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Afrikaans: a language where ideology and linguistics meet



This paper summarizes the discussion about the origin and the status of Afrikaans. Two schools appear to be opposed to each other: the philological school and a creolistic view. The philological school tried to demonstrate with meticulous research of sources that Afrikaans is a full daughter of 17th century Dutch, which set foot ashore with van Riebeeck in 1652 at the Cape of Good Hope. Linguists who thought of a pattern of creolization in the formation of Afrikaans point to the influence of the languages of slaves brought to South Africa and to the influence of the original inhabitants, the Khoi and the San. This contribution mainly outlines the ideological background of these two schools of thought. For the philological school this is the system of Apartheid, while for the Creolist view the emphasis is more on decolonization.
Scripta Neophilologica Posnaniensia. Tom XXI, strony: 15–92
Wydział Neofilologii, Uniwersytet im. Adama Mickiewicza w Poznaniu, 2021
DOI 10.14746/snp.2021.21.02
To the memory of Hans den Besten
Abstract. This paper summarizes the discussion about the origin and the status of Afrikaans. Two
schools appear to be opposed to each other: the philological school and a creolistic view. The philologi-
cal school tried to demonstrate with meticulous research of sources that Afrikaans is a full daughter of
century Dutch, which set foot ashore with van Riebeeck in 1652 at the Cape of Good Hope. Lin-
guists who thought of a pattern of creolization in the formation of Afrikaans point to the influence of the
languages of slaves brought to South Africa and to the influence of the original inhabitants, the Khoi and
the San. This contribution mainly outlines the ideological background of these two schools of thought.
For the philological school this is the system of Apartheid, while for the Creolist view the emphasis is
more on decolonization.
Key words: Origin of Afrikaans, Apartheid, creolization, ideology
1. Introduction
On 29 April 1882, Theophilus Hahn, librarian of the Grey Library in Cape Town
and former student of August Pott, addressed the 53
Members Conference of the
South African Public Library. In his days Hahn was considered to be a famous poly-
Hans Henrich Hock was kind enough to read this paper carefully and to provide substantive and
stylistic comments. The end product benefited greatly from this. Therefore, I am very grateful to him.
This paper uses terminology that is common in the discussion about Afrikaans and its origins but
may appear insulting to particular groups and in other circumstances. However, this terminology is
retained here so as to accurately report the circumstances under which Afrikaans developed and continued.
Camiel Hamans
glot, fluent not only in the language of the Nama, the last survivors of the original
inhabitants of the southern part of Africa, the Khoisan peoples, but also in the com-
pletely different tongue of the Herero, a Bantu
ethnic group. In addition to these
two exotic languages, he naturally also mastered Dutch and the modern foreign and
classical languages. Moreover, he was one of Hugo Schuchardt’s many correspond-
ents whom he informed about the languages of the Namaquas and Griquas, formerly
called Hottentots (Van der Wouden 2012: 110). The topic of Hahn’s 1882 address
was ‘on the Science of Language and its Study, with special regard to South Africa’.
In his speech he also mentioned ‘Dutch’ as it was spoken in South Africa.
One word about the Dutch patois of this Colony. It can be traced back to a fusion of the
county dialects of the Netherlands and North-Western Germany, and although phoneti-
cally Teutonic, it is psychologically an essential Hottentot idiom. For we learn this patois
first from our nurses and ayahs. The young Africander (sic!) on his solitary farm has no
other playmates than the children of the Bastard Hottentot servants of his father, and
even the grown-up farmer cannot easily escape the deteriorating effect of his servant’s
patois. It can hardly be expected that the descendants of Malayo-Polynesian slaves and
Hottentot servants, who originally spoke an agglutinative language, will have any im-
proving influence on an inflecting language.
Hanh’s qualification of Afrikaans as essentially Hottentot and as an inferior, cor-
rupted or deteriorated gibberish, albeit originally Dutch, set the tone for the discus-
sion of the status and origin of Afrikaans for the next hundred years. In this contri-
bution the discussion will be summarized and critiqued. Focus will be on the
ideological backgrounds of the different positions.
In section 2 some important moments in the Afrikaner history are presented.
Section 3 deals with the changing status and recognition of Afrikaans. Section 4
highlights the two most important opposing explanations regarding the origin of
Afrikaans and their underlying ideological stances. Some widely discussed phenom-
ena of Afrikaans, that are claimed to prove the correctness of one theory or the other,
are presented in section 5. Section 6 is the conclusion.
2. Some historical data
2.1. ‘Refreshment station’
It was Portuguese navigators and explorers who sailed around the southern tip
of South Africa for the first time at the end of the 16
century. Initially they called
The term Bantu has been stigmatized politically in South Africa. Therefore, the term Sintu is now
preferred in South Africa (Kotzé: 2018).
For a full fledged history of Afrikaans South Africa, see Elphick and Giliomee (1989) and
Giliomee (2009).
