The was through Cape Dutch that the

The case of Afrikaans is enigmatic. Although
originally condemned to the status of a “bastardised Dutch”, this new language
became more important than its Dutch counterpart in South Africa. This semi-creole
language has risen to prominence becoming the third most popular first language1
in South Africa, whilst English remains South Africa’s lingua franca (most
widely spoken second language)2.

Despite having the associated negativity of apartheid and colonialism, Afrikaans
is the widest shared second language in its geographical and racial

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This therefore gives importance to Afrikaans as it has a far reach and
influence over the society. Afrikaans is now on the rise. However, whilst the globally
dominant force of English is infiltrating all aspects of society and culture,
many worry that Afrikaans is under attack from language shift and is consequently
loosing its grip over the creation of South African culture. In demonstrating
Afrikaans’s current trends as a minority language, I too will discuss how the
Language has made this journey.

Understanding Afrikaans’s history is very
important to understanding how it developed as such a widely used language, in
both geographic and demographic terms. Around the year 1652 the first Dutch
colonists such as Jan Van Riebeeck, imported the Dutch language to South Africa.

As Dutch was in its developmental stage, the Dutch language was susceptible to
foreign influences from other languages. Such influences included that of Malay
(Malaysian slaves), French (Huegenoauts), local Southern African tribes (Koi, San
and Xhosa) and German (German Lutherans). The influences of other languages and
cultures upon the Dutch colonists allowed for the development of a new
language, this being Cape Dutch, the precursor to Afrikaans.

Although there is a large degree of mutual
intelligibility between Afrikaans and Dutch, these languages do have
discernable differences. This was due to the fact that Afrikaans was no longer
under the European sphere influence and had diverged to create its own unique
path in the African subcontinent, as its own language. It was through Cape
Dutch that the Afrikaner identity was formed. The Cape Dutch speakers preserved
their own identity and were some of the wealthier colonists. The use of the
language was used as code language to distinguish between the wealthier Cape
Dutch and poorer Boer people. At this stage the language was used by a small
minority since it was a largely homogenous group who who found it to have
purpose and utility in the creation of a new identity distinct from the Holland

The wish to establish a unique Afrikaner
identity materialised due to the presence of a new colonial force in South
Africa, namely the British. When establishing their tenure in occupying South
Africa in 1806, the British proclaimed English as the only language of the Cape
Colony and illegalised the use of any Dutch language. Further to this, the
British abolished slavery in 1834 and did not compensate the Afrikaners with an
equitable sum for their ‘economic loss’. This caused both the Cape Dutch and
Boers to start greater mutual cooperation, where they travelled further North
establishing their own Boer Republics. Such Republics were at war with the occupying
British force in both Boer Wars, however ultimately succumbed to the British,
being reabsorbed. However, it was during this occupation that the Afrikaner
identity and Afrikaans language developed as the presence of a foreign country
promoted a duty of unity amongst Dutch speaking peoples.

To further distinguish this new language
and cultural identity, in 1875 the Genootskap vir Regte Afrikaander (the
Society for Real Afrikaners) was founded. Such aims of the group included the
codification of Afrikaans through dictionaries and grammar books and the
creation of a legitimate Afrikaner history. Such groups played an influential
role in allowing the recognition of Afrikaans in its own right and shortly
after in 1925 the South African government recognised Afrikaans as a legitimate
entity, with the passing of the Official Languages of the Union Act No 8. No longer viewed as
a dialect of Dutch, but rather included as part of Dutch. This act
significantly ·raised awareness as to
Afrikaans’s status and gave Afrikaans a great deal of eminence in South African
society. Soon after, the Constitution of 1961 amended status of Afrikaans
stating that Dutch was now part of Afrikaans and not the other way round. The
constitution crowned Afrikaans as an official language alongside English.

Whilst in the Constitution of 1983 Dutch was purposefully left out. These
changes in constitution effectively institutionalized the Afrikaans language,
making it more wide spread and a part of the South African consciousness. Enacting
Afrikaans as an official language, a minority language predominantly spoken by
white Afrikaners, was central to the implementation of the apartheid system. Although
other minority languages were just as popular, if not more, the Apartheid
government wanted to emphasize its belief in the supremacy of its white
populace. However, it was only until the dissolution of the Apartheid
government in 1994 that South Africa’s multilingual diversity was expressed in
legislation, whereby the eleven most popular languages were made official

the end of Apartheid, Afrikaans has lost its preferential treatment. It is no
longer compulsory to study Afrikaans in school. South Africans have the ability
to study any of the country’s eleven official languages. However, it was
apartheid which caused this language to be be so widespread within South
Africa. Approximately 7.2 million South Africans speak Afrikaans as a first
language (L1)4,
million speak it as a second language (L2). Whilst thirteen percent speak it as
a first language, eighteen percent speak it as a second language. This
consequently suggests around thirty-one percent of the population to have the
basic ability to communicate in the language. This figure is representative of
how pervasive Afrikaans has been in entering every speech community of South
Africa. Afrikaans has speakers in every district municipality. However, the
highest concentration of L1 speakers is to be found predominantly in the
Western Cape and Northern Cape where over fifty percent speak Afrikaans as L1
and number around 3.4 million6.

