West Germanic language, spoken in South Africa and Namibia

Afrikaans is a West Germanic language spoken in South Africa, Namibia, and, to a lesser extent, Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. It evolved from the Dutch vernacular spoken by the European (Dutch, French, and German) settlers and their slaves in South Africa, where it gradually began to develop distinguishing characteristics during the course of the 18th century. With about seven million native speakers in South Africa, or 13.5% of the population, it is the third most spoken language in the country.

Emblazoned on the entranceway to the Afrikaans Language Monument:
Dit is ons erns
"It is our solemnity" is a paraphrasing of Onze Jan's question of 1905: "Is it our solemnity?" (Is 't ons ernst?)



17th century

  • A custom exists among our entire nation, where the inland peoples acquire the Dutch language, that they pronounce it in a very crooked and incomprehensible way, and cause us to imitate them therein, so that our Dutch children also acquire this practice, and the basis is laid for a broken language which eventually will be impossible to exterminate. Even less shall we be able to introduce the Dutch language among the Hottentot peoples, while they lack no competence in pronouncing the words correctly, without error, if you endeavor to dictate carefully to them, to which we should invest somewhat greater care.

18th century

  • The language of the rural people is as little pure Dutch as the language of German farmers is pure German. The men have a fulsome speech and the women folk have assumed ways of speaking which at times are truly ridiculous.
  • Translated from German: Die Sprache der Landleute ist so wenig reine Holländische Mundart als die teutschen Bauern reines Teutsch sprechen. Die Mannspersonen nehmen das Maul dabei sehr voll, und das Frauenvolk hat Redensarten angenommen, die zuweilen recht lächerlich sind. Zum Exempel. Man frägt etwan, ob sie keine Bibel haben, so erfolgt die Antwort: "Onz heeft" geen Bijbel ... Wenn man sie aber aldann frägt: Wie viel Unzen gehen auf ein Pfund? so werden die schamroth.
    • Otto Friedrich Mentzel in Vollständige geographische und topographische Beschreibung des afrikanischen Vorgebirges der Guten Hoffnung, Volume II, Chapter 7, Glogau (1785–1787), as quoted in Afrikaans en sy Europese Verlede, E. H. Raidt, pp. 149–150, 1980, ISBN 0625014421. Mentzel proceeds by quoting an example of their affected grammar which suggests future Afrikaans.