Afrikaans: a language where ideology and linguistics meet
this tip Storm Cape, Cabo Tormentoso, but later it was renamed Cape of Good
Hope. Bartolomeu Dias, the first European to anchor at what is now called Mossel
Bay in 1488, met small groups of indigenous people, Khoekhoen, formerly called
Hottentots or Hotnots, who made a living as pastoralists. Dias and his successors
tried to barter with the indigenous population to obtain fresh water and meat.
From 1510, however, the Portuguese avoided the Cape after a skirmish in which
Francisco d’Almeida, the first viceroy of the Portuguese State of India, was killed by
a group of indigenous people. This unfortunate encounter did not mean the end of
contact between European sailors and the Khoekhoen. Other nations such as the
Danes, British, Dutch, and French still made stopovers at the Cape and exchanged
tobacco, copper and iron objects, trinkets, and spirits for cattle and fresh water
(De Villiers 2021: 39). Some of the Khoekhoen picked up enough of the language of
the visitors to make themselves understood. Autshumao, or Herry/Harry de Strand-
loper ‘sandpiper’, chief of the Goringhaikonas, a tribe of fishermen, had even
learned some English while on a voyage on an English ship (Ross 2017: 29;
Gosselink 2017: 53).
In 1647 a Dutch Indiaman on its return voyage from Batavia, now Jakarta, to
Amsterdam, ran aground near Bloubergstrand, part of Table Bay, 15 kilometer north
of what later became Cape Town. Several members of the crew had to wait for more
than a year before they could be transported home. The report of this group con-
vinced the management of the Dutch East India Company, VOC, which was the only
concession holder for trade with India and the East Indies, to establish a refreshment
station at the shores of Table Bay. Therefore, they sent Jan van Riebeeck with three
vessels to the Cape, where he landed 6 April 1652. The aim was not to start a colony
but to only occupy a small stroke of land for the refreshment station (De Villiers
2012: 40–41, Carstens and Raidt 2019: 45). Unfortunately, this did not work well.
The great number of sheep and cattle, 300 of each annually, which the Dutch needed
for their sailors and refreshment station employees greatly exceeded the possibilities
of the Khoekhoen. In addition, there was a need for vegetables. Hence some of the
employees were granted land and a license to sell the proceeds from it. This can be
considered the starting point of the Cape Colony (De Villiers 2012: 40–43).
2.2. Early Cape Society
The Dutch did not try to learn the language of the Khoekhoen; they considered
that language with all its clicks too complicated. Despite this, they had to communi-
cate with the Khoekhoen and thus had to make use of Khoekhoe interpreters. One of
them was the aforementioned Autshumato who appeared unreliable, not as an inter-
preter but as chief of his tribe (Carstens and Raidt 2019: 48). His niece Krotoa,
called Eva by the Dutch, became part of the household of Van Riebeeck and his wife
Camiel Hamans
from an early age. She spoke her mother tongue, Dutch, and Portuguese.
In May
1662, a few days before Van Riebeeck left the Cape, she was Christianized. Krotoa,
whose life ended tragically, regularly acted as an interpreter for Van Riebeeck and
his staff, as the archives show, since she was the only person who not only mastered
both languages but also possessed direct knowledge of both cultures. Krotoa married
a white, Danish, employee of the VOC Pieter van Meerhoff. They had three children
together (Jansen 2003a and b).
Krotoa was not the only Khoekhoe woman who gave birth to children of Euro-
peans. Since the VOC mainly sent male employees to the Cape, a shortage of white
woman arose there. Consequently, there were quite some short-term or even long-
term unofficial relationships with indigenous women, but marriages also occurred.
Initially, this was not seen as a problem. For instance the mother of one of the
-century successors of Van Riebeeck, Simon van der Stel
was mixed race (Nel
2016: 62). It was not until 1685 that a formal objection was made to mixed marriag-
es. VOC commissioner Hendrik van Rheede who had been sent to the Cape as an
inspector forbade ‘full’ mixed marriages, however he accepted marriages between
Europeans and persons of mixed race. Of course this meant marriages between Eu-
ropean men and mixed race women, half-slag slawe-vrouwe, in almost all cases.
also ordered mixed race children to be taught to read and write so that they could be
subsumed in European society (Shell 2012: 68–69). Both regulations were very
partially implemented (Nel 2016: 62),
although Van Rheede had the ordinance,
a plaque against debauching, seducing, or taking slaves as concubines, publicly read
and posted (Hulshof 1941: 213).
Van Riebeeck considered the Khoekhoen, being shepherds and live stock breed-
ers, as unfit for agriculture and manual labor. He wanted visiting sailors to engage in
Zimmer (1992: 349–350) noticed with admiration the great linguistic abilities of the Khoekhoen:
‘They very soon spoke a fluent, but somewhat broken Dutch with the Europeans, and a form probably
similarly affected of Malayo-Portuguese with the slaves.’
