A guttural language spoken in Southern Africa. The language of the oppressor. It is based on a simplified form of Dutch called Kitchen Dutch and is useful mainly for swearing and elaborate insults.

OK, only kidding ... well, mostly kidding. I was forced to study Afrikaans at school. Afrikaans is spoken as a first or second language by millions of Southern Africans, and not just those of entirely European descent.

In The Old South Africa, the country's two official languages were English and Afrikaans. These days, South Africa has more official languages than you can shake a stick at, Afrikaans and English being but two, and the only two of European descent at that.

A couple of random facts:

Afrikaans is very much like Dutch, and shares a lot of vocabulary with related languages such as German and Danish. It's also similar in structure from English, another nearby language. Afrikaans is the most recent of the Indo-European languages, diverging from Dutch after circa 1700.

The letters Q and C are absent from Afrikaans, except for use in a couple of loan words that have not been transliterated. The role of Q role is usually taken by a kw combination. For instance, the Afrikaans spelling of Quagga is Kwagga. K is used instead of C for the more common hard sounds. The letter and sound S is used for the remaining soft C sounds.

The letter G in Afrikaans almost always denotes a velar fricative, a hard sound that is also found in Dutch, German and related languages, but is entirely absent in English, except for loan words such as loch and achtung. This consonant is often difficult (or just unpalatable) to pronounce for people who hear it for the first time as adults.

In some circles, afrikaans is (or was) referred to as "Kitchen Dutch". This because the Dutch Boer colonizers of South Africa, while they eventually set themselves up as a quasi-nobility there, were generally from what were considered the lower elements of Dutch society.

As mentioned Dutch forms the basis for most of the vocabulary of Afrikaans. However many of the words come from different parts of the world. E.g. the word "baie" (meaning "many") comes from Malay origin other words come from other indigenous South African languages such as Xhosa and Sotho. Many of the more intricate verb forms of Dutch have been discarded making it a fairly easy language from a gramatical perspective.

An interesting fact about the written form of Afrikaans is that it first appreared in arabic script and not in the roman alphabet which currently predominates the written form. One of the earliest translations of the Koran was also into this written form of Afrikaans.

To explain the reaons for the above fact I need to point out that Afrikaans originated from two different cultural groups. The first and most obvious one is the Dutch immigrants that followed Jan van Riebeeck and later leaders to the Cape. The second group were the Malay slaves that were imported to do a lot of the work in the colony. This latter group was strongly Islamic and spoke a bastardised version of Dutch which later became Afrikaans.

Here's a few things to watch out when you move from Afrikaans to Dutch or vice versa:

  • neuk - in Afrikaans this means to hit somebody, in Dutch this is to fuck someone (I am not trying to be rude, just precise).
  • kombuis - in Afrikaans this is a the word for kitchen, however in Dutch this is the word for galley. This is an interesting example to demonstrate that a lot of Afrikaans came from sea-fairing Dutchmen.
  • verskoon - in Afrikaans you use this word to ask somebody to excuse you, in Dutch this would mean you want to be cleaned.

The language of the oppressor

Afrikaans is actually my home language, although I spoke English before I could speak Afrikaans.  It sometimes irks me when people refer to Afrikaans as the language of the oppressor.  Something which is a little recognised fact is that Afrikaans, one of the youngest languages (if not the youngest) in the world, has succeeded in creating a language which has given the world great poetry, prose and it developed as a langauge of science, of the same quality, depth, calibre and with the same depth of philosophy and imagery as any of the great world literatures.  The problem is, considering that relatively few people speak Afrikaans, the literature does not get the recognition it deserves.  This, however, is not limited to Afrikaans literature, though.  It is also true of all languages that are territorially isolated, or have a small number of speakers.

I started life as a student of classical languages (Latin and Attic Greek), but ended up in post graduate English studies.  I can also read Dutch, German, French, Spanish and Italian.  The upshot of this is that I have actually read some of the greatest literature in the world in the original form:  Goethe, Cicero, Baudelaire, Aristophanes, Garcia Lorca, Caesar, Susskind, Dante, Herodotus, Shakespeare, Eliot, Joyce, Hugo etc.  You name them, chances are I have read them.  I am quite happy that I can responsibly say that the good Afrikaans literature is up there among the best of them.  Which again, is also probably true of any number of other languages' literature that I have not read, for the simple reason that I can not read Russian or Mandarin, or a host of other languages - sadly, not even a single one of the ten indigenous languages in my own country.

What I fail to understand, is why the language itself has to be villified as a result of a small minority of people who, for a while, adhered to a stupid, impractical political ideal that was not necessarily the choice of many other white people, and certainly not the choice of the majority of people of South Africa. An interesting fact is that a large number of Afrikaans literary texts were in fact translated into Russian in the 1980s (I know this because I met one of the translators), and I was (I believe reliably) told that the largest university department teaching Afrikaans outside of South Africa at the time was at the University of Moscow under the reign of communism. 

The point is, while I care a fig for the ideology of apartheid, and in fact always did, the ideology is not the result of the language called Afrikaans, and neither was the ideology the cause of the language.  The two are linked quite by accident - just like Spanish is not a bad language, or Spanish speaking people responsible for the decline of Cuba as a result of the fact that for several decades Cuba had a Spanish speaking dictator.  The same comment can probaly be made in respect of any number of countries:  Zimbabwe (and its charming madman for a president Mr Robert Mugabe) and the USA (with a brainless, witless and warmongering idiot at the helm at the moment called George W Bush).  The German language and the people that speak German can not be held responsible for the attrocities of the Second World War (and I do not believe that the only attrocities committed were committed by Germans only).  Logic does not lead me to the inevitable conclusion that all things Zimbabwean or American or German must now be bad.  In the case of the USA, the unfortunate truth is that a majority of voters voted Bush into power (if the court is to be believed).  I rest my case.

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