19th century

  • He had lost his mother tongue almost completely and acquired the mutilated Dutch of the colonists.
    • Martin Lichtenstein in Reisen im südlichen Afrika II (1803–1806), p. 151, in reference to German botanist J. A. Auge who settled in the Cape and assumed the vernacular.
  • [I am acquainted with] that kind of bastard Dutch which was spoken in this country by the farmers and slaves, as well as among the Hottentots and various other heathen races, and which is not entirely absent from the speech of even the most cultured among Christians and the upper classes of people.
... cleanse from the Dutch spoken in this Colony ... words and expressions which are either entirely strange, or mutilated – Antoine Changuion
  • The main purpose of the following collection, as one can immediately infer from the title of our work, was to eradicate from the Dutch spoken in this Colony, if it can be referred to by that name, words and expressions which are either entirely strange, or mutilated, or at least to indicate in which way this may be done.
  • Translated from Dutch: Het hoofddoel van de volgende verzameling, gelijk men al dadelijk uit den titel van ons werk kan afleiden, was om het Nederduitsch, voor zoo ver de taal, die in deze Kolonie gesproken wordt, dien naam dragen mag, van deels geheel vreemde, deels verminkte woorden en spreekwijzen te zuiveren, of althans den weg daartoe aan te wijzen.
    • Antoine N. E. Changuion in Proeve van Kaapsch Taaleigen, included as a supplement to the second edition (1848) of his Nederduitsche taal in Zuid-Afrika hersteld [i.e. "Dutch language restored in South Africa"], Rotterdam: J. van der Vliet (1844).
  • You can trust me that the plat Hollands is read more among us farmers than that which Changuion wants to teach us in his booklets.
  • Translated from Cape Dutch: Jij kan ver mij gloo dat die plat Hollans meer gelees wor onder ons boere as die wat Sankion ver ons wil leer in zijn boekies.
    • A resident of Montagu writing in reply to Changuion, as quoted by Scholtz, J. du P. (1965). Die Afrikaner en sy taal 1806-1875: p. 180. Cape Town: Nasou.
  • The language of the Cape! … As if the miserable, bastard jargon, which is the vernacular of this country, is worthy of the name of language at all. … The poverty of expression in this jargon is such, that we defy any man to express thought in it above the merest common-place … There can be no literature with such a language, for poor as it is, it is hardly a written one … Let, then, your language and your nationality go, and believe us, you need not fear for your religion.
    • Editorial in The Cape Argus, 19 September 1857, a call for the extermination of the "atrocious vernacular of the Cape", the supposed nationality associated with it, and its replacement by English, quoted in Afrikaans en sy Europese Verlede, E. H. Raidt, p. 212, 1980, ISBN 0625014421.
  • You neither speak Dutch, that is the pure old Holland vernacular, much less would you soil your lips with the patois of the Hottentots about us. This I am sure is no offence, if I say you express your thoughts in a way which is not recognised in your pulpits, is not read in your books of law, does not figure in your scientific folios, and far less is it recognised as a language of an enlightened people, for it does not provide a descent vocabulary for the lowest of the low, nor for the highest of the lofty … It is one which is doing you and your children incalculable harm. It cramps your thoughts. It impedes your energies. It brings the blush to every modest women's cheeks, and makes the educated recoil with disgust too often. It corrupts the morals of your children, and befouls their innocent expressions ...