During Apartheid Krotoa/Eva was hardly ever mentioned, and if so, only her tragic fate was taken
as evidence that indigenous people cannot be successfully absorbed into Western culture and as a warn-
ing against miscegenation. Nowadays she is seen as a pivotal figure in the struggle of the indigenous
people of South Africa for their recognition and their freedom. She is the protagonist of several recent
books, stage works, and films, for instance the documentary novel by Trudie Bloem (1999) Krotoa-
Eva.The Woman from Robben island. Cape Town: Kwela Books. The well-know Dutch-South African
artist Marlene Dumas painted Krotoa’s portrait (2016), which can be seen in Gosselink et al. (2017: 60).
Simon van der Stel is indeed the founder of Stellenbosch.
During the Dutch period, up to 1795, more than one thousand female slaves and indigenous wom-
en married European men, whereas only two freed slaves married wives of European descent (Shell
2012: 69).
Kriel (2018: 139–140) testifies that many of the halfsslag ‘half caste’ children were still absorbed
by the white community during the first forty years after Van Rheede’s ordinance. It was not until 1730
that the white community became strictly endogamous.
Afrikaans: a language where ideology and linguistics meet
this sort of work. The board of the VOC decided otherwise and gave Van Riebeeck
permission to import slaves from 1658 on (De Villiers 2012: 45). Slavery persisted
at the Cape till 1834. Most of the slaves were native from Mozambique, Madagas-
car, India, Sri Lanka, and the Indonesian archipelago and did not share a common
language. Next to their native languages and Pidgin Dutch two lingua francas were
used among them: Pasar Malay and Creole Portuguese (Van der Wouden 2012: 98).
2.3. Migration at the Cape
In 1685, the French king Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, by which his
grandfather had granted freedom of religion to the French Protestants, the so called
Huguenots. Many of them fled to the Netherlands of which several asked for per-
mission to settle at the Cape, which was allowed. Between 1688 and 1692 a few
groups of Huguenots arrived at the Cape, altogether 200 to 300 people. Most of
them came with their families. In total they made up almost a quarter of the free
civilian population at the time. (De Villiers 2012: 45). The then commander at the
Cape Simon van der Stel was not very happy with the possible social and cultural
dimension of this influx. He, being a veteran of the Dutch-French war of the 1670s,
did not want to give up the Dutch identity of the colony. He was quite happy with
the wine growing expertise of the Huguenots but ordered that they should be inter-
spersed with the other burghers ‘so that they could learn our language and morals,
and be integrated with the Dutch nation’ (Böeseken 1964, quoted from Giliomee
2009: 110). This worked quite well. Even though there are still many French family
names in South Africa, the ‘policy of forced cultural assimilation was largely suc-
cessful; by 1750 no one under the age of forty could still speak French’ (Giliomee
2009: 11).
The situation of the Khoekhoen at the Cape became increasingly dire at the
Cape. Even though most of the Khoekhoe tribes were not very hostile to the Dutch
occupiers, a few tribes continued to carry out attacks and commit cattle theft, which
provoked violent reactions from the Dutch authorities. In addition, injudicious live-
stock trade and cattle diseases had impoverished the Khoekhoen, leading to many
being employed as livestock guards by the free burghers. In 1713 a first smallpox
epidemic spread, probably caused by contaminated linen from sailors on liberty, to
be followed by a second and third outbreak in 1755 and 1767. The consequences for
the Khoekhoen were disastrous. Some tribes were completely obliterated and others
were decimated. Those who could save themselves fled and moved north. Conse-
quently, there were no tribal Khoekhoen left at the Cape, only a very impoverished
proletariat that no longer owned land and cattle and that had to give up its own lan-
guage and way of life in order to survive. Their new language was a sort of
Khoekhoe Dutch (De Villiers 2012: 47–48).
Camiel Hamans
The Dutch period, better the VOC government, lasted till 1795, when the British
occupied the Cape Colony at the request of the Prince of Orange, the last stadholder
of the Dutch Republic and in effect commander of the Dutch military, who had
fled to England after French troops and Dutch revolutionaries had taken over the
Netherlands. In 1806 British rule over the Cape became final. By 1820, some 4,000
British emigrants had already settled in the Cape Colony, making up a tenth of the
European population (De Villiers 2012: 93). Lord Charles Somerset, British gover-
nor of the Cape Colony from 1814 to 1826 strove for rapid Anglicization of the
newly acquired territory and therefore banned Dutch as the language of government
and as language of instruction, which was met by much resistance. He even invited
Scottish Presbyterian ministers to fill the vacancies of the Nederduitse Gere-
formeerde Kerk, the Dutch Reformed Church (De Villiers 2012: 95–96 and
Giliomee 2012: 220–221).
This treatment by the British, who saw the Afrikaners as clearly inferior and
second-class, has led to great bitterness among the original ‘Dutch’ population. This
together with economic motives led to the Great Trek in 1835. The next two decades
saw a mass migration of Dutch-speaking inhabitants, the Afrikaner Boers, from the
Cape Colony north and eastwards in order to escape from the British colonial admin-
istration. The Great Trek ended up in regions populated by Bantu-speaking peoples.
Obviously, the settlement by the Boers in the Bantu areas went not without struggle.
