Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16. Nr. Juni 2006

1.4. Reproduktionen und Innovationen in Sprache und Kommunikation verschiedener Sprachkulturen / Reproduction and Innovation in Language and Communication in different Language Cultures
Herausgeber | Editor | Éditeur: Rudolf Muhr (Universität Graz)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Feature selection and variation in Standard-Afrikaans: From White and Eurocentric to African and multiethnic?

Gerald Stell (F.W.O./ V.U.B. Brussels, Belgium)



This paper examines the formation and reformation of Standard Afrikaans against the backdrop of the complex patterns of language variation that have been prevailing in South Africa. The difficult choices that had to be made to carve an Afrikaans entity out of the Cape Dutch language continuum, to "tame" its stylistic and regional variation, and to adapt it to changing cultural circumstances are well-documented by the prescriptive materials that have seen the light throughout the process of Afrikaans standardisation. Basing itself mainly on those prescriptive materials, this contribution first pays attention to the regulation of the cohabitation between Dutch and local features in Standard Afrikaans. Less obvious, but still not without consequences for the process of feature selection, the competition that opposed the two main varieties of White Cape Dutch for a defining contribution to the new standard is also discussed. Finally, the recent liberalisation of Standard Afrikaans into a racially non-exclusive concept is described in its impact on norm formulation.


1. The foundations of Afrikaans: a continuum of varieties

There are indications that the Cape Whites were speaking a variety of Dutch with distinct local features from the late 17 th century. The distance between that "Cape Dutch" ("Kaapsch-Hollandsch") and "European Dutch" seems to have varied according to level of education, colour of skin, and, in the case of the Dutch rotating administrative personnel, duration of sojourn at the Cape. By way of example, the language spoken by unschooled White children as early as in the late 17 th century was described by a Dutch VOC commissioner as "incomprehensible" ("onverstandelijck", Van Rheede 1685, in: Pienaar 1943: 2-3). Accounts from the 18 th century suggest that the Dutch spoken by rural Whites and that of the higher social classes may have begun to develop characteristic features opposing them to one another (Scholtz 1981: 43).

Throughout the same period, the local Hottentot populations as well as the slaves imported by the Dutch seem, at paces specific to each of the two groups, to have progressively relinquished their native languages in favour of Dutch-based varieties possessing distinct features (Scholtz 1970: 85-86).

Yet, for all the linguistic differentiation induced by the diversity in geographic locations or socio-ethnic backgrounds of Cape Dutch speakers, language variation at the Cape must certainly also be explained as a capacity, variable from one individual to the next, to switch registers according to the context of communication. In other words, there has existed a varying propensity to switch from "Hollandsch" (common denominator for basilectal Cape Dutch varieties) to "Hoog-Hollandsch" (common denominator for the acrolectal varieties of Cape Dutch, and European Dutch), and vice versa (cpr. Roberge 1994, Ponelis 1997: 598). An observation made shortly after the British takeover in 1815 has it that "...the "Bastard Dutch" spoken as much by the whites as by the coloureds is not thoroughly foreign even to the more civilised parts of the well-to-do Christian society of the Cape", while "trouble is taken to repress local speech colour on formal occasions" (Swaving 1830 in Scholtz 1951: 19). Such alternation of local features and more conservative ones hints at the possibility that European Dutch and Cape Dutch may have remained indissociable from one another in the language répertoire of at least the prominent social layers of the Cape Dutch speaking community, even after the political ties with the former Motherland were cut off (Roberge 1994: 156, 164).

However, the diminishing exposure to High Dutch through the educational system from the British take-over in 1815 (more in the Cape Colony than in the northern republics founded in the wake of the Great Trek), and the ever-increasing prestige of English among the Cape Dutch speaking population set in motion a process of community-wide bilingualisation, favouring code-switching and the spread of English influence along the Cape Dutch language continuum. Quite revealingly, "Colonial Dutch" is described in 1859 as "more and more impoverished, especially since English has been gaining ground, and more and more despicable to whoever endowed with a knowledge of the beautiful Dutch language and literature"(1). Further observations reveal the prestige function filled by code-switching to English, which as of the early 19th century seems to have taken over the place of the High Dutch stylistic layer as a marker of sophistication. Fitting this representation, Elffers (1905) defines Cape Dutch as a "patois", "all of which parts of speech may be conveniently supplemented by English ones whenever opportunity demands, or the degree of education of the hearer permits."(4).

Meanwhile, the Cape Dutch-speaking Coloured community, descended from the original Hottentot tribes and the slaves imported by the Dutch, seems to have lived in sufficient social isolation to cultivate its own linguistic specificity. This may have been helped by the fact that, owing to a much more restricted access to English-medium instruction, it experienced Anglicisation at a much different pace(2), or even stood aloof from it in non-urban areas. This is perhaps the factor which caused Changuion (1844) to observe that "the Cape patois (...) is in its purest form only spoken by the Hottentots..." (quoted by Scholtz 1964: 170). Yet, the features of Coloured Afrikaans have not only been determined by differences in exposure to English, but also by ethnic background, religious creed and geographic location. This is suggested by the rich Arabic-influenced Cape Dutch literary tradition cultivated by the Cape Malays (Davids 1987), and the persistence, up to this day, of primary linguistic features opposing Muslim Coloureds and Christian Coloureds at large (Klopper 1983: 98). Illustrating the importance of the ethnic and geographic factor, Northern Cape Coloured Afrikaans markedly differs from Western Cape Coloured Afrikaans on account of its much more vivid Khoi-San substrate (compare Von Wielligh 1925: 144-157, Roberge 1994: 75-6).

