Afrikaans Language Origin

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Afrikaans belongs to the Lower Frankish subgroup of the West Germanic language group and is derived from Dutch. The language is used mainly in South Africa and Namibia, but also in Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Canada, Germany, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States, Zambia and Zimbabwe. About 10 million people speak Afrikaans as their mother tongue, and several million have a basic knowledge of the language. Despite being based on several African languages; Afrikaans is still largely dominated by the Dutch lexical forms that evidence the European roots of the language.

Afrikaans Language Classification

Afrikaans is at the center of political and social controversy over its inherent historical ties to the harsh apartheid policies of the old government in South Africa. The language remains important and has regained its popularity in South Africa in recent years. Today, Afrikaans is spoken by 6 million people in South Africa and Namibia. Other countries where this language is spoken include Botswana, Zimbabwe, Australia, New Zealand and the United States (Kirsten 13-14). Being spread largely over former colonial countries, it is quite safe to say that the European influence on the language is more than evident.

According to historical evidence, the first Dutch settlers came to South Africa in 1652. These settlers founded the city of Cape Town, and after a while created a unique culture, language and society, thus helping to build a single African population. Afrikaners, also known as the Boers, have historically been defined as Afrikaans-speaking Europeans, especially the Dutch, who have inhabited South Africa since the 17th century (Kirsten 16). As language is a living entity, it is obvious that native languages in the region have eventually become integrated with the language of colonists.

Originating primarily from the Dutch dialect of South Holland, Afrikaans has grammatical simplifications that distinguish it from Dutch. For example, the cases and genera present in the Dutch language have disappeared. Due to the influence of other settlers in South Africa, the Afrikaans language borrowed words from English, French, German, and Native American (Dirix et al. 114). Hence, the language can evidently be considered a colonial language, which, however, has its own characteristics largely influenced by the native languages in the region.

Until the mid-19th century, Afrikaans existed primarily for oral speech, while standard Dutch existed among Afrikaners for writing. During this time, the national Afrikaans movement demanded that Afrikaans also become written. Around 1815, Afrikaans began to replace Malay as the language of instruction in the Muslim schools of South Africa. At that time, the Afrikaans language used the Arabic alphabet, but the use of the Latin alphabet began with publications in newspapers, as well as political and religious works around 1850 (Dirix et al. 116). This aspect is largely important as the steady transformation of the language and its society have made Afrikaans a natural part of the environment.

Then, in 1875, a group of Afrikaans speakers in Cape Town formed the Genootskap vir Regte Afrikaanders (Union of True Afrikaners) and published a large number of books in Afrikaans, including grammars, dictionaries, religious and historical material. In addition, they published a magazine called "Patriot". The use of Afrikaans in South Africa's education system began in 1914. The status of the language was later confirmed when it was introduced by the Dutch Reformed Church in 1919, and when the first translation of the Bible into Afrikaans appeared in South Africa in 1933 (Kirsten 22). Eventually, the language would become an integral part of the society, replacing the native languages in the region, as well as unifying and improving the communication of the locals.

The South African government underwent an important transition period in the 1990s. First it was the repeal of apartheid laws, and then the election in favor of political activist Nelson Mandela as South Africa's first black president. In post-partisan South Africa, Afrikaans has lost important government support, but today it remains the second most important language in South Africa after English, but this is a moot point. Afrikaans is still one of the 11 official languages ​​of South Africa and can still be seen in the media or literature in South Africa (Kirsten 28). Another important aspect to underline at this point is that Afrikaans does not replace the native languages but rather integrates with them, thus, encouraging people to use it.

Some theorists believe that the younger generations of South Africa hold non-political views on Afrikaans, no longer viewing it as a language of oppression, unlike the older generations. Although Afrikaans was originally spoken by white settlers in South Africa, it is estimated that an equal number of whites and blacks consider Afrikaans to be their native language (Kirsten 29). By the 21st century, the language appears to have integrated fully into the society, however, it has equal status among other official languages in the region.


In the Afrikaans language, some features of the Dutch language of the 18th century, the lexical structure of the Khoisan languages ​​and Bantu, as well as Portuguese and Malay have been preserved. Afrikaans speakers understand Dutch, but Dutch speakers need to make some effort to adapt to Afrikaans. In the early twentieth century. scientific interest in Afrikaans flourished, in 1925, the government recognized Afrikaans as a separate language rather than a slang version of Dutch.

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Works Cited

Dirix, Peter et al. "IPP In Afrikaans: A Corpus-Based Investigation And A Comparison With Dutch And German". German And Dutch In Contrast, 2020, pp. 109-142. De Gruyter, Accessed 12 Apr 2022.

Kirsten, Johanita. “Afrikaans,” in Kamusella, Tomasz, and Finex Ndhlovu. The Social And Political History Of Southern Africa's Languages. Springer, 2018, pp. 13-30.

May 13, 2022


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