Especially the Battle of Blood River, 16 December 1838, has grown to biblical pro-
portion in Afrikaner mythology (Giliomee 2012: 222–223). In this battle, 500 Afri-
kaner Voortrekkers faced an army of more than 10,000 Zulu. “In a battle lasting two
hours, three trekkers were slightly wounded and none killed, but three thousand Zulu
lay dead” (Giliomee 2009²: 165). The Boers were convinced that they owed their
victory to a vow made to their Christian God before the battle: if victorious the day
of the battle would be commemorated as a Sabbath. This victory over fearful odds
seemed biblical and established the idea among the Afrikaners of being a people
chosen by God (Giliomee 2012: 223), and it added to the conviction that the Boers
could be put on par with Old Testament Israel, as the Afrikaner theologian and anti-
Apartheid activist Theuns Eloff testified (De Vries 2012: 266). Jordaan (2004: 66)
testifies how these kinds of stories that were told to her in her youth led to
the myth of the Afrikaner people as a special group of people, most of whom were actu-
ally heroes.
This story of heroism, supported by the Christian God, that opened Africa to white
civilization, became part of the Afrikaans narrative.
‘die mite van die Afrikanervolk as ‘n besondere groep mense, van wie die meeste eintlik
helde was.’
Afrikaans: a language where ideology and linguistics meet
2.4. Resistance against the British
The Great Trek was successful and resulted in the establishment of the South Afri-
can Republic, ZAR, informally known as Transvaal republic, capital Pretoria, in 1852,
and the Orange Free Sate, OVS, with Bloemfontein as its capital, in 1854. In 1867,
however, diamonds were discovered in an area, now Kimberley, but then on the bor-
der of the English and Afrikaner spheres of influence and therefore disputed. Some
twenty years later, rich gold veins were found in Witwatersrand near Johannesburg.
These discoveries and the economic potential thereof inevitably led to tensions, which
started with the British annexation of the diamond fields in Basotholand (Free State) in
1871 and resulted in the Anglo Boer Wars. The first war, 1880–1881, ended in a Boer
victory, the second, 1899–1902, however, led to the complete defeat of the Boers,
among other things because the British imprisoned the Afrikaner civilian population in
concentration camps with more than 25,000 civilian casualties, 4,177 women and
22,074 children, and because the British used a scorched earth tactic so that all farms and
other possessions of the rebellious Boers were destroyed (Giliomee 2009²: 255–256).
Clearly, this policy did not improve the relationship between the Afrikaners and
the English. In addition, the policy of the British governor of the then established
British Transvaal and Orange River Colony, Lord Alfred Milner, who strived for
complete Anglicisation of these hitherto formally Dutch-speaking areas
, strength-
ened the Afrikaner nationalism (Langner and du Plessis 2015: 9). With the help of
Dutch funds, Afrikaner leaders started their own Dutch-speaking Christian schools,
and in 1909 the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns ‘South African
Academy for Science and Arts’ was founded. One of its priorities was the recogni-
tion, study, improvement, and quality control of Dutch and Afrikaans in South Afri-
ca. By 1908, the language war had caught fire. A young pastor of the Low German
Reformed Church and also chairman of the Afrikaanse Taalvereniging ‘Afrikaner
Language Association’, Daniël F. Malan, gave a flaming speech on 13 August of
that year Dit is ons erns ‘We are serious’, in which he called for equal rights for
Afrikaans and in which he warned the English-speaking minority that the language
issue was a serious problem. The importance of the emancipatory speech is symbol-
ized in the language monument at Paarl, where ‘DIT IS ONS ERNS’ is emblazoned
in capitals in the pathway leading to the monument. In his speech Malan established
a direct, natural relation between language and nation, which was, incidentally, an
almost generally accepted position in the 19
and early 20
Every living, powerful language is born at the bottom of the people’s heart (…) No lin-
guist can make a living language, nor can a chemist create life in his laboratory (Langner
2014: 64).
In fact, these areas were no longer standard Dutch speaking, but already Afrikaans, but Afrikaans
was not yet a recognized language. The fiction was held that the language was Dutch.
‘Iedre lewende, kragtige taal word gebore op die bodem van die volkshart (…) Geen taalgeleerde
kan ‘n lewende taal maak nie, ewemin as wat ‘n skeikundige lewe in sy laboratorium kan skep’.
Camiel Hamans
Due to wise diplomatic maneuvers of the former Orange Free State President Mar-
thinus T. Steyn and his ally James B.M. Herzog, the Closer Union Convention of
1909–1909 accepted to include two equivalent official languages in the South Afri-
can constitution, English and Dutch (Giliomee 2012: 275–280). Apparently, the
status of Afrikaans was not high enough and therefore preference was given to
Dutch. Nevertheless, English remained the language of prestige and the animosity
between the two white groups remained the main political issue. The position of
blacks and coloured
people did not play any role in the political debates of the then
formed Union of South Africa, a self-governing dominion of the British Empire.