    • The Cape Monitor, 14 October 1857, quoted in Afrikaans en sy Europese Verlede, E. H. Raidt, p. 212, 1980, ISBN 0625014421.
  • People tell you that Afrikaans isn't a language, because it is composed of Dutch, French, Hottentot, etc. However, the manner in which the English language is patched together is wisely hidden.
  • True Afrikaners, we call on you to acknowledge with us that the Afrikaans language is the mother tongue that our Dear Lord gave us; and to make a stand with us through thick and thin for our language; and not to rest before our language is generally acknowledged as the national language of our country.
  • An attempt is being made by a number of jokers near Cape Town to reduce the "plat Hollands" of the street and the kitchen to a written language and perpetuate it. They are carrying their joke well. They have a newspaper, have published a history of the colony, an almanack, and to crown the joke — a grammar. ... The promoters of the Patriot (accent the last syllable) movement are laughed at and ridiculed but they stick to their joke.
    • The English press of Cape Town derides the GRA, 1876, quoted in The Genesis of Afrikaans, by Achmat Davids, in Afrikaans Literature: Recollection, Redefinition, Restitution, p. 49, 1996, Robert & Ethel Kriger.
Poor in the number of its words, weak in its inflections, wanting in accuracy of meaning – Lord J. H. de Villiers
  • Poor in the number of its words, weak in its inflections, wanting in accuracy of meaning and incapable in expressing ideas connected with the higher spheres of thought, it will have to undergo great modification before it will be able to produce a literature worthy of the name.
    • Lord J. H. de Villiers in 1876, quoted in The Earliest Stage of Language Planning: "The First Congress" Phenomenon, Joshua A. Fishman (ed.), p. 12
  • [They] who … see no possibility of maintaining, or, rather, of restoring among the mass of the old Colonists the language of Holland, would keep out English by trying to make the lingo and slang of the lowest Hottentots the language of these people – even South Africa.
    • The Cape Argus, 19 September 1877, commenting on the GRA and their followers, quoted in The Genesis of Afrikaans, by Achmat Davids, in Afrikaans Literature: Recollection, Redefinition, Restitution, p. 56, 1996, Robert & Ethel Kriger.
  • The protection of our mother tongue must be the most important consideration of such a Bond, for language and nation are one, and those who do not see this as objective, had better not become members of our bond
    • Translated from Afrikaans: Die beskerming van ons Landstaal moet hoofsaak wees van so 'n Bond, want taal en nasie es een, en di wat dit ni tot doelwit stel ni, moet liewers ni lid worde van ons bond ni
    • Rev. S. J. du Toit of the GRA on the Afrikaner Bond party, c. 1881, which would include C. J. Rhodes as member, quoted in The Genesis of Afrikaans, by Achmat Davids, in Afrikaans Literature: Recollection, Redefinition, Restitution, pp. 55–56, 1996, Robert & Ethel Kriger.
  • [Although] phonetically Teutonic, it is psychologically essentially a Hottentot idiom. ... It can hardly be expected that the descendants of the Malayo-Polynesian slaves and Hottentot servants, who originally spoke an agglutinative tongue, will have any improving influence on an inflecting language.
  • For intellectual training Africander Dutch offers no scope, for it has no literature and a very poor vocabulary. For internal intercourse and as a trade-medium English is superior to it; and for foreign trade it stands nowhere.