Despite the evidence of ethnic language markers, there have been linguistic crossing bridges between White and Coloured Cape Dutch speakers, more especially at the bottom of the social ladder, or in certain geographic locations. In this regard, Von Wielligh makes the general observation that:

"the poor white man (...) engages in conversation with those (i.e. the "Coloureds") who call him "boss" and makes use of their coarse speech to have a nice chat with them" (1925: 94)

This complex picture of interacting speech varieties has been radically simplified by the proponents of Afrikaans as a new standard language for the "Afrikaners", i.e. the White speakers of Cape Dutch. This simplification proceeded from the urgent task, spelled out by Du Toit, leader of the pro-Afrikaans movement in the late 19th century, "to convince them (the Afrikaners) that they have a proper language" (1875 in: Scholtz 1964: 201), i.e. a fully-fledged linguistic medium, autonomous from High Dutch and free from English influence. Therefore, the vision is common that "the first organised struggle of Afrikaans as a language was a struggle against Dutch" (Odendal 2003: 87). The main strategy used to direct that struggle was the valorisation of Afrikaans as a linguistic entity in essence discontinuous from Dutch, which is suggested in the many statements that Dutch would be "half-foreign" to the average Afrikaner (cpr. Hoogenhout 1873 in: Scholtz 1964: 186). Also, stylistic unity within that Afrikaans entity was strongly emphasised, despite the occasional acknowledgement of diversity, as in e.g. Pannevis’ view that "all inhabitants of South Africa do not speak Afrikaans in the same rustic manner, or with the same stock of expressions, but still, the spirit, the character of the language is all over the same" (1882, in: Nienaber 1968: 57). Further, the impact of code-switching with English is at places purposefully minimised to assure the public of the language’s "honourable" pedigree, as e.g. when Afrikaans is described by Du Toit as "the purest Germanic language in existence", with at most 50 English words established in its lexicon (1897: i).

At a geographic level, variation has been strategically underplayed in the interest of presenting Afrikaans as a viable vector of White national unity. In this vein, Du Toit stated that:

"...most remarkable is the unity of the Afrikaans language (...) no dialects exist here (...) From the Table Mountain up to the Soutpansberg, the Afrikaner speaks one and the same language" (1891 in: H. Du Plessis 1987: 152-3).

This description of Afrikaans as a monolithic language has been regularly echoed in didactic materials that have been edited up until the reform of the concept "Standard Afrikaans" (3.). However, dialectological accounts have, on their side, experimented with dialectal subdivisions. Breaking away from his predecessors, who had been toying with a sociolectal/ethnolectal distinction between "Here"-, "Boere-" and "Hottentots Afrikaans"(3), Von Wielligh (1925) drew a general line between North and South running along the Great River, and identified phonologic and lexical features typical to each zone, despite the linguistic confusion caused by the constant migratory fluxes (cpr. 110, 122). He further acknowledged the specificity of the Northern Cape on the basis of mixed dialectal and ethnolectal considerations (cpr. 144-57). To substantiate his demand for the adoption of more northern forms in the Afrikaans standard (see under 2.), Preller also sketched in 1928 a dialectal subdivision of the Afrikaans speech community, in which he singles out five "regional accents", i.e. the Highveld, the Transvaal Bosveld, Namaqualand, the Cape eastern and western province, while generally stressing the idea of northern linguistic specificity, which he ascribes to among else a preserving Dutch influence (compare Preller 1904: 46, P. J. Du Plessis 1988: 375, 3.). The subsequent dialect studies concurred in confirming a threefold division between North, South and Northern Cape, although a large amount of geographically undetermined variation is acknowledged, and opinions differ as to where the interdialectal boundaries should be drawn (4., footnote(4).

As suggested by the early definition of "Afrikanerdom" as a White concept (Steyn 1987: 73-6), White Afrikaans has been neatly dissociated from Coloured Afrikaans in early Afrikaans language ideology, as suggested by the disparaging cliché of "Hottentots Afrikaans" manipulated by the members of the Genootskap van Regte Afrikaners(5) The idea of Afrikaans being the exclusive appanage of the White community is later on confirmed by Langenhoven, who underlines that "Afrikaans is the one and only White man’s language" (1914, quoted in Coetzee 1987: 53). Formerly heavily stigmatised, non-White varieties were described in the most derogatory terms by the few linguistic accounts that paid attention to them before the 70’s, as e.g. Von Wielligh who introduces Northern Cape Coloured Afrikaans as "the lowest form which Afrikaans has ever attained" (Von Wielligh 1925: 94, 4.). Changes in perception would only come towards the end of the Apartheid era, when the main Afrikaans-based ethnolects in use with the Coloured community, usually labelled Northern Cape Afrikaans and Western Cape Afrikaans, were acknowledged as rightful varieties of Standard Afrikaans (4.).

All in all, Afrikaans language planners have from early on been faced with a diversified language landscape, in which geography, level of education (and acquaintance with High Dutch or English) and ethnic background have been determining factors. However, the primary focus of their concerns was to define the cohabitation between local South African features and the more prestigious High Dutch ones in the new Afrikaans norm.