At the outbreak of World War I, Herzog, who opposed South-African participa-
tion in this peoples war at the side of the UK, founded an anti-British opposition
party, Nasionale Party, ‘National Party’. One of the highest priorities of this party
was the language issue (Giliomee 2012: 282). When the National Party won the
elections of 1924, Hertzog became prime minister of a coalition government, which
was able to introduce Afrikaans as an official language next to English and Dutch in
1925. In effect, this meant that Afrikaans took the place of Dutch. Formally, however,
Dutch still remained a national language. The minister for the Interior, Education
and Public Health responsible for the law that recognized Afrikaans was Daniël
F. Malan. He left, however, Nasionale Party in 1934 since he opposed a merger of this
party with an English-friendly party. He then founded a radical nationalistic party,
Gesuiwerde Nasionale Party ‘Purified National Party’ (Giliomee 2012: 292–300).
2.5. Rise and fall of Apartheid
In 1948 Malan won the elections and was able to form a government consisting
of his party only, now called the Nasionale Party again. Among Afrikaners, this
election result was seen as the ultimate and justified victory over their English com-
patriots. Malan could now give room to Hendrik Verwoerd, the ideologue of Apart-
heid, to develop and to implement its policies (Giliomee 2012: 307–309). In the
1970s, the hubris of the Afrikaner Nasionale Party government went so far as to
require the introduction of Afrikaans as the language of instruction for a number of
subjects, including mathematics, for black high schools as well. This lead to the
Soweto Uprising of 1976 in which fell about 600 fatalities. This became the turning
point in the political situation in South Africa. The 1980s were characterized by
riots, resistance, and violence (Grobler 2012: 383–388). The Apartheid government
The name coloured people does not have the negative connotations in South Africa that it has
elsewhere. The accepted Afrikaans term is bruinmense ‘brown people’. The spelling coloured is the
accepted spelling in South Africa instead of colored. Therefore the British/South African orthographic
form is used in this paper.
Afrikaans: a language where ideology and linguistics meet
still tried to reach a compromise by proposing a three-chamber parliament,
a white
chamber, one coloured,
and one for Asians, but since no place was given to the
black population, who were supposed to be citizens of quasi-independent home-
lands, Bantustans, this was in vain (Giliomee 2012: 399–401). The end of Apartheid
came on 1 February 1990, when then president De Klerk released opposition leader
and later first black president of the Republic of South Africa, Nelson Mandela
(Giliomee 2012: 415).
Under his government a new constitution was accepted in which eleven lan-
guages are recognized as national languages, Afrikaans being one of these eleven
(Giliomee 2009²: 644). In the new constitution of 8 May 1996 no longer the two
white languages, English and Afrikaans, were privileged but multilingualism be-
came the basis for the South African language policy. Article 6.1 of the 1996 Consti-
tution says: “The official languages of the Republic are Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana,
siSwati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa and isiZulu.”
Article 5.a.ii and iii requires special care for the Khoi, Nama, and San languages,
which are the languages of the original inhabitants of South Africa, and of sign lan-
guages. Art. 5.b.i and ii require promotion and respect for “(i) all languages com-
monly used by communities in South Africa, including German, Greek, Gujarati,
Hindi, Portuguese, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu; and (ii) Arabic, Hebrew, Sanskrit and
other languages used for religious purposes in South Africa.” In addition, art. 6.5.a
instructs a newly established institution, the Pan South African Language Board, to
develop a policy to promote sign language and the minority languages, including
those of the Khoekhoe (see Carstens and Raidt 2019: 660–666). It is remarkable that
Dutch is not mentioned anywhere in the constitution. This language completely
disappeared at the Cape and its place has been taken over by Afrikaans.
3. The status of Afrikaans
3.1. Language mixing
The crew with which Van Riebeeck set foot on land in 1652 was not regionally
homogeneous and therefore also not with regard to language. After all, there was not
yet a Dutch standard language at that time. The Low Countries were a patchwork of
dialects, some of which were quite far removed from the dialects of the leading cit-
ies of the regions of Brabant and Holland. Moreover, quite a few of the members of
The revision of the constitution of 1983 stripped Dutch of its last formal rights in South Africa.
Afrikaans had finally completely replaced Dutch; Webb (2002: 74–75).
Till 1951, coloured people (‘bruinmense’) were on the same electoral roll as whites. New laws
introduced in 1951 laws denied non-whites the right to vote and urged black residents of South Africa to
seek their future in their homelands, outside the areas reserved for white people (Scher 2012: 330–333).
16 (retrieved 24.11.202).
Camiel Hamans
Van Riebeeck’s group were German; several of them spoke Low German, whereas
the others High German. Holland and especially Amsterdam were prosperous and
economically attractive for immigrants and therefore were popular places to settle
and to look for work. The Dutch republic was a trading nation with a large fleet of
ships that required many hands. A considerable number of the VOC ship’s crews
and of the colonial VOC employees thus came from outside the Low Countries, so
from outside what is now the Netherlands, Belgium, and Northern France. This in-
flux of speakers without a ‘Dutch’ background led to a certain koinè in the 17
tury (Boyce Hendriks 1998); a similar development must have occurred on board
and in and around the Cape Fort.
