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Grammar

The History of the Afrikaans Language


Linguistics

Afrikaans is a Germanic language and, more specifically, a West German language. It's pretty close to Dutch, German and Scandinavian languages, and, to some extent, to English, for significant historical reasons. Afrikaans was declared an official language of South Africa in 1925 and nowadays, is spoken by 10.3 million South Africans, as well as by a significant population of Namibia and neighboring Botswana.

There is a large global diaspora of South Africans, which means that Afrikaans is also spoken in many countries around the world. There are significant numbers of Afrikaans speakers in the UK, the Netherlands, Ireland, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, as well as many other African countries. Historically, Afrikaans has also been spoken for over 100 years in the Chubut province of Argentina.


Varieties

There are several different varieties of Afrikaans, but everybody can understand and speak to each other. Most notable is the Kaapse Afrikaans spoken mainly by the people of color in the Western Cape. In many ways, this dialect is closer to Dutch than standard Afrikaans, and a lot of speakers code-switch with English, switching between both languages in a single conversation. In the Northern Cape Province, the dialect of Afrikaans is often referred to as Oranjerivierafrikaans. There are also growing differences in the language spoken by the expatriate community abroad.


About the Country of Origin

Afrikaans is a language that originated from the Dutch settlers’ inability to communicate with the slaves they brought to the Cape Colony from other parts of the Dutch empire, in particular Malaysia and South East Asia. Dutch grammar was greatly simplified, and many loanwords were taken from Malay and indigenous African languages. The first ever written text in Afrikaans was a book about Islam, that was written using the Arabic alphabet in the 1830s. During the rest of the nineteent century, the language was standardized and in 1925, was formally recognized as distinct from Dutch when it was made an official language of South Africa.

Where is it Spoken?

There are about seven million people registered as native Afrikaans speakers all over the world. Most native speakers live in South Africa, and it's a recognized minority language of Namibia and Botswana. South African expatriate communities around the world speak Afrikaans as well, and communities in the Chubut province of Argentina have spoken Afrikaans for over 100 years.

Why is it Important?

The top five reasons to learn this language are...

  1. You can travel to more places and use your Afrikaans more often than you might expect. South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana all have Afrikaans communities and it will even be understood in places where they speak Dutch like the Netherlands, Belgium, Suriname, and parts of the Caribbean.
  2. When you speak Afrikaans, it is much easier to bond with locals. It will definitely help you make some friends in the local pub.
  3. By learning Afrikaans, you can get a deeper understanding of world history and culture.
  4. Knowing Afrikaans will help you learn other European languages such as Dutch, German, French, and English!
  5. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone in South Africa speaks English. Especially if you want to experience the real South Africa and get off the beaten track, speaking Afrikaans will help you tremendously.

Lesson Transcript

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Eric: Welcome to AfrikaansPod101.com. This is All About, Lesson 1 —The Top 5 Reasons to Study Afrikaans. I’m Eric.
Pieter: I’m Pieter. In this lesson, I’m going to bare a part of my South African soul!
Eric: That’s right, this lesson is all about your home and native land, Pieter! As many of our listeners know, there are so many South African people already, can you really afford to add honorary members?
Pieter: (laughs) Hmm, I guess there should be some kind of initiation rites for foreigners to become honorary South Africans.
Eric: Yeah, like going on safari every weekend or something.
Pieter: Haha, yeah!
Eric: Okay, well I guess I’m not getting in.
Pieter: Well, there might still be hope for you. If you can speak a bit of Afrikaans, you can easily impersonate a South African.
Eric: Yeah, though Afrikaans can sound pretty guttural.
Pieter: You’re right, but it’s a beautiful language.
Eric: I agree, but why does it sound that way, anyway?
Pieter: Afrikaans is a Germanic language. It started to distinguish itself from Dutch around the 18th Century.
Eric: Wow! I wonder what it sounded like back then.
Pieter: Well, listen to this- “Iek bagent diesie kitab met Allah (ta'ala) sain naam. Allah (ta'ala) es rizq giefar ien dunya fer al wat liefandag ies.”
Eric: Wow! What was that?
Pieter: Well, that might be the first written text in Afrikaans, and it’s from the 1830s.
Eric: So what does it mean?
Pieter: Actually, the oldest surviving written text in Afrikaans is a book about Islam! It means “I begin this book with Allah’s name. Allah is the maintainer in the world of all things living.”
Eric: Wow! So the first Afrikaans speakers were Muslims? I never knew that.
Pieter: It’s very possible! Nowadays there are around 7 million native Afrikaans speakers in the world, and another 10 million who speak it as a second language.
Eric: So in which countries would we hear Afrikaans?
Pieter : Well, the largest number of speakers are in South Africa, where Afrikaans is the third most commonly spoken language after Zulu and Xhosa. But Afrikaans is also spoken in neighboring countries like Namibia and Botswana.
Eric: And these days lots of South Africans live abroad, so that’s why you can hear it often in places like London and Sydney.
Pieter: Right. And did you know that Afrikaans was only officially recognised as a separate language in 1925, which makes it the world’s youngest official language?
Eric: Really? I didn’t know that. That’s pretty awesome!
Pieter: Also, at the start of the 20th Century after the Boer War, many Afrikaans speakers left South Africa to settle in the Chubut Province of Argentina, where the language is still spoken today!
Eric: I have a family friend who moved to South Africa in the 1950s. Her English sounds so funny now, because she mixes in so many Afrikaans words.
Pieter: Well, your friend might sound funny, but there are a lot of foreign words in standard Afrikaans anyway.
Eric: Afrikaans really seems to be a melting pot of different languages!
Pieter: It is! But Afrikaans words have also found their way into the English language too. For example, the word “aardvark,” which in Afrikaans literally means “earth-pig.”
Eric: I hear many Afrikaans words are of Malay origin.
Pieter: Yes. We say piesang for banana, which comes from the Malay “pisang,” and the Malays and Indonesians both say banyak for “many,” which is where we get the Afrikaans word baie.
Eric: That’s interesting!
Pieter: And a bit like the English language in the United Kingdom, Afrikaans has different regional dialects.
Eric: In most big cities, Standard Afrikaans is spoken, but if you go to the countryside, you can hear some strong dialects.
Pieter: Yeah, it’s amazing how much the language can change, even if you travel only 10 kilometers away.
Eric: But the good thing for our Afrikaans students is that even though people might speak in a strong dialect, practically everyone can speak or understand Standard Afrikaans too.
Pieter: That’s very true!
Eric: So now let’s talk about the top five reasons to learn this lovely language! Here we go!
Eric: Number five.
Pieter: You can travel to super exotic places and use your Afrikaans. It will come in handy in South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana, and don’t forget those big expat communities in the UK, US, Australia, and the Netherlands, Brazil, Argentina, and many more countries too.
Eric: Number four.
Pieter: When you speak Afrikaans, it will be much easier to bond with locals, especially if you want to experience the real South Africa and get off the beaten track. Speaking Afrikaans will help you tremendously. If nothing else, it will definitely make you some friends in the local pub.
Eric: Number three.
Pieter: By learning Afrikaans, you can get a deeper understanding of world history and culture!
Eric: Number two.
Pieter: Knowing Afrikaans will help you learn other European languages such as German, French and English, but also Indonesian, Malay, and other African languages too!
Eric: And…the number one reason you should learn Afrikaans is...
(drum roll sound effect)
Pieter: It’s fun! It really is!
Eric: You’re absolutely right. It’s all about having a good time with the language! Okay, that’s all for this lesson. See you next time!
Pieter: Bye bye! Totsiens!