The best place in the world to learn Afrikaans?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

About two weeks ago the president of South Africa Jacob Zuma visited a small town located here:

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The town is called Orania and the only people that live there are Afrikaners. Interestingly, the president has been friends with the town's founder for two decades now which was one of the reasons why he went to visit. Naturally the mere existence of a town that only welcomes Afrikaners is enough to stir up debate, and you can see some of it in the comments below in the articles here and here. From a linguistic point of view though, what I find to be interesting is this (emphasis mine):

According to its founders, the purpose of Orania is to create a town where the preservation of Afrikanerdom's cultural heritage is strictly observed and Afrikaner selfwerksaamheid ("self reliance") is an actual practice, not just an idea. All jobs, from management to manual labour, are filled by Afrikaners only; non-Afrikaner workers are not permitted. "We do not want to be governed by people who are not Afrikaners", said Potgieter, the previous chairman. "Our culture is being oppressed and our children are being brainwashed to speak English".
This is the attitude towards a person's mother tongue you can find sometimes with languages that are either threatened, seen to be threatened, or under revival. In those cases I find the attitude of the users of such languages to be either one of two: 1) resignation towards the usage and spread of larger languages, or 2) a fierce opposition. And while this is a big generalization, 1) people are generally found in larger cities and are often extremely surprised at the idea that anyone from outside would want to learn their language, while 2) people like to form groups in order to gather whatever strength they have. Orania is probably the best example of 2) that one could find, and for a person with English as a mother tongue there's no better place to learn a language than a community where people believe their children are being brainwashed to speak English.

The trouble with languages like Afrikaans and Norwegian is just that: although they are extremely easy to learn in comparison with other languages, the fact that its speakers are often so good at English makes it tough to use in practice without some preparation beforehand, and doing a bit of research about the attitudes of the people in one city or another towards the promotion of their own language can make a big difference.

For a city in which to learn Afrikaans my sense is that a place like Stellenbosch would be better, as it's easier to get to, much larger, and still certainly has enough Afrikaners that are interested in promoting their language. Here's an example of that. I've never been to either one though and there could easily be more ideal locations out there to learn the language.

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