Afrikaans – South Africa’s Language Heritage

Afrikaans, one of South Africa's 11 official languages, is spoken by the majority of the population as either a first or second language. As South African born language, Afrikaans has a fascinating history and has become wide spread, even being spoken freely in Namibia and partly in Botswana, Zimbabwe and other countries. Although considered by some English speaking South African's as a dying language, Afrikaans certainly has its place in society and a rich culture backing it up.

The name of Afrikaans is in fact the Dutch word meaning “African”. Essentially, Afrikaans developed in the Cape when the area began to be inhabited by settlers. Home to a vast number of mixed nationalities, such as Dutch, Khokhoi, West Africans, Madagascans, Indonesians and others, it was vital for such ones living in the Cape to be able to communicate. Thus a new form of simplified Dutch, along with some words from several influences, was developed. This original dialect was referred to as “Cape Dutch”, then later as “Kitchen Dutch” or “African Dutch”. Afrikaans became recognized as a language in its own right during the late 19th century. It became an official language along with English in 1961, booting the Dutch language out of the picture.

The main differences between Dutch and Afrikaans are vocabulary and grammar. Afrikaans has what is considered a more “regular” grammar. This is attributed to influences on the language by Dutch creole languages. A large sum of Afrikaans vocabulary gives evidence of its South Hollandic Dutch origins. It does however also include words from Asian Malay, English, Malagasy, Khoi, San, Xhosa, French and Portuguese, thus many words differ greatly. The Northeastern dialect was the form of Afrikaans from which the written standard developed. Today, Afrikaans is spoken as a first language by around 60% of White South Africans as well as more than 90% of Colored South Africans. Many other language and race groups speak Afrikaans as a second language.

Although Afrikaans has received criticism as an “ugly language” it is nevertheless becoming popular in other parts of the world. Universities in Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, Russia and Austria are now teaching the Afrikaans language. In 1975 the Afrikaans Language Monument was erected on a hill near the town of Paarl in South Africa’s Western Cape. This impressive structure was created to commemorate the declaration of Afrikaans as an officially recognized language. South Africa’s Afrikaans language has certainly made its mark in the world. Why not learn a few phrases when visiting this fascinating country.

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