20th century

  • Afrikaans ... elegant; so simple, serious, and earnest.
    • Translated from Dutch: Afrikaansch ... mooi; zoo eenvoudig, ernstig, en oprecht gemeend
    • Hjalmar Reitz in 1903, as quoted in Boer en Brit: Afrikaanse en Nederlandse tekste uit en om die Anglo-Boereoorlog, p. 285, by Ena Jansen & Wilfred Jonckheere, 1999.
  • The general does not use pure Afrikaans in his speeches, nor a Dutch that can easily be confused with the language of a Dutchman, but a kind of Afrikaans with Dutch inflections that he inserts haphazardly without any particular plan, so that every now and then, by pure chance, he gets one of them in the right place.
    • Translated from Afrikaans: Die generaal gebruik nie suiwer Afrikaans in sijn toesprake nie en ook nie 'n Hollands wat met die taal van 'n Hollander maklik kan verwar word nie, maar 'n soort Afrikaans met hollandse verbuiginge wat hij sonder 'n bepaalde plan holderste bolder inlas sodat daar nou en dan bij toeval een op die regte plek kom.
    • C. J. Langenhoven commenting on the language spoken by general Louis Botha, quoted in Kannemeyer, J. C., 1995. "Langenhoven. 'n Lewe.", Tafelberg, p. 302
  • For how long shall we entertain two thoughts? If Dutch is our language, why do we not speak it? If Afrikaans is our language, why do we not write it?
    • Translated from Afrikaans: Hoe lank sal ons hink op twee gedagtes? As Nederlands ons taal is, waarom praat ons hom nie? As Afrikaans ons taal is, waarom skryf ons hom nie?
    • C. J. Langenhoven in 1911, quoted by J. C. Kannemeyer, p. 241, 1995.
  • The Provincial Council accepted my motion that enables Afrikaans as a permissible medium up to the fourth standard.
    • C. J. Langenhoven in a telegram to his wife on 23 April 1914, quoted in J. C. Kannemeyer, 1995, pp. 296–7. It implied that Afrikaans received official status in the Cape as medium of instruction in the first six school years, and would effectively replace Dutch in this respect. The Christian community at Genadendal and the Muslim community of the Dorp street madrasa, Cape Town, had however used Afrikaans as a medium of instruction many years earlier.
  • Be loyal unto death to your traditions, to your religion, to your language and to your people.
  • Translated from Afrikaans/Dutch: Wees getrou tot den dood aan uwe tradities, aan uw Godsdie[nst,] aan uw taal, aan uw volk.
  • If Afrikaans and Afrikanerdom went to ruin it would be an irrevoc­able catastrophe for South Africa. And it must not happen under any circumstances, for who has up to now preserved Afrikaans and Afrikanerdom? Not these people who hold symposia and talk big. The National Party brought Afrikaans and Afrikanerdom into being. ... Afrikaans is spoken in circles in which it was never spoken before. Today there is respect for Afrikaans from people who never had respect for it before. We should not complain that Afrikaans is going to ruin [due to language policy]. We should take pride and rejoice that Afrikaans is progressing with rapid strides in South Africa!
  • ...a bridge between the great, luminous West and magical Africa … Our task lies in the current and future implementation of this gleaming vehicle ...
Afrikaans is a cancer that must be destroyed – M. W. Makgoba
  • Were it not that Afrikaans literature glorifies white supremacy, and were it not for the unutterable evil this literature breathes, one would simply dismiss it as inane, a crushing bore.
    • Es'kia Mphahlele, 1974, The Function of Literature at the Present Time: The Ethnic Imperative.
– Literature in the ethos of Boerneef, 1938, Boplaas, is taken to be intended here, which would treat its coloured figures as "obedient serfs" in a "feudal order", while former critics merely observed a "natural hierarchy" or "idyll".
cf. Jakes Gerwel, 1983, Literatuur en Apartheid. Gerwel points out similar sentiments expressed in Mphahlele, 1962, The African Image, p. 107.
cf. Godfrey Meintjes, 1995, Re-viewing the Past: Notes on the Rereading of Canonized Literary Texts, Rhodes University
cf. Ampie Coetzee, Afrikaans Literature in the Service of Ethnic Politics?, in Afrikaans Literature: Recollection, Redefinition, Restitution, p. 103, 1996, Robert & Ethel Kriger.
  • Will Afrikaans survive the Afrikaner empire?
    • Jakes Gerwel in 1975, quoted in Sêgoed met slaankrag: 3 000+ van die slimste, snaaksste en soms onnoselste Suid-Afrikaanse aanhalings, George Claassen, ISBN 0624063194.
  • The recent strikes by schools against the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction is a sign of demonstration against schools' systematised to producing 'good industrial boys' for the powers that be... We therefore resolve to totally reject the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction, to fully support the students who took the stand in the rejection of this dialect [and] also to condemn the racially separated education system.
  • Unfortunately Afrikaans acquired certain historic connotations that resulted in its rejection by the black man, and these are political connotations.
    • Steve Biko (1946–1977) quoted in Sêgoed met slaankrag: 3 000+ van die slimste, snaaksste en soms onnoselste Suid-Afrikaanse aanhalings, George Claassen, ISBN 0624063194.
  • And Afrikaans, this child from the soil of Africa, has already become an instrument for millions of people – yes, for more than just the Afrikaner … God's plan, however, had been the creation of another civilization with a new language from Africa … Afrikaans and this beautiful southern land are undeniably grown together.
  • Afrikaans is a language that grew and developed from the soil of South Africa, aided by a variety of languages and cultures in our land, rooted in the search for an own identity and freedom. Its power and hope for the future has never been based on special privilege; but rather as one of the languages of South Africa which will have to meet the future shoulder to shoulder, with mutual respect and equal rights.