2. Standard Afrikaans: a compromise between High Dutch norms and local features?

If we leave aside the ill-documented written variety that was used by the Cape Muslim Coloured intelligentsia (Davids 1987), the earliest manifestations of what we could call an alternative Cape Dutch norm came up in the form of offhand and jocular contributions to newspapers as of the early 19th century (compare Ponelis 1993: 51-2). Even though the language variety used in those had no other purpose than that of an "anti-norm", it exploited the distance between spoken varieties of White Cape Dutch in conscious opposition to the High Dutch norm, which so few mastered (ibid.). Going one step further, the Genootskap van Regte Afrikaners (1875), led by Du Toit, and later on the "Post War Language Movement"(6) aimed to prove that "Afrikaans" could be called a language of its own, i.e. a linguistic entity obeying its own norms. The idea of symbolic distantiation from Dutch pervaded the agenda of Afrikaans standardisation, as summarised by De Waal’s rhetoric question:

"Why can’t the difference (from High Dutch) once and for all be so radical that whoever reads a sentence in our language would say right away: This is no quasi-Dutch or artificial Cape Dutch - this is the pure Afrikaans" (1904, in: Pienaar 1943: 243).

However, if the first challenge of Afrikaans was to distantiate itself from Dutch, there was a general consensus that the young language could not do without the Dutch model during its process of elaboration. This is why the intrinsic compatibility between the two entities has been stressed at places, as e.g. by Malan who wrote in 1905 that "...Afrikaans can infinitely draw on Dutch, and enrich itself in the event, without ceasing in any respect to be Afrikaans" (74). Furthermore, keeping Dutch as a primary point of reference offered to general opinion an efficient bulwark against Anglicisation. In an attempt to justify the necessity of the Dutch model for purist reasons, Preller warned in 1926 that "...we need something to buttress it (Afrikaans), and if we exclude Dutch (which is our natural source), then we will decay by ourselves into English..." (in: P. J. Du Plessis 1988: 370).

Conciliating distantiation from Dutch and selective compliance with its norms could understandably not go without contradictions during the process of feature selection. Despite the victory that it betokened for its supporters, the 1925 government act that elevated Afrikaans to the rank of South Africa’s second official language did not mean that an original Afrikaans norm could immediately overcome the public’s familiarity with Dutch, nurtured through the school, the press and the Church. Instead, a gradual shift took place which saw the cohabitation, as much in prescriptive as in non-prescriptive sources, of local features and conservative ones.

At the orthographic level, the first object of Afrikaans standardisation, the demarcation of Afrikaans specificity versus Dutch has proven a lengthy process. As opposed to the Patriot’s spelling(7) which sought maximal distantiation from Dutch by using its own phonetic conventions, the Afrikaans spelling system that was set to become official has originally been designed by the Taalkommissie(8) such as "not to differ too markedly from Dutch" (TK: 1917 IX). Over time though, the Dutch graphic reference would be gradually loosened, until 1991 when no more mention was made of it as a determining factor in the formulation of spelling rules (TK 1991: 11).

Defining a phonetic norm for Afrikaans has been an issue in which regional conflicts have not been absent (3.). It seems that distinctly local Afrikaans phonologic realisations common to the whole speech community have been retained as "standard", whereas others, exhibiting regional affiliation, have been discounted in favour of Standard Dutch ones. To illustrate the former case, the correct phonetic realisation of the grapheme <s> is defined as universally voiceless in Standard Afrikaans (e.g. onderwyser, "teacher"), whereas its occasional realisation as a voiced phoneme in intervocalic contexts, following the Dutch model (e.g. onderwyzer) is described as "hyperformal" and incorrect (Ponelis 1998: 7-8). However, Standard Dutch tradition is purposefully maintained in e.g. the treatment given to the graphemes <ee> and <oo>, rendered as long vowels in the South (approx. [i:] and [u:]) and as diphtongues in the North (approx. [ iə] and [u ə ]). In their place, the Standard Dutch realisations [e:] and [o:] are prescribed (cpr. T. H. le Roux et al. 1976, Carsten 2002: 251-7). Also, the Dutch stress pattern is explicitly prescribed for Afrikaans words that lend themselves to an English accentuation, as in e.g. kontak (*kontak), subsidie (*subsidie), minister (*minister, Carsten 2002: 258).

At the level of lexical usage, there has been regular pressure to scrap "Neerlandismes", teeming in early journalistic and literary Afrikaans usage, while promoting local variants. In this vein, le Roux warns:

"...why replace common Afrikaans forms such as stadshuis, verjaarsdag, eers with the Dutch equivalents stadhuis, verjaardag and eens? (...) In cases as these, the Afrikaans daughter is able to walk her own way and there is not the shadow of a reason for which she should follow in the steps of the Dutch mother..." (T. H. le Roux 1965: 37).

There has been, up to this day, pressure to rid the traditionally Dutch-influenced Afrikaans lexicographic base of such items deemed not reflective of language reality. This has led to the replacement of Dutch lexical forms with local ones, that have taken roots in the Afrikaans literary tradition, such as e.g. begane grond ("ground floor") or Algerye ("Algeria") replaced by respectively grondvloer and Algerië in the most recent Arikaans-English dictionary (Du Plessis et al. 2005). Despite the regular scrapping of Dutch items as the above ones, it seems that Dutch lexical items are, in many cases, still allowed to cohabit as H-variants with local ones, as is obvious in the semantic doublets weg/pad ("road"), spreek/praat ("speak"), veel/baie ("much"), in which the first items sound more formal and the second more colloquial (Ponelis 1998: 108-9, 3.). Furthermore, the practice of falling back on Dutch norms wherever a lexical feature is suspected of having an English pedigree has endured to this day (cpr. Donaldson 1991: 63-79, Ponelis 1998: 69). This has led to a situation where a large amount of forms are still listed with their old Dutch meaning instead of their usual one, often derived from an analogue association with the English lexical counterpart: to quote one example, the adjective/adverbial eventueel still features in some dictionaries with the meaning "if need be", while it is currently used with the same meaning as its English quasi-homonym "eventual/eventually" (Odendal 2003: 287).