Kloeke (1950: 229–264) analyzed in detail the origins and background of the
first Europeans at the Cape. In 1664, there were 321 whites at the Cape, of which he
could figure out the origin of 264 adults. Of these 264 a majority of 64 people came
from a Low German speaking region, the two provinces of Holland were only the
cradle for a total of 58 people, 55 people originated from the rest of the Netherlands,
24 people were Flemish, 14 had a High German dialect as their mother tongue,
25 people were of Scandinavian origin, and 7 came from French speaking areas in
Belgium and the North of France. The conclusion can only be that the language of
the first settlers was rather heterogeneous and certainly not a standardized Dutch;
however, they must have had a common means of communication, most probably an
adapted Dutch.
Even though Van Riebeeck planned to teach the Khoekhoen Dutch hoping to
turn them into useful workers (Carstens and Raidt 2019: 45), nothing came of it. The
Khoekhoen and the slaves who where imported from 1658, however, picked up
enough Dutch to be able to understand Dutch and to make themselves understood.
VOC commissioner Van Rheede who visited and inspected the Cape in 1685 noticed
that the broken Dutch of the Hottentots became so popular that there even was
a chance that Dutch children would take over this pidgin, since white adults also
started to use this gobbledygook.
It is customary among our people – when they teach the natives Dutch, that these natives
speak very crooked and almost unintelligible – to follow the example of the natives. This
goes so far that our Dutch children, following this example, are taught a broken language
that is impossible to unlearn afterwards. It would therefore be better to introduce Dutch
among the Hottentots, all the more because they do not lack the ability to pronounce all
words precisely, without any mistake, provided it is shown to them correctly, which de-
serves more attention (Hulshof 1941: 36).
‘Hier is een gewoonten onder al ons volck, dat lerende dese inlanders de Nededuijtdsche spraek,
en dat deselve die op haer manieren seer krom en bijnae onverstanelijk spreken, soo volgende onse haer
daerin nae, jae soodanigh, de kinderen van onse Nederlanders haer dat mede aenwennende een gebroken
spraek gefondeert werd, die onmogeijck sal wesen naederhand te verwinnen, veel min onder de Hotten-
tots de Duijdsche taele in te voeren, daer het deselve niet en gebreekt aen bequaemheijt, sprekende alle
Afrikaans: a language where ideology and linguistics meet
Franken, a South African linguist and historian with a great penchant for archival
research and a great interest in information about the civil relations and the effect
these had on the languages spoken at the Cape in the last decades of the 17
came across a copy of Van Rheede;s diary in Cape Town. On the basis of Van
Rheede’s information, Franken (1927) stressed the importance of the ‘fornication’
between sailors, VOC-employees, and free whites on one side and Khoekhoe and
slave women on the other side for the development of a new language at the Cape.
He also commented on the emergence of a new form of Dutch, a ‘broken language’
as Van Rheede called it, due to the contact between the different groups:
The physical Baster ‘bastard’ [coloured people CH] as intermediary between the Euro-
pean and the slave created together with the wider spiritual contact, whether this contact
is emphasized as crooked-Portuguese or crooked-Dutch, a new Dutch, a ‘broken lan-
guage’ (Franken 1927: 38).
Van Rheede visited the slave shed and was shocked by what he saw there. Neverthe-
less he noticed that the small children, whether they were white or black, walked
around wildly, while they all spoke Dutch indiscriminately (Hulshof 1941: 184). It is
not clear whether Van Rheede, when referring to the language of the children, meant
proper Dutch or broken Dutch. Anyhow, it is evident that already in 1685 there was
a group of people of mixed race at the Cape, ‘coloured people’, and that they spoke
a mixed language, most likely ‘broken Dutch’, which also functioned as a mother
tongue for a next generation.
3.2. Language varieties
However, this broken Dutch was not the only language at the Cape. The official
language of the VOC remained Dutch. Foreign VOC-employees also had their own
woorden promt uijt, sonder eenigh gebreck, indien men haer die maer wel voorsegt, waeromtrent wel
nodigh was, wat meer agt geslaegen wiert.’
See for more details about Franken’s studies Valkhoff (1971: 461 and 470–471).
The Dutch historian Colenbrander (1902: 119), who studied the genealogy of the Afrikaner Boers
and claimed that the Afrikaner Boer ‘race’ is of almost pure ‘white’ blood, must admit that in the early
days of the settlement toen de blanke vrouwen schaarsch waren (…) en de eigenaardige moreele eigen-
schappen van het Boerenras zich nog niet had kunnen ontwikkelen, [er] een levendig geslachtsverkeer
met slavinnen plaats [had] ‘when white women were scarce (…) and the peculiar moral qualities of the
Boer race had not yet developed, [there] was a lively intercourse with slave women.’ Note that Colen-
brander speaks without irony about ‘special moral high qualities’ of the Boers. Probably he attributed
these qualities to the Boers on the basis of their heroic behavior in the recently ended Anglo-Boer War.