21st century

  • At present local English does not seem to have any particular social value, and thus there is no apparent reason for its speakers to wish to preserve its distinctive features. This is not true of non-standard Afrikaans, which is valued as warm, intimate, and a sign of membership of the community.
    • Kay McCormick in "Language in South Africa", p. 224, Rajend Mesthrie (ed.), 17 October 2002.
  • Seen socio-linguistically, a language can never fully clothe the intellectual and affective life of its speakers unless granted entree to all functions. Of particular importance is that a language must enjoy access to the academic-scientific fields of language such as in politics, law, the media, and the university. Throughout the twentieth century, for just the reason of realising this ideal, immense expertise and energy went into developing Afrikaans. One thinks ... of the numerous scholars who could have made their mark internationally but chose instead to devote themselves to Afrikaans.
    • H. P. van Coller in "The Medium of Teaching at South African Universities: the Position of Afrikaans" (August 2002), as quoted in "Re-imagining Language and Literature for the 21st Century", p. 106, Rodopi, 2005.
  • ...architect Jan van Wijk’s remarkable 1975 tribute to one of the world’s ugliest languages makes, if nothing else, a great picnic spot on the way to the wine lands of Franschhoek and Stellenbosch.
    • Bronwyn Davies or editor Richard Cook, in Wallpaper, September 2005.
  • …as it happens I am Afrikaans. …I actually do not think about it too much, just as I do not think about it too much that I have a liver. The current flutterings about Afrikaans, however, I find disturbing. It is not doing the image of Afrikaners, and hence also of Afrikaans, any good. …to beat one's chest in such a self-justificatory manner [a mere ten years after the end of apartheid] is bad taste morally. […] We are … being called up by certain parties to mobilise for Afrikaans, to fight for the survival of Afrikaans, and for minority rights. The problem is, however, that I do not see myself currently as part of a minority. When, in the 1970s and 1980s, as an Afrikaner, I resisted apartheid – and not in the 1990s when it became fashionable – then I felt myself part of a minority.
    • Paul Cilliers in a letter to Die Burger (10 October 2005), as cited in No Lesser Place: The Taaldebat at Stellenbosch, p. 133, Chris Brink (2006)
  • At school, Afrikaans was a compulsory subject that I disliked intensely; it was a harsh language, like the people who spoke it. [...] In my father’s shop, ... I found ... to my surprise, that I was beginning to enjoy the language. [The] warm straightforwardness and ... earthiness in many of these people ... was richly and idiomatically expressed in their speech. And, although I have never advanced beyond being able to speak a sort of kombuistaal, I delighted in our conversations.
    • David Goldblatt in "Some Afrikaners Photographed, 1975 – Some Afrikaners Revisited, 2006", 2006.
  • Slaves and Khoikhoi servants had the greatest hand in the development of the restructured Dutch. In the course of the eighteenth century both burghers and their servants, in interaction with each other, took the restructuring further. Dutch was simplified and a considerable amount of Malayo-Portuguese, as spoken the slaves, was injected. By the end of the century Cape Dutch had largely become what is now Afrikaans. In the western Cape, especially in its rural towns and farms, the main variety of Afrikaans took root as the shared cultural creation...
  • The first attempt to formulate a distinctive Afrikaner historiography was made by [Afrikaner] residents of the small town of Paarl [who] founded the Genootskap van Regte Afrikaners (Society of True Afrikaners). They were effectively reacting against cultural domination by the British colonial regime. ... They based their own history on publications by European authors who were critical of British imperialism and on private correspondence and interviews with fellow Afrikaners. Though this was simple, naive history, it was a path-breaking achievement. It was the first book published in Afrikaans – the spoken language of the people – as distinct from Dutch, from which it had grown apart in the South African milieu by simplifying the syntax, changing the vowel sounds, losing vocabulary items that were not relevant, and incorporating loan words from the other languages that were spoken at the Cape in the eighteenth century – Malay, Portuguese creole, and Khoikhoi.
  • The seeds planted by the Paarl thought leadership did not bear much fruit so long as Afrikaners were divided between colonial and republican regimes. ... In spite of many setbacks, Afrikaner leadership gradually attained their nationalist goals... They also re-segregated the white group into Afrikaans-speaking versus the rest. Afrikaans became the premier official language while English was given second-class treatment. The leadership vowed that there was to be no mixing of language, no mixing of cultures, no mixing of religions and no mixing of races.
  • At the heart of Afrikaner nationalist struggle was the attempt to imagine a new national community with its language enjoying parity of esteem with English in the public sphere. ... This meant that Afrikaans had to be heard in parliament, the civil service, schools, colleges and universities, and in the world of business and finance; it had to be the medium of newspapers, novels, and poems, giving expression to what was truly South African. Instead of English-speakers portraying Afrikaners in reports, novels or histories as everything they were not: unrefined, semi-literate, racist, dogmatic, and unprogressive, Afrikaners had to define and represent themselves as the true South Africans.
  • A good local example of [the process of promoting a language] is Afrikaans: a 150 years ago, Afrikaans was generally regarded as “a mere vernacular” (in the negative sense of the word), used only in the lowest social functions, was without a writing system and had no literature. Gradually, however, it became used as an instrument in the struggle against the imperialism of the British colonial government and against the Dutch-oriented elite’s preference for Dutch (and English) in high-function contexts[.] A number of teachers and church ministers then initiated a movement directed at the development (corpus planning) and promotion (status and prestige planning) of Afrikaans. Gradually, a feeling of pride in and loyalty to Afrikaans developed, and within about 60 years Afrikaans was recognised as a language of the public domain[,] a fully-fledged standard language.
