Discussion on Die Burger: is Afrikaans an African language?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

If you're in the mood to check out a big discussion in Afrikaans on whether the language is a European or African language, see here. The discussion itself is of course rather silly since languages moved about all the time through history but after a few generations acted as if they had been located in their current position since the dawn of time. Take Turkish for example: is it a Central Asian, Middle Eastern or European language, or all of them? The original Indo-European language (as we guess it to be) might have been located in modern Turkey too (Anatolia), Hokkaido has the Ainu but nobody would call Japanese a foreign language to Hokkaido because of that, and so on.

Politically though the discussion does matter, since the languages students can choose as a second language in school and the status of official languages in South Africa are affected by it.

On the discussion itself: I don't agree with the original assertion at all that Afrikaans is " 'n verbastering van Nederlands, Khoi, Engels, Maleis, Portugees." Simply having some elements from these languages doesn't change the fact that Afrikaans is and remains an obvious West-Germanic language.

One comment I mostly agree with is this one:

See here... Charlize Theron speaks Afrikaans with a Belgian (Flemish) speaker.

The main points:

"Afrikaans is and was always just a form of Dutch. Not that that's a bad thing. We can get support from the Dutch Language Union, which will mean more than the support that we get from the ANC! ...French, Portuguese and English are also spoken in Africa and they are African languages too. Afrikaans is also an African language but it remains still a form of Dutch...Afrikaans also means "African" in Dutch, because the language was linked to the "African" dialect of Dutch. Same as "Brazilian", which is Portuguese with a Brazilian influence. Why can Afrikaners not understand this?"

One part I'm unsure about (how much support Afrikaans gets from the ANC - I have no idea), while the point I don't exactly agree with is that Afrikaans is a form of Dutch. Germanic languages are more or less just differing forms of a similar underlying language, and so Afrikaans isn't so much a type of Dutch as both Afrikaans, Dutch, Low German and so on are just forms of a West Germanic, non-consonant shifted-type overall dialect continuum.

In other words, if Afrikaans is a type of Dutch then Dutch is a type of Afrikaans, but both are really just types of West Germanic languages. It just so happens that Afrikaans has a number of simplifications that make it an absolute joy for an English speaker learning it, but they do not make it into any more of a creole or type of unofficial Dutch than English's lack of grammatical gender and declined adjectives make it into a creole or bastard language.

That poster for all I know would agree with this though, since his point is that Afrikaans is not an isolated language but a part of a larger family, and that's my point as well, just expanded a bit.


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