Yet, limits have been set to the "containment" of Anglicisms, as in particular wherever the English idiom has a more economical solution to offer than its Dutch counterpart. This approach causes Le Roux to argue - in reference to one common Afrikaans expression - that:

"The Anglicism iemand afsien is indispensable in our language. The English example to see off means iemand by sy vertrek gaan groet wat vir goed weggaan of geruime tyd afwesig sal wees. Unless we want to get verbose, Afrikaans and Dutch have nothing to offer in the way of this convenient English expression" (le Roux 1965: 247).

At the level of morphology, certain Dutch forms have been condemned, as has been the case with the Dutch preterit forms, most of which have disappeared from colloquial Afrikaans, which instead of them uses a combination of the auxiliary hê ("have") and a past participle(9). Although the Dutch pattern of preterit formation has cohabited with the Afrikaans pattern in early literary contributions (Pienaar 1931), the Taalkommissie remained adamant that "...the complete re-establishment in Afrikaans of the preterit is impossible on linguistic grounds" (1928, in: Steyn 1987: 219). If in this case the side of common language reality seems to have been taken and the Dutch model rejected, there have at other places been efforts to promote the creation of artificial, and un-Dutch, morphological processes in order to achieve complete generalisations of rules: This goes for the plural formation of nominalised past participles with the suffix -s, as in die geleerdes ("the learned ones")(10) from Malherbe (1917: 39), who describes it as merely optional and confined to written language, this feature eventually becomes mandatory in Van der Merwe (1953: 161). Among the cases where the Dutch pattern has been strictly adhered to, we find the past tense formation of the passive auxiliary wees, for which the present form is is prescribed to express the simple perfect tense and the preterit form was to express the plusquamperfect tense, despite observations that this pattern is not reflected in common spoken language (cpr. Van Schoor 1983: 178, Müller 2002: 699-700).

At the level of syntax, features of spoken language that have been purposefully generalised in order to distantiate Standard Afrikaans from Dutch are e.g. the double negation nie...nie(11), of which Smal (1923) said that "whoever does not use the second nie in a negative sentence does not speak pure Afrikaans", as if Afrikaans identity was subsumed in that single feature (3). On the other side, strict compliance with the Dutch syntactic model has been enforced, sometimes in open rejection of a language reality regarded as too "Anglicised", as is visible in the general condemnation by prescriptive sources of the "too colloquial" SVO order in subordinate clauses in favour of the more formal sounding SOV pattern (cpr. Ponelis 1998: 7, Carstens 2002: 51-4).

In summary, it seems that Standard Afrikaans contains an array of local features, which have become "legalised" and stylistically "neutral" if generalised, "informal" if allowed to cohabit with Dutch-inspired variants, or "incorrect" and to be disregarded in favour of their Dutch counterpart if thought to be of English origin. To the difficulty in finding a compromise between Dutch, local idiom and fear of Anglicisation was soon added that of equally accomodating regional varieties of Afrikaans competing for dominance.


3. Standard Afrikaans: torn between north and south?

There is a view among historians of Afrikaans that Standard Afrikaans in its actual state would be mainly derived from the northern variety, itself essentially a White variety, to which Standard Dutch input would have been added (cpr. Van Rensburg 1990, Ponelis 1998: 15, footnote(12). Others rather see Standard Afrikaans as the end-product of a linguistic cross-breeding process between the White north and the White south, that has come in the place of a former southern cultural hegemony epitomized in the Patriot’s strong Boland imprint (Raidt 1994: 321-3, 1.). Signs of a linguistic tension between North and South have from an early stage been observable in the form of stigmata applied by Northerners and Southerners to each other’s distinctive speech features, as Von Wielligh (1925) recounts in:

"The Bolanders joke about the way "Ondervelders" express themselves. Conversely, the Ondervelders laugh at the Bolanders’ peculiar expressions. Some people would say: "I don’t speak that bad". Others would say: "My speech is not as twisted as yours." (1925: 16)

Despite the existence of such clichés and the mutual rejection they suggest, there is ample evidence of competition between northern and southern features in general linguistic usage. The widespread free variation between these features was most conspicuous in the north, which was marked by increasing migratory fluxes starting with the early 19th century Great Trek and continuing with the late 19th century gold rush to the Rand region (Von Wielligh 1925: 122). In reference to southern features competing with their northern counterparts, Coetzee observes:

"The southern boter ("butter") has never found acceptance in the north, but Transvalers and Free Staters are rapidly beginning to believe that sop ("soup") is unrefined, and soep (idem) refined" (1948: 18)

The political dimension of the north/south bipolarity observable in language practice rose to the surface when Preller pressed the Akademie for more regional representativity in both its membership and methodology of feature selection, which were according to him too Cape-oriented. In one of his protests levelled at the institution’s prescriptions, Preller laments in 1927 that one of its prominent members "stated seventeen years ago with the most solemn assurance that the tendency to say "sorre" in lieu of "sorge", "wurre" in lieu of "wurge" and "burre" in lieu of "burge" was confined to the region Cape Town-Tulbagh, but this same person later came to assume on his and our behalf that such pronunciation has meanwhile become general" (in: Steyn 1987: 211). According to the same author, there was a distinction to be taken into account between a variety called "Hollands", specific to the north and mustering a "purer" Dutch pedigree, and "Afrikaans", which is "what the people from the western province speak..." (ibid.).

