, albeit that
English is the domineering language. This is a worrisome situation.
Awareness of and appreciation for what people have in their own
communities can save the smaller cultures and languages. But it is
more important for cultural richess if only a government (such as
the South African) acknowledges -- while they put the stress so much on
nation building in a clearly multi-ethnic state -- that it is a great
loss for humanity when the smaller native cultures and languages will
have disappeared from the face of the earth because of cultural pressure
inflicted by the promoted dominant state-culture and state-language.
A growing number of speakers of Afrikaans prefer their children to speak English in
stead of the mother tongue; succumbing to the pressure of world
Currently, the South African government is scaling
down the Afrikaans language in all important and official places. This
government will be responsible for the demise of Afrikaans if they
continue this course of nation building at the expense of cultural
pluriformity within the 'Rainbow Nation'. 'Simunye' denotes 'we are
one', but in the eyes of the ANC-government is denotes 'we are the same,
and if not... you will become the same'. The demise of Afrikaans is of
major - if not the major - concern to De Roepstem editors.
There is too huge a discrepancy between the ideals of the new South
African government (rainbow nation, colourful country, many cultures in
one state) and what the government really does to native cultures, to
wit, blunt nation-building enforced by cultural imperialism, at the cost
of smaller native cultures, in favour of English. Thabo Mbeki, the
president of the Republic of South Africa, says he embraces the ideal of
reviving South African cultures; the African Renaissance. He
tries to create a kind of new, African collective conscience.
Hearsay, poorly informed people and the new propagandists maintain that
Afrikaans and its culture are those of a virtually white community, and
apparently the new government thinks that it is not an African
culture, because while advocating this romantic cultural 'Renaissance'
they push this African home language to millions of African whites,
coloureds and blacks, out of the official insitutions. Of all
Afrikaans-speaking South Africans, coloureds comprised 50.4 percent,
whites 44 percent, and blacks 3.7 percent. A total of 82 percent of all
coloureds consider Afrikaans their mother tongue, compared to 59 percent
of whites. Now the governmment abolishes Afrikaans at Afrikaans
universities, schools, courts and many other public services, in order
to make way for English. Apparently, in the storms of nation-building
the goal justifies the means. South Africa is a remarkably conservative
country when it comes to its governement which embraces outdated notions
and modernistic ideas. To take people their language away in
universities, public places and official documents is an antisocial act;
it is counterproductive to the accomodating policy of 'Simunye'
('we are one') and of attempting to get more South Africans involved
with the social situation of the country. People start feeling
themselves strangers in their own country.
While the government
propagates this African Renaissance, where a characteristic such as
Ubuntu (i.e. the 'caring for people' and 'the wish to reconcile')
is a facet of the new set of norms and values, Afrikaans is dismissed
where possible. Why is that? Why is the government so blunt, careless
and unrefined and why is there no space for this highly developed
language which used to be one of the two official languages, together
It is clear that the
government is both showing pragmatism and grudge;
pragmatism by using English so the different black tribes with
their different natives languages in South Africa will not feel
discriminated against if one black language may be preferable to certain
people in national and local authorities; grudge because
Afrikaans used to be the favourite language of the old white rulers. The
ANC manifestly dislikes Afrikaans and many people in that party see
their wish, getting even with the formerly dominating Afrikaners, come
true. The Afrikaners have forced Afrikaans upon the black students
throughout the sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties, when they
received special, discriminatory 'Bantu education'; education specially
designed for black people.
Now the language of the earlier rulers,
the British, has all the prefence, whereas English finds itself on a
fourth place and Afrikaans is on second place, after the
Bantu language Xhosa. Once again, English is being
Such developments contribute to people appreciating
their mothertongue less, it leads up to people feeling like strangers in
their own country where all official transactions, all important things,
all communications with the state have to take place in a language that
is not theirs. It is not difficult for South Africans to speak at least
Afrikaans and English; they are the two major cultural and - used to be
- the public languages. The other nine official languages in South
Africa have never been as well developed in public life as Afrikaans and
English. Today all 11 languages are recognised by the government as
official languages. To convey a system of 11 official languages with
equal rights is either a utopia or a false promise. If it is a false
promise then it could eventually be used to demonstrate the 'necessity'
of retaining only one language in a, feigned, pool of Babylonic
confusion. This what the government has been doing and
is doing throughout the years; by squeezing Afrikaans between
motives of impartiality and pragmatism Afrikaans would be rejected
because the most rational choice would me made for English.
be better if both English and Afrikaans retained their status as world
language and cultural language respectively. This would be a true
reflection of the new South Africa where culture, heritage and
compatibility with a mainly anglophile Western world are met with.
