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Afrikaans is a West Germanic language mainly spoken in South Africa and Namibia. It was originally the dialect that developed among the Afrikaner Calvinist settlers and the indentured or slave workforce brought to the Cape area in southwestern South Africa by the Dutch East India Company (Dutch language: Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie - VOC) between 1652 and 1705. A relative majority of these first settlers were from the United Provinces (now Netherlands), though there were also many from Germany, a considerable number from France, a few from Scotland, and various other countries. The indentured workers and slaves were Malays and the indigenous Khoi and Bushmen.

Research by J. A. Heese indicates that until 1807, 36.8% of the ancestors of the White Afrikaans speaking population were Dutch, 35% were German, 14.6% were French and 7.2% non-white. Also, a sizeable minority of those who spoke Afrikaans as a first language were not white. The dialect became known as "Cape Dutch". Later, Afrikaans was sometimes also referred to as "African Dutch". Afrikaans was considered a Dutch dialect until the early 20th century, when it began to be widely recognized as a distinct language. The name Afrikaans is simply the Dutch word for African.



Afrikaans is linguistically closely related to 17th century Dutch, and to modern Dutch by extension. Speakers of each language can make themselves easily understood by speakers of the other. Other less closely related languages include the Low Saxon spoken in northern Germany and the Netherlands, German, and English. Cape Dutch vocabulary diverged from the Dutch vocabulary spoken in the Netherlands over time as Cape Dutch absorbed words from other European settlers, East Indian slaves, and native African languages. Printed material among the Afrikaners at first used only proper European Dutch. By the mid-19th century, more and more was appearing in Afrikaans, which was very much still regarded as a spoken regional dialect. The first Afrikaans grammars and dictionaries were published in 1875 by the Genootskap vir Regte Afrikaners (Society for Real Afrikaners) in Cape Town. Official government proclamation of Afrikaans as a distinct language from Dutch came in 1925. The official languages of the Union of South Africa were English and Dutch until that time. Dutch was replaced as an official language by Afrikaans.

Besides vocabulary, the most striking difference from Dutch is its much more regular grammar, which is likely the result of mutual interference with one or more creole languages based on the Dutch language spoken by the relatively large number of non-Dutch speakers (Khoisan, Khoikhoi, German, French, Malay, and speakers of different African languages) during the formation period of the language in the second half of the 17th century. In 1710, slaves outnumbered free settlers, and the language was developing among speakers who had little occasion to write or analyse their new dialect.

There are a lot of different theories about how Afrikaans came to be. The Afrikaan School has long seen Afrikaans as a natural development from the South-Hollandic Dutch dialect, but has also only considered the Afrikaans as spoken by the whites. The Afrikaan School has also rejected all alternative ideas.

Most linguistics scholars today are certain that Afrikaans has been influenced by creole languages based on the South-Holland Dutch dialect. It is very hard to find out how this influence took place, since there is almost no material written in the Dutch-based creole languages: only a few sentences found in unrelated books often written by non-speakers.

Although much of the vocabulary of Afrikaans reflects its origins in 17th century South-Hollandic Dutch, it also contains words borrowed from Indonesian languages, Malay (the oldest known written Afrikaans uses Arabic script and was intended for use among Cape Town's Muslims), Portuguese, French, Khoi and San dialects, English, isiXhosa and many other languages. Consequently, many words in Afrikaans are very different from Dutch, as demonstrated by the names of different fruits:

piesang* banaan banana
lemoen sinaasappel orange
suurlemoen citroen lemon

* from Malay pisang (a word that is known to the Dutch through their Dutch East Indies history)


See separate article on Afrikaans grammar.