However, hegemony of one given regional variety does not seem to have featured on top of the agenda of standardization at the time of the Post War Language Movement. In fact, The Taalkommissie never pinned "right" Afrikaans pronunciation down to any geographic location, and instead claimed to base its phonetic/phonologic prescriptions on "common" usage (compare Vandenberg 2000: 61-97). But beyond this little explicit mission statement, one can make out a vast array of choices that can have been determined by an awareness of interregional conflicts.

Among the instances of feature selection that most explicitly honoured the idea of North/South bipolarity, we meet the considerable amount of distinctly northern lexical features officially cohabiting with their southern synonyms in the successive editions of the AWS. The 2002 AWS is still listing aartappel ("potato"), jul ("your") and hul ("their"), originally characteristic of southern usage, alongside their respective equivalents ertappel, julle and hulle, originally characteristic of the north (compare Coetzee 1948: 22-3 for the history of the quoted features).

Many such synonymic pairs could however not be indefinitely maintained, and some have been reduced to just the northern form. This applies e.g. to a series of verbs with an -e suffix that made way for their shorter northern alternatives ending on a consonant, as in e.g. bidde (St. Af. bid, "pray"), bieë (St. Af. bied, "offer"), bedrieë (St. Af. bedrieg, "betray") which did no longer feature in the 1991 edition(13). In other cases though, it is the northern form that after a while had to give way to its southern equivalent. This is the case with the typical opposition between north and south revolving around the maintenance or suppression of <g> in cases of adjectival or substantival suffixation with -e (compare further Von Wielligh 1925: 110). The AWS originally recognised pairs such as hoog ("high") > hoë (southern inflected form)/ hoge (northern inflected form) or dag ("day") > dae (southern plural form)/dage (northern plural form), until eventually the northern intervocalic <g> was scrapped from the 1968 edition.

In a few interesting cases, the maximal reduction of free variation also assumed a pan-regional eclectic form. An area of variation that was submitted to this approach was that of verbal forms, some of which were still in the early 20th century obeying residual conjugation patterns changing from one location to the next while also possessing distinct infinitive and past participle suffixes. Malherbe (1917) observes in this regard that in the northern provinces forms ending on -g, as e.g. klaag ("to complain") are likely to have klae (kla) as a distinct present and infinitive form, and geklaag as past participle, whereas the southern equivalent form would remain klae in all cases (55). In an attempt to formulate general rules, the author does not mention these distinctions in his own didactic account of verbal derivation, and, in accordance with the current Standard Afrikaans pattern, employs a single form for all functions (54, 65). However, in acknowledgement of the variation observable in language reality, the AWS originally listed the forms klaag, klae and kla (without grammatical distinction), before only retaining the shortest form (ge-)kla as of its 1991 edition. A comparable case, the northern verbal forms seg ("to say") and leg ("to lay") are described by Booysen (1924) as possessing the distinct conjugated forms sê and lê (101). This morphologic differentiation has not been applied by subsequent grammatical accounts, which have only mentioned the forms sê and lê generalized along the southern pattern(14). Eventually those latter forms were regarded as sole valid options by the 1991 AWS edition itself.

In a number of cases, the Taalkommissie and prescriptive materials at large attempted to dodge the burden of listing multiple forms by imposing a single possibility, more reminiscent of the Dutch pattern. Illustrative of this policy is the rejection of both northern and southern vocalism in favour of a neutral, Dutch-based graphic rendition (2.). One of the most illustrative examples of this policy at the level of lexicon is that of the adverbial ook ("also"), of which Von Wielligh remarked in 1925 that it is generally pronounced as [uk] in the Boland and as [ok] in the rest of the country, whereas the Dutch-like pronunciation [o:k] is confined to "the conversations of people under Dutch influence" (107). The realizations [uk] and [ok] being felt as markers of regional affiliation, the Taalkommissie has from the beginning only endorsed the Dutch form [o:k], suggested by the maintenance of <oo>, where it could have been scrapped in favour of a single vocalic grapheme (compare AWS 1917-2002).

However, the fact that conformity with Standard Dutch was far from being a systematic aim in the process of standardisation of local forms is best illustrated by the suppression of certain Dutch-like features, described as more typical of one given region, in favour of other equivalent regional features, more distant from Dutch. Among these we find the case of the particle of comparison dan, described by J. J. le Roux (1923) as "in common usage essentially confined to the northern provinces" (115). Described only in grammars and not in the AWS, this feature has in certain sources been allowed to cohabit with its more South African equivalent as in structures as hy is groter dan/as ek ("he is taller than me", Dutch hij is groter dan ik) in Booysen (1924: 73). However, it has been condemned as an Anglicism and a bookish form by some early authors (Malherbe 1917: 102), and disapproved of by the Akademie itself (Van Oostrum 1923: 11). Dan is nowadays only allowed for stylistic reasons in the immediate vicinity of the quasi-preposition as, as in hy was knapper as joernalis dan as politikus ("he was more clever as a journalist than as a politician", Van Schoor 1983: 274).

Likewise illustrative of its appreciation of local features, the Akademie sanctioned the demise of certain regionalisms even when these were reminiscent of Standard Dutch ones. This goes for the lexical pair vlees/vleis (Dutch vlees, "meat/flesh"), which used to be synonyms in their concrete meaning, with the first item exhibiting a southern and the second a northern affiliation (Coetzee 1948: 10). Today vleis seems to have taken over the concrete meaning "meat", whereas vlees has assumed archaic bytones and specialized in the abstract religious meaning of "flesh" (cpr. Odendal et al. 2000: 1298, AWS 2002: 460).