The unequal struggle against the British had generated great sympathy for the Boers in the Netherlands
and created an image of them as if they were a people of heroes of an exceptional moral level.
‘Tussen die Europeër en Slaaf het die fisieke die Baster en die ruimer geestelike kontak, of nou
nadruk gelê word op Krom-Portugees of Krom-Hollands ‘n nuwe Nederduits, ‘n ‘gebroke spraek geskep’.
Camiel Hamans
mother tongues, just as the Khoekhoen still had their own language. Krotoa, the
Khoekhoe interpreter also knew Portuguese, which must have been Portuguese Cre-
ole, the lingua franca of the African and Indian colonial posts. Slaves brought in
from these areas used different varieties of Portuguese Creole as their lingua franca,
next to their native languages. The lingua franca of the slaves from the Indonesian
archipelago was a form of Pasar Malay, ‘Bazaar Malay’. Bouman (1924: 123) de-
scribes how a maidservant invited the traveler C. Frikius to the castle of the Cape in
1685 or 1686 with the words mari disini Senior! ‘come to me, Sir’. Senior is of
course Portuguese senhor, the two other words are Malay. Bouman adds that the
Afrikaner author and language activist Gideon R. von Wielligh (1859–1932) told
him that his grandfather still could speak what he called Malay-Portuguese. Von
Wielligh himself described ‘the last sobs of Malay-Portuguese’ in an Afrikaans
journal in 1917 and testified there that according to his grandmother, the third wife
of his grandfather, his Oupa ‘grandpa’ Nikolaas von Wielligh who was born in the
last decades of the 18
century had learned this language from the slaves on their
family farm. Gideon still remembered how Oupa used this language when talking
with an old freed slave around 1865 (Hesseling (1919: 96).
What all this data makes clear and confirms is that the Cape was on the one hand
a mishmash of languages, but on the other hand that there was one official language,
Dutch. For instance commander Simon van der Stel wanted the French Huguenots to
give up their language as soon as possible in order to prevent an even more prestig-
ious language from getting the upper hand. Dutch remained the official language of
the VOC till the British took over the Cape and next to this administrative and ‘Bib-
lical’ language there were at least two, maybe three languages spoken at large at the
Cape: a ‘broken Dutch’, Malay Portuguese or Portuguese Creole, and Bazaar Malay.
The Khoekhoen and people of mixed race who left the Cape during the smallpox
epidemics and migrated to the North-West had given up their original language and
adopted the ‘broken Dutch’ as their mother tongue. Part of this group is called
Basters ‘bastards’, another group calls themselves Griquas. Another group is called
Oorlams. A form of ‘broken Dutch’ also became the first language of the Muslim
Malay people of slave descent who stayed at the Cape (cf. Kotzé 1989 and Davids
2011), the so called Slameiers or Slamaaiers
(Grebe 2009: 30 and Carstens and
Raidt 2019: 210). Their vernacular was called a kombuis-Hollands ‘kitchen Dutch’,
a derogatory term (Hinskens 2009: 14). Incidentally, this term is also used for all
sub-standard varieties of Afrikaans.
The Afrikaner Boers, who moved further east and north during the Great Trek in
the English era, had already pushed the boundaries in the 18th century because they
were in need of land for their farms and livestock. They settled in remote areas many
hours or even days away from Cape Town, and thus did not stay in contact with
The name Slameijer is a blend of the words Islam and Maleier, the Dutch word for Malay.
Afrikaans: a language where ideology and linguistics meet
formal Dutch except in church. Due to the vast expanse of their lands, many of them
did not live close to their neighbors, but isolated with their families and their slaves
on their own huge farms, leaving their children with very little or even without any
school education. Consequently, these Boers developed their own language variety
just as the Basters, Oorlams, and Griquas who lived in the North-West and the peo-
ple, including the large group of Muslims just mentioned, who remained at the Cape
but did not master and speak formal Dutch. Roughly sketched, these developments
led to three main varieties of Afrikaans: Oranjerivierafrikaans ‘Orange River Afri-
to which Baster-, Oorlam-, and Griequa-Afrikaans belong, Kaapse Afri-
kaans ‘Cape-Afrikaans’, which also contains the Afrikaans of the Muslim Malays,
and Oostgrensafrikaans ‘Eastern Frontier-Afrikaans, also called Grensafrikaans
‘Frontier-Afrikaans’, the language of the Boers. These three varieties of ‘broken
Dutch’ differ significantly from each other (Van Rensburg 1989, 1990, and 2012a
and Van Rensburg et al. 1997).