Written Afrikaans differs from Dutch in that the spelling reflects a phonetically simplified language, and so many consonants are dropped (see also the grammar section for a description of how consonant dropping affects the morphology of Afrikaans adjectives and nouns). The spelling is also considerably more phonetical than the Dutch counterpart. A notable feature is the indefinite article, which, as noted in the grammar section, is "'n", not "een" as in Dutch. "A book" is "'n Boek", whereas in Dutch it would be "Een boek". (Note that "'n" is still allowed in Dutch; Afrikaans uses only "'n" where Dutch uses it next to "een". When letters are dropped an apostrophe is mandatory.) Other features include the use of 's' instead of 'z', hence South Africa in Afrikaans is written as Suid-Afrika, whereas in Dutch it is Zuid-Afrika. (This accounts for ZA being used as South Africa's internet top level domain.) The Dutch letter combination 'ij' is written as 'y', except where it replaces the Dutch suffix -lijk, as in waarschijnlijk = waarskynlik.

aksie actie Aktion action
asseblief alstublieft bitte please
bed bed Bett bed
eggenoot echtgenoot Ehegatte spouse
goeienaand goedenavond guten Abend good evening
lughawe luchthaven Flughafen airport
my mijn mein my
maak maak mache make
oes oogst Ernte harvest
oop open offen open
oormôre overmorgen übermorgen the day after tomorrow
saam samen zusammen together
skool school Schule school
sleg slecht schlecht bad
vir voor für for
voël vogel Vogel bird (compare 'fowl')
vry vrij frei free
vyf vijf fünf five
waarskynlik waarschijnlijk wahrscheinlich probably
winter winter Winter winter


Afrikaans is the first language of approximately 60% of South Africa's whites, and over 90% of the "Coloured" (mixed-race) population. Large numbers of black, Asian, and English South Africans also speak it as a second language. It is also widely spoken in Namibia, where it has had constitutional recognition as a national, not official, language since independence in 1990. Prior to independence, Afrikaans, along with German, had equal status as an official language. There is a much smaller number of Afrikaans speakers among Zimbabwe's white minority, but most left the country in 1980.

Afrikaans has been influential in the development of South African English. Many Afrikaans loanwords have found their way into South African English, such as "veld", "braai", "boomslang", and "lekker". A few words in standard English are derived from Afrikaans, such as "trek", "spoor", and, of course, apartheid.

In 1976, rioting broke out in Soweto as the result of the apartheid government's requirement that Afrikaans rather than English be used as the medium of instruction in black schools. See History of South Africa.

Under South Africa's multiracial Constitution of 1994, Afrikaans remains an official language, but there are now nine other official languages, in addition to English, with which it has equal status. The new dispensation means that Afrikaans is often downgraded in favour of English, or to accommodate the other official languages. In 1996, for example, the South African Broadcasting Corporation reduced the amount of television airtime in Afrikaans, while South African Airways dropped its Afrikaans name Suid-Afrikaanse Lugdiens from its livery. Similarly, South Africa's diplomatic missions overseas now only display the name of the country in English and their host country's language, but not in Afrikaans.

Although these moves have angered Afrikaans speakers, the language has remained strong, with Afrikaans newspapers and magazines continuing to have wide circulations, and a pay-TV channel in Afrikaans called KykNet being launched in 1999.

Afrikaans Phrases

Afrikaans is a very centralized language, meaning that most of the vowels are pronounced very centralized (i.e. very schwa-like). There are a lot of different dialects and different pronunciations — but the transcription should be pretty standard.

  • Hallo! Hoe gaan dit? Hello! How are you?
  • Baie goed, dankie. [bɑjə xuˑt dɑnki] Very good, thanks.
  • Praat jy Afrikaans? [prɑˑt jəi afrikɑˑns] Do you speak Afrikaans?
  • Praat jy Engels? [prɑˑt jəi ɛŋəls] Do you speak English?
  • Ja. [jɑˑ] Yes.
  • Nee. [neˑə] No.
  • 'n Bietjie. [ə biki] A little.
  • Wat is jou naam? [vat əs jəu nɑˑm] What is your name?
  • Die kinders praat Afrikaans [di kənərs prɑˑt afrikɑˑns] The children speak Afrikaans.

A sentence that is written the same in Afrikaans as in English:

  • My pen is in my warm hand ([məi pɛn əs ən məi varəm hɑnt]) My pen is in my warm hand.

Additional Information

  • Afrikaans is the only language that has a monument erected to it. The Afrikaans Language Monument ("Afrikaanse Taalmonument") is located near the Western Cape Province town of Paarl.
  • The letters 'c', 'q' and 'x' are rarely seen in Afrikaans, and words containing them are almost exclusively borrowings from English, Greek or Latin.

External links

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