The selection of local Afrikaans features has thus been operated along different, and sometimes seemingly contradictory logics. The logic of national compromise is visible in the admission of synonymic pairs, and even in the imposition of certain Dutch-like forms hailing from educated circles or directly from Standard Dutch itself. The pursuit of minimal variation through interventionistic simplification does not seem to have consecrated the dominance of either north or south or Dutch; rather, the final result of the standardization of local Afrikaans forms displays many characteristics of a process of linguistic cross-breeding between the two founding White varieties, to which Dutch has occasionally made a unifying contribution. In historical retrospect, however, the equilibrium achieved by Standard Afrikaans in terms of geographic representativity only looks like a first step on a long way that - in today’s post-Apartheid politico-cultural circumstances - seems to be leading to an interethnic compromise to which the traditional north/south polarity of the white Afrikaans speech community has lost some of its relevance.


4. Standard Afrikaans: from a geographic bipolarity to an ethnic multipolarity?

The 1975 Soweto riots coinciding with the centenary of the Genootskap van Regte Afrikaners (1.) triggered a heated discussion on the future of Afrikaans in a democratised multilingual South Africa. If it was to survive in a majority rule political environment, Standard Afrikaans had to be "de-nationalised" and its non-white speakers taken into account. In order to achieve this, the traditional connection between Afrikaans and white dominance needed to make room for a new imagery in which the African identity of the language could be obvious. With over half of the native speakers of Afrikaans being non-white (54% Coloureds, 4% Blacks, SA statistics 2001), the white establishment became aware of the need to make overtures across the colour barrier behind which it had been isolating its ideas on its own linguistic identity (Steyn 1987). Radically breaking away with the earlier vision that "Afrikaans is the one and only White man’s language" (1.), the new cultural/linguistic outlook of the white Afrikaner establishment can be subsumed in the following statement pronounced in 1985 by former President P. W. Botha:

"...Afrikaans, this child from the soil of Africa, has already become an instrument for millions of people - yes, for more than just the Afrikaner (...) Afrikaans and this beautiful southern land are undeniably grown together." (in: du Plessis T. 1987:111)

The first linguistic impact of that new cultural approach made itself felt within academic circles. Whereas the former norm had been that variation only deserved right of mention as long as it appeared among white speakers, a new sociolinguistic interest was taken in ethnolectal variation from the 70’s, which led to the acknowledgement of three main varieties of Afrikaans, i.e. Northern/Eastern Afrikaans (primarily White), Western Cape Afrikaans (Coloured and White?(15) and Northern Cape Afrikaans (primarily Coloured) (cpr. Esterhuyse 1986: 93, Du Plessis 2001: 76-7). The scientific justification for the valorisation of not only non-White varieties, but also norm-deviant varieties of Afrikaans at large offered itself through the revision of the concept "norm" along Labovian lines. Coetzee (1982) talked with specific reference to Afrikaans of a "norm of frequent usage", which she opposed to the then common yardstick of "the standard usage of a group of socially leading speakers" (in Vandenberg 2000: 73). Ever since, Standard Afrikaans has progressively lost its establishment-connotation (epitomized in its previously general label Algemeen Beskaaf) to acquire a socially all-inclusive one, in which all its native speakers are theoretically accommodated (cpr. Vandenberg 2000: 73-100). The latest normative source for Afrikaans covering all areas of language, Carsten (2003), defines "Standard Afrikaans" as comprised of three stylistic sub-varieties, i.e. "Superstandard Afrikaans" (SSA), "Formal Standard Afrikaans" (FSA) and "Informal Standard Afrikaans" (ISA). SSA is defined as an "idealized form of Afrikaans", consciously cultivated by its speakers, while FSA is "determined by the usage of native speakers in formal situations", and finally ISA "by the usage of native speakers in informal situations" (240-1). In other words, if native use of Afrikaans is the primary determining factor for granting the label "Standard Afrikaans" to any given Afrikaans-based variety, there can in theory no longer be a question of Standard Afrikaans as a racially exclusive concept. In how far has this ideological reform been reverberated in the presentation of Afrikaans by prescriptive sources?

A good indicator of the changing perceptions of Afrikaans by its norm-agencies is to be found in the historical accounts that prescriptive sources - especially didactic materials - have given of the origins of the language. Covertly abiding in spirit by the "Huguenots imagery", which had retained the air of a scientific theory up until the early 20th century(16), language manuals for the use of schools in the Apartheid era endeavoured to fit elements from different language developmental theories(17) into a Eurocentric historical vision of Afrikaans, as appears from the comparison made by Esterhuysen (1986) between the manuals Ons Moedertaal (Meyer P. S. 1979) and Afrikaans my taal (De Klerk P. F. 1981), both of which were prescribed during the 80’s. In these, we find the influences from the 16/17th century French and German colonists named as first contributors to Afrikaans, followed by "the Asian slaves" and "the natives", whose linguistic input in Afrikaans is depicted in strongly limitative terms (Esterhuyse 1986.: 96-108). This biased approach to the non-European heritage of Afrikaans - typical of the Apartheid years - eventually made room for a racially more inclusive as well as more Africa-centered outlook on the language’s origins, taking into account the non-White varieties of Cape Dutch/Afrikaans. Of this new approach we find the first manifestations in the Ruimland series of school language manuals, where the ethnic groups that were interacting in the colonial times are devoted equal attention as possible linguistic vectors of the formation of Afrikaans (Botha et al. 1989a: 101).