This comes as no surprise since the Cape of Good Hope was the first part of
south Africa to be colonized by the Dutch. The ‘Cape Coloured’ people make up a
large number of the Afrikaans speaking demographic, being the descendants of
both Dutch and local ancestries. Afrikaans is also particularly common in urban
areas. Gauteng province, in which Johannesburg is located, is the other
Afrikaans hub with over 1.5 million L1 speakers7.

Even though Afrikaans remains a minority language stereotypically spoken by its
white populace, all three capitals of South Africa are largely Afrikaans
speaking. This is perhaps symbolic of how the political power once rested in
the white Afrikaner population, but now is open to all.  

Due to
Afrikaans’s connection to the Apartheid and to Boer/ White Afrikaner
nationalism, its status is being challenged in profound ways. In traditionally
Afrikaans speaking universities, such as the University of Pretoria, these universities
have been under immense pressure to stop teaching through the medium of
Afrikaans. Whilst the university of Pretoria was an institute found with
Afrikaans as its medium of tuition, according to reports only 18% of the
student population actually speak the language now8.

With Afrikaans being dropped, English has taken centre stage and is now
dominating the leading universities all over the country. This perhaps hinders
both the promotion of Afrikaans culture and the popularity of the Afrikaans
language. This case is hugely emblematic of the current political struggle
within South Africa to move away and disassociate from its colonial/apartheid
ways. However, the process of empowering the non-white populace through making
university more anglicised is at the detriment of a truly tolerant,
multi-lingual and multi-cultural society. The decision to remove Afrikaans was
supported by the North Gauteng High Court. The pressure to drift further from
the Afrikaans language is thus being supported at both a grass route level and
at a judicial level. However, the University of Stellenbosch, a university
located in the Western Cape, has retained Afrikaans as a medium of tuition
alongside English. Whilst the University of the Western Cape has adopted a new
language policy different from any other ever implemented, granting equal
status to the three official regional languages being Afrikaans, English and
isiXhosa. This example is hugely representative of the popular desire to
discourage the use Afrikaans at an official level, with the hope of it
gradually disappearing. Rather than using language planning to make Afrikaans
more accessible and accepted it has been used in the opposite way to limit the
language’s growth on a Pan-South African level. 

distancing itself from Afrikaans, South Africa is witnessing a natural renewal
of the language. Having been institutionalized during the apartheid, Afrikaans
has remained deeply entrenched within South African society and culture ever
since. It has been claimed that Afrikaans is actually flourishing, with both
growths in language and in culture. The music industry is demonstrative of this
trend. With greater demand for Afrikaans music than English. New artists have revolutionized
the industry such as Jack Parrow, who ironically released an Afrikaans song
called “Afrikaans is dood” – “Afrikaans is dead”. South African music artists
are embracing messages about reconciliation of society. So too Afrikaans has
eleven active newspapers and readership appears to be increasing. For example,
for the Afrikaans newspaper ‘Beeld’, total readership in 2012 increased from
441,000 to 485,000 in 20139.

Further to this, the third most read Newspaper by circulation was the Afrikaans
newspaper ‘Rapport’, whilst Afrikaans newspapers are only second to English
ones.  Such popularity expresses the high
demand for an Afrikaans discourse on contemporary issues within the country. Afrikaans
literature has also thrived with successful authors such as André Brink and Breyten
Breytenbach who raised awareness about the Apartheid regime.

shift, ‘takes place when the younger members of a minority speech community no
longer speak the language of their parents, but speak a dominant majority
language instead’. Whilst language maintenance is the ‘process when a language
continues to be used across all generations despite the presence of other
languages also being used by a community’ 10. The
ability to simply categorize Afrikaans as either going through shift or
maintenance is impossible as in many cases it exists within a grey area. There
will always be complex trends amongst languages. For example, whilst a young
person might speak another language other than their ancestral tongue as an L1,
they too might have the ability to completely comprehend their ancestral
language just not speak it. Or, perhaps the case where children are brought up
completely bilingual and therefore are not fitting into any of these
categorizations. However, it is possible to posit that whilst the white population
is shrinking alongside the Coloured community in relation to the rest of the
country, Afrikaans as a first language is still growing. In 2001 5,983,42611 spoke
Afrikaans as L1 and in 2011 (the latest census) this increased to 6,855,08212. So according to raw
statistics Afrikaans as a L1 is actually going through a period of sustained

a language known as “kitchen Dutch” and despite it having been condemned to the
“lingua franca of apartheid”, as well as relegated to one of eleven official
languages, Afrikaans has confounded its detractors.  Afrikaans’s strong cultural influence and wide
level of grassroots support has enabled it to maintain a prominent presence.

Afrikaans has proven itself to truly appeal to a wider audience then previously
imagined despite its chequered history, it has become
part of South Africa.


1  2011 Census of South Africa in Brief
(most recent Census)

2 Ibid



4 2011 Census of
South Africa in Brief


6 2011 Census of
South Africa in Brief

7 Ibid



10 Charlyn
Dyers, Stellenbosch Papers in Linguistics, Vol. 38, 2008,
page 58


12 Ibid