  • Few languages have engendered as much controversy, with regard to both historical development and place in modern society.
  • Afrikaans will survive and develop further in a range of dialects. That is important to me, that type of freedom. The Afrikaners don’t mean much to me.
  • By the 1990s Afrikaans was no longer the instrument of a chauvinistic Afrikaner nationalism. Afrikaner historians had begun to stress the multifaceted nature of our history, Afrikaans as a medium of instruction was no longer imposed on black schools and the language had been scaled back drastically on state radio and television. But [it could be celebrated that] Afrikaans, along with only three others (Hebrew, Indonesian and Hindi) were the only languages that in the course of the twentieth century made the transition from a low status, spoken language to a language used in all walks of public life, including literature, science and technology.
  • The past 15 years have been characterised by an increasing migration of Afrikaans speakers into the digital space – a space that offers exciting new opportunities for Afrikaans.
  • The world [of 2017] looks completely different than in 1937. Then, communication was limited, and the introduction of radio – in Afrikaans – changed the world.
  • Die Kandidaat, Katrina and Jannie Totsiens constitute the golden era of Afrikaans film, as they delivered products of quality and intent which have probably not been met since. … these dynamic films sought to open up the eyes of the viewers to the brutally harmful and hurtful results of institutionalised apartheid on the other segments of the society, especially so to the so-called “Coloured” community. [Their] exclusion [from] Afrikaner identity, though sharing most of the culture and speaking the same language as “Afrikaners”, forms a central theme…
    • Elmarie van Huyssteen in Unmasking Violations Against Human Dignity in Selected Afrikaans Films in South Africa 1960-1976: A Practical Theological Investigation, an M.Phil. dissertation at the University of Stellenbosch, December 2017.
  • A language without a commercial value will die.
    • Willie Hofmeyr of Nasionale Pers, quoted in Sêgoed met slaankrag: 3 000+ van die slimste, snaaksste en soms onnoselste Suid-Afrikaanse aanhalings, George Claassen, ISBN 0624063194.
  • The youth culture grabs the young language by its foreskin and gives it its first democratic climax!
    • Pieter-Dirk Uys quoted in Sêgoed met slaankrag: 3 000+ van die slimste, snaaksste en soms onnoselste Suid-Afrikaanse aanhalings, George Claassen, ISBN 0624063194.
  • It is unbelievable and / or unfortunate that even until today in this constitutional democracy we still have a society that sees nothing wrong with a language that was used as a tool of segregation and discrimination during apartheid which 90 percent of South African[s] bemoan; a language whose legacy is sorrow and tears to the majority of whom it was not their mother tongue.
    • Submission by Criselda Makhubela, the Sedibeng East district director, to judge Bill Prinsloo of the North Gauteng High Court in Overvaal Hoërskool vs. Edward Mosuwe, Head of the Gauteng Department of Education, early January 2018.
  • By the time the protesters outside Hoërskool Overvaal lobbed a petrol bomb at the police, it was clear that something as simple as a school’s language policy could still inflame deadly passions 41 years after the Soweto Uprising against Afrikaans in black schools. I could not help thinking: what is it about Afrikaans that brings out the worst in us?
  • The courageous fight of the Afrikaans newspaper Vrye Weekblad against the apartheid state, its unearthing of apartheid secrets during the states of emergency in Afrikaans needs a firmer place in our Struggle history. The vicious responses to Max du Preez, Jacques Pauw and Vrye Weekblad journalists by the apartheid state, where the courts were used to close it down, is part of the proud resistance history of Afrikaans.
  • There was some misunderstanding between ourselves and the minority groups in the country, to be quite frank, especially people that are speaking Afrikaans, because the previous regime invested a lot of resources and energy in them. Our coloured communities feel marginalised, not loved, feel they are on the periphery.
  • Everyone knows that the DA has failed to stand up for Afrikaans language and cultural rights despite their guarantee in the Constitution.
  • For Afrikaans as a language of instruction, this is a major setback. The language's ability to subsequently recover at tertiary level is most limited if aggressive efforts are not made from Afrikaans ranks to keep it alive as a language of instruction. Being pro-Afrikaans does not mean being anti-English. For that we have empathy. This is about the official recognition of a language and everything that happens concerning it. This is about the violation of a basic human right, namely the maintenance of a language.
  • Inclusivity means that you involve all the speakers of all the varieties on an equal footing. No variety, including the standard variety, is considered more important than the others. Afrikaans is the sum of the language's varieties. We need to be able to greet each other with a mirrag, hoesit, saloet and aweh. ... Broad alliances – in the spirit of the multilingualism advocate dr. Neville Alexander – is required to oppose the hegemony of English and create space for the indigenous languages, Afrikaans included.
  • ... one finds that that those who are calling for the exclusive use of Afrikaans in certain schools are actually inviting antipathy [which takes the] form of annual political football that politicians use to their advantage, which is a shame. Afrikaans is not an exclusive language for racist Afrikaners. In fact, the majority of its speakers, by dint of history, are not “Afrikaners”, ...

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