In keeping with the enterprise of de-racialization in historical representations, there has been an evolution in the practices of labelling and contextualizing language variation. It was common for Apartheid language manuals to treat "regional differences as important only when language variation occurs among the white speakers", and, if they ventured to mention its occurrence, to belittle variation within the non-white component of the Afrikaans speech community as "linguistic degeneration" (Esterhuyse 1986: 93). Among the qualifiers formerly applied to Coloured varieties of Afrikaans in a didactic context, we meet e.g. "uncivilized" (Bouman A. C. et al 1923: 6), "unbridled" (Burger J. et al 1973: 66), "coarse" (De Klerk 1981: 491-2). Such value judgements fit in the ideology of the only comprehensive scientific account given of Coloured Afrikaans before the 70’s, i.e. that by Rademeyer (1938), according to whom "the Coloured is in many respects like a child; he does not fake and says in a simple and straightforward way what he has to say" (151).

The academic acknowledgement of the three main varieties of Afrikaans in the 80’s combined with the new sociolinguistic approach to language didactics made themselves felt in the mission statements of the language manuals edited since the Ruimland series. Ruimland itself departed from the viewpoint that "no language variant is substandard" (Botha et al. 1989a: 3). In reference to the attention that it devotes to formerly stigmatised varieties of Afrikaans, and a fortiori the non-white varieties thereof, it further states:

"In Ruimland, note is also taken of the language of ordinary people (...) Beside, it is important from a didactic point of view for children to sometimes see their own variety in print form; this bestows recognition and visibility upon the speakers, which in turn facilitates the individual’s psycho-social growth" (ibid.)

True to its agenda, Ruimland presents the pupil with an array of local/ethnolectal varieties of Afrikaans, such as e.g. the literary variety specifically used by the Muslim Coloured community (ibid.: 50-59, 1.). However, the presentation of these varieties explicitly serves only contrastive purposes, and the overarching variety remains Standard Afrikaans in its traditional form. With regard to pronunciation standards, Ruimland emphasises that "the typical Boland or Namakwaland accent (...) does not conform to the norm of pronunciation..." (ibid.: 13), while the use of English items or structures is frown upon, in e.g. the statement that "pupils must be encouraged to speak Standard Afrikaans - and this implies a language variety free of English language items. Likewise, written assignments in the standard variety must at all times conform to the norms of that variety" (ibid. 1989b: 32). This conservatism with regard to the norm content can be understood in the light of the practical difficulties entailed by any project of re-standardizing Afrikaans along colour-blind criteria, by e.g. opening it to Cape Coloured features. Among the few concrete proposals that have been tabled in this regard, Van Rensburg (1992) suggested the adoption by Standard Afrikaans prescriptive sources of certain morphologic and syntactic features in common use with the Coloured Afrikaans-speaking community. Among the features which he put forward for recognition are the infinitive form is, directly derived from the conjugated form is (Std. Af. wees), the past participle gehet, directly derived from the conjugated form het (Std. Af. gehad), the prenominal adjectivised past participle gedwingde, directly derived from the infinitive form dwing (Std. Af. gedwonge), or the "fossilized" syntactic position of the verbal particle te in e.g. om te werk soek (Std. Af. om werk te soek, 192). But the idea of a Cape-based new Standard Afrikaans whose rules would largely be co-determined by Coloured linguistic usage has been met with scepticism, as by Webb (1989) who objected that "South Western Cape Afrikaans ("Kaapse Afrikaans") lags behind Formal Standard Afrikaans in terms of normalization and social position" (61-2). Ponelis (1998) further argues that "although a re-standardization of the Afrikaans culture language along the Cape varieties would bring the benefit that the new Standard Afrikaans would be made more accessible to a large number of users (...) it will again exclude users of other varieties. Beside, the south west region lacks the money as well as the driving force to have a completely new standard language accepted by the whole Afrikaans speech community"(68).

In reflection of this indecision, concrete initiatives to reform the norms of Standard Afrikaans since the revision of its theoretical inclusivity have been limited in scope. One of the most spectacular overtures to language reality is to be found in the latest edition of the AWS (2002), which - apart from paying close attention to the Afrikaans orthographic rendition of words from African languages (199-208) - devotes a whole section to lexical items, of mainly English origin, that it categorises as "colloquial Afrikaans" ("Omgangsafrikaans") such as e.g. besides/besaaids ("besides"), brag/brêgh ("to brag"), ghoebaai/koebaai ("good bye", cpr. 525-35). However, these items are not recognised as "standard" (15), and furthermore there is no explicit indication that their mention betokens a linguistic overture to any specific group constitutive of the Afrikaans speech community, such as e.g. the Cape Town Coloured community who is notorious for its code-switching habits (Mc Cormick 2002). More ethnically focussed, but as yet still on the drawing board, is a separate section on religious terms of Arabic and Malay origin as used by the Cape Coloured Muslim community(18). For now, it seems that most of the reforming efforts are being engaged in the eradication of Dutch-based archaisms from the lexicographic base (2.), orthographic and morphological generalizations with no ethnic or "pan-ethnic" connotations (cpr. AWS 2002: 7-18) while finally the area of syntax remains - in the absence of a corpus-based reference source - still subject to traditional patterns.


