The Polyglot Origins of Afrikaans (Part 1)

Did you know the earliest Afrikaans text was written in Arabic script?

Afrikaans is a language spoken in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. The name Afrikaans is a shortened form of the Dutch name Afrikaans-Holland which means “African Dutch.” Beginning in the 17th century, Dutch was passed down among the descendents of settlers from Holland. But Afrikaans also owes its development to creoles spoken among mixed populations of Africans, Asians and Europeans.

A creolised language or pidgin is one constructed as a lingua franca among populations with vastly different linguistic backgrounds. Between local African communities, European settlers, and enslaved people from East Africa, West Africa, the Dutch East Indies, Malaysia, Madagascar, etc., common languages emerged which incorporated Dutch, Xhosa, German, Khoisan, Portuguese, Malay, French, Arabic, etc. One of these creoles, Khoi-Afrikaans, was described as “Hottentot Dutch”—hottentot being an offensive, racist slur by which the Dutch referred to the Khoikhoi people in mimicry of the sounds of the Khoisan language. Other dialects included Cape Malay, Arabic-Afrikaans, and Veeboer-Afrikaans.

Afrikaans was also spoken by populations of “Cape Coloureds.” Due to a mixture of both cohabitation and sexual violence, at one point, an estimated 75% of children born to enslaved women had Dutch fathers. These populations of mixed European and African or Asian ancestry were referred to as “coloured” and also spoke Afrikaans. Thus it has been argued by linguists Sarah Grey Thomason and Terrence Kaufman that Afrikaans emergence as a language was  “heavily conditioned by nonwhites who learned Dutch imperfectly as a second language.”

However, by the 20th century, these multicultural origins became diluted and erased by white nationalist groups who sought to cast Afrikaans as a white man’s language.

By Nnenna Onuoha

(Image: Wikimedia)

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