Afrikaans; South Africa's cultural
By considering Afrikaans and English as the two main
languages nothing needs to be changed; the existing situation, where
Afrikaans and English are most the frequently used spoken and written
languages, can remain the same. The difference will be that these two
convenient languages will be further developed and used. Afrikaans an
English are the two highest developed languages in SA and they surmount
racial boundaries. Afrikaans is the cultural language which links the
African continent with the Germanic Western cultures on mainland Europe.
The Dutch, Flemish and Germans have therefore a special bond with the
language. Duly noted; one of the most striking things to Dutch speaking
Europeans is the language they find when they are on a holiday in South
Africa and to see the interesting writings on many etiquettes of South
African products. In the Leiden University and the Catholic University
of Louvain, for instance, close ties with Afrikaans departments and
Afrikaans organisations in South Africa have been made.
reflects the typical South African colourfulness and English can play
the part of the international language. Hopefully there will be more
South Africans who take leave from of their grudge towards Afrikaans, so
that a compromise can be established without discriminating against all
African languages, and without succumbing to flat internationalism,
where globalisation is so glorifying. South Africa must be bilingual, at
least. Most modern democracies create accomodations for the use and
encouragement of more than one language and for the cultivation of
minority rights of native groups, safeguarding their distinctive
In Europe and Canada the countries refine their
state-apparatuses by encouraging regionally cultural diversity. South
Africa, on the other hand, seems to be radical, old-fasioned and
unrefined. South Africa is an étatistic country, inspired by outdated
ways of government.
Consumerism and its devastating effects on local
cultures and economies
In any case, the smaller Western nations
in this world have to stand up for their cultural heritage. More and
more people lose interest in their own minority language and culture.
The American culture, and its economic system of international
orientation at the cost of the own, smaller-scaled communities will put
enormous pressure on these smaller Western communities. The non-American
Western cultures too, are increasingly influenced by consumerism.
People are no longer considered bearers of their cultures but they are
sources of income who have to be stimulated to buy products. Only if one
can make a lot of financial profit from 'culture', it will be largely
encouraged. Therefore the American culture is around and about in Europe
and South Africa.
Consumerism is dependant on consumers, but
it also uses consumers. This has a huge, if not devastating,
impact on societies and smaller cultures. To the powerful institutions
in the world -- the multinational trading companies -- big is
more rewarding and small is an obstruction towards bigger. A
grey, easily acessible basin of consumers is more rewarding and needs
less effort than many independant, variegated communities with different
preferences and traditional produce. Consumers are expected to sustain
the modernistic notion of progression by economic growth, and in stead
of living within their regional social ties and enjoying traditional
local goods and cultural expressions, the new consumers will be made as
unicultural (monocultural) as possible. Mass culture is advertised
massively and nations and ethnic groups will be encouraged to 'unite'
and to be 'modern'. When 'primitive' tribes have been discovered
three missions will try to overthrow their traditional lives;
catholic mission, protestant mission and 'Coca-Cola mission'. The third
one is the finishing touch, nowadays causing make people of any --
western or not -- small communities unaware of their special local,
Bigger and richer are not necessarily beautiful,
though. Local culture and heritages are also valuable. American cultural
exporting products that the consumption society is offering us via
cinemas, television, CD's and mass media are usually American. So why is
it then, that this American culture and English language are being
promoted so relentlessly? Small nations have the capacity to keep this
world colourful. That is multiculturalism. The smaller cultural
communities need to realise that they are special and that the smaller
languages that they speak are not blocking the way to well-being.
Afrikaners and the Dutch must realise that they bear a culture, a Dutch
civilisation, that their ancestors have built up bit by bit,
unwittingly, automatically, organically and gradually. No
'big-is-beautiful' government should be able to make people stop
speaking their languages.
The Need for Bilingualism
It is going to take
a lot of convincing to get this point across to those increasing numbers
of discriminated Afrikaans speaking people who consider their language
'common' or even an obstacle towards perfect anglophony, paving
their ways to a career! We know that that multilingualism is preferable
in order to keep up with the winds of economy and the developments in
science and intellectual life. At least English and French should be
mastered, alongside the native language. Either one of the two world
languages can suffice too, although it limits the range of subjects and
worldviews that are worth to be studied. Bilingualism is a concession to
this increasingly internationalistic world. Bilingualism is necessary
for the smaller nations like the Afrikaans-speaking in this world of
threatening, internationalistic, large-scaled globalisation.