5. Conclusion

The aim of turning the White Afrikaners into a close-knit community sharing in a common cultural imagery, which itself could be strong enough to fend off the "English menace", motivated the creation of a new standard language, i.e. Afrikaans. The standardisation process that Afrikaans has undergone has sought to conciliate different aims, i.e. the unification of northern and southern White Afrikaners by taking into account their respective linguistic usage, the maintenance of Dutch as the primary H-source for the sake of prestige, purism and sometimes regional compromise, and the generalisation of given features, Dutch, regional or artificial, to serve didactic purposes. On top of these aims, nowadays still pursued by Afrikaans norm agencies, has come the political necessity of overtures to the non-White dimension of Afrikaans. Given the fact that much of that non-White dimension of Afrikaans is marked by a particularly strong English influence, especially in the Cape urban areas, one has to wonder if any "ethnic broadening" of Standard Afrikaans may not pose the threat of further Anglicisation. If a definite line is being drawn by Afrikaans norm agencies between Standard Afrikaans as a prescriptive concept on the one hand, and Afrikaans language reality on the other hand, then the standardisation process is at this stage not far from completion. If language reality is to be the main determining factor of the Afrikaans norm, then the process has yet to begin.

© Gerald Stell (F.W.O./ V.U.B. Brussels, Belgium)


(1) Comment by "Opmerker" in: J. Du P. Scholtz from Elpis, 1859 (1964: 122).

(2) For matters concerning the successive government provisions for Coloured education, see Horrell (1970).

(3) This distinction was made by Du Toit in 1875 (in: J. Du P. Scholtz 1964: 197). Van Rijn (1914) made a distinction between comparable linguistic entities, which he called "Burgerhollandsch" , "Boerenhollandsch" and "Kleurlinghollandsch" (13).

(4) In his dialectal studies, Louw confirmed the unsteady character of dialectal boundaries, remarking that isoglosses frequently overlap (1948: 75-80, cpr. further De Klerk 1972: 219-22).

(5) Pannevis, active advocate of an Afrikaans Bible, would warn in the mid-1870’s that "the Afrikaner who calls our language a Hottentot’s language puts himself in the position of a despicable Hottentot" (in: Pienaar 1943: 88).

(6) Traditionally referred to as the "Second Language Movement" , until T. Du Plessis (1987: 69-80) labeled it "Post-War Language Movement" , in reference to the particular political and cultural conditions prevailing in the wake of the 2 nd Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902).

(7) The Patriot , of which Du Toit was the editor, was the mouthpiece of the Genootskap van Regte Afrikaners (1876-1878) and afterwards of the Afrikanerbond (1880-1899). Its publication ceased shortly after the 2 nd Boer War (cpr. Pienaar 1943: 206-15, T. Du Plessis 1987: 50-68).

(8) To this date, the most authoritative norm-promulgating body for the Afrikaans language, affiliated with the Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns, founded in 1909.

(9) The only exceptions to this general rule are found in the categories auxiliaries and modal verbs.

(10) Standard Dutch adds the suffix -(e)n in similar cases, as in de geleerden ( "the learned ones" ).

(11) The use of double negation makes Afrikaans stand out against Dutch, that uses a single one. Compare e.g. Afrikaans ek het hom nie gesien nie ( "I didn’t see him’" ), and the Dutch translation ik heb hem niet gezien.

(12) Both Van Rensburg and Ponelis see the northern varieties as a continuation of what they call "Eastern Border Afrikaans" ( "Oosgrensafrikaans" ). Grebe calls this vision into question as the contours of the territorial breeding ground of that "Eastern Border Afrikaans" are loosely defined (1997: 137-141).

(13) Malherbe (1917: 55-6) described these forms with -e as "almost in exclusive use in the Boland" , whereas forms ending on a consonant would be used more often in the Transvaal and Free State, "although they are much less common than the other form" . This observation again points to the extent of free variation that was characteristic of the northern regions in the early 20 th century.

(14) These two forms are also described by Malherbe (1917: 55) as "in almost exclusive use in the Boland" . In apparent contradiction with Booysen (1924: 101), he characterizes their northern counterparts seg and leg as not very common, and furthermore confined to the function of past participle.

(15) Grebe (1997) questions whether the label "Western Cape Afrikaans" is apt to subsume both the Coloured and White varieties nowadays specific to the Western Cape Province (cpr. ibid.: 133-4, 139-41).

(16) In the reference works he edited, Du Toit quoted French influence in the 16/17 th centuries as the primary factor in the morphologic and grammatical evolution of Afrikaans (cpr. 1875: 7, 1897: iv). Openly turning it into a source of national pride, L. Cachet (1896) metaphorically refers to the French linguistic/cultural contribution to Afrikaans as the "French mother" and the Dutch one as the "Dutch father" (in: Pienaar 1943: 199, cpr. further Scholtz 1970: 80).

(17) Ever since the late 19 th century, language historians have tended to identify with one of the two main contending theories on the development of Afrikaans. On one side, there has been the opinion that Afrikaans would form the outcome of a pure Germanic evolution (eg. Kloeke 1950). On the opposite side have stood those attempting to trace the idiosyncracies of Afrikaans back to non-European influences (e.g. Valkhoff 1966, cpr. further Scholtz 1970: 80-3).

(18) Interview with Prof. T. Mc Lachlan, member of the Taalkommissie.


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1.4. Reproduktionen und Innovationen in Sprache und Kommunikation verschiedener Sprachkulturen / Reproduction and Innovation in Language and Communication in different Language Cultures

Sektionsgruppen | Section Groups | Groupes de sections

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For quotation purposes:
Gerald Stell (F.W.O./ V.U.B. Brussels, Belgium): Feature selection and variation in Standard-Afrikaans: From White and Eurocentric to African and multiethnic?. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 16/2005. WWW:

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