3.3. First Afrikaans Language Movement
With the definitive English takeover of power at the Cape in 1806, Afrikaners
and their official language, Dutch, lost status. Serious efforts were made to anglicize
the Cape Colony. In 1822 Dutch was replaced as language of politics, administra-
tion, and court, and from 1853 it was not longer allowed to speak Dutch in the colo-
nial parliament (Hinskens 2009: 13–14). As can be expected, these attempts were
not received with enthusiasm by all Afrikaners. Yet it took a while before real re-
sistance arose. British annexations of Afrikaans-speaking independent regions north
of the colony and the war for independence in the Transvaal in 1880–1881 ‘aroused
sympathy among white Dutch-speaking South Africans in the Cape for their breth-
ren in the north. Awareness of a common language, homeland, history, and origin
fostered not only group solidarity against British hegemony but an inchoate sense of
ethnic identity, whereby the term Afrikaner [formerly also Afrikaander CH] came to
acquire a political meaning’ (Roberge 2003: 24–25). After all, one of the few tangi-
ble features the Dutch-speaking South Africans and their Afrikaner cousins in
Transvaal and the Free State had in common, next to their Calvinist religion, was the
common language. And thus, the language became a political issue.
In August 1875 a group of eight young activists under the leadership of the
Dutch Reformed minister Stephanus J. du Toit met in Paarl, a town 60 kilometer
North-East of Cape Town, where they founded the Genootskap van Regte Afrikaners
‘Society of True Afrikaners’, GRA, which in the first place aimed at promoting the
use of Afrikaans as a written language and the use of Afrikaans in public domains
Nowadays the Orange River is called the Gariep.
Camiel Hamans
next to advancing Afrikaner political interests (Roberge 2003: 25–26). The founding
of the GRA, which soon also started its own newspaper with the significant name
Die Afrikaner Patriot ‘The Afrikaans Patriot’ marks the beginning of the Eerste
Taal Beweging, the ‘First (Afrikaner) Language Movement’. Within a year Du Toit
published the first Afrikaans grammar book Eerste Beginsels van die Afrikaanse
Taal (1876), ‘First Principles of the Afrikaner Language’, which was soon followed
by an enlarged English edition Vergelykende Taalkunde van Afrikaans en Engels
(1897) ‘Comparative Linguistics of Afrikaans and English’. (Carstens and Raidt
2017: 328). The GRA also published a ‘propagandistic Geskiedenis van ons land in
die taal van ons volk (1877) ‘History of our Country in the Language of our People’
and Geskiedenis van die Afrikaanse taalbeweging vir vrind en vyand (1880) ‘History
of the Afrikaans Language Movement for Friend and Foe’ (Roberge 2003: 26).
One of the instigators of the Language Movement, the Dutch classics teacher at
the local gymnasium in Paarl and teacher of Du Toit, Arnoldus Pannevis was so
unfortunate as to miss the founding meeting of the GRA but he publicly called for
a Bible translation into Afrikaans for the benefit of the coloured people. The found-
ers, however, ignored his appeal and overlooked the coloured speakers of Dutch in
their manifestos and other publications. It did not mean that the GRA also gave up
its religious pretensions. By no means, it ‘marked Afrikaans as a God-given emblem
of the Afrikaner people that could be stipulated a priori (as opposed to a segment
along a continuum of lects)’ (Roberge 2003: 26; italics PR). Pannevis also explicitly
claimed Afrikaans to be a gift from God to the Afrikaner people. In November 1874
he anonymously published an open letter in which he answered the question Is die
Afferkaans wesentlyk een taal? ‘Is Afrikaans essentially a language’. No doubt, for
good reason, he used a biblical metaphor to describe Afrikaans in this letter.
Some people have told me: In our colony we do not speak anything other than English
for some years; you do not have to worry about the Afrikaans language. You know what
I said then: We are not going to drown little Moses in the English waters. We are going
to make one broom box for him, just as Ashram did, and then let him be put in the reed
and let us put Miriam as a guard on it. Soon the King’s daughter will come and will raise
little Moses in the King’s palace. And then Moses will become another great and mighty
man. Burghers enough (Carsten and Raidt 2019: 323).
A few years later, Pannevis no longer needed a metaphor to describe the divine
character of Afrikaans.
‘Sommige mensen het my geseg: In ons kolonie spreek ons o’er eenige jare niks as Engels; jy
hoef niet moeite te doen nie foor die Afferkaanse taal. Weet julle wat ik toe geseg het: Ons gaat die
kleine Moses nie in die Engelse waters ferdrink nie. Ons gaat een biesekisje for hem maak, net as Asram
gedaan het, en laat hem dan maar in die riet geset word en Mirjam as een wach daarby. Strak kom nog
die Koning zyn dochter en voed die kleine Mozes op in die Koning syn palys. En dan word Mozes nog
een groot en magtig man. Poorters genoeg.’
Afrikaans: a language where ideology and linguistics meet
(…) This language has been prepared for us by Providence in the course of time, that it
might be our means of receiving and communicating knowledge: we must use it, when
we will once become all that we can be for our selves and the world (Pannevis 1882,
quoted from Noordegraaf 2004: 181).
Pannevis stresses that, even though it descends from Dutch, Afrikaans is a different
language and not only because of its different linguistic history but since it repre-
sents a different folk character, a term which reminds of Herder’s Volksgeist ‘na-
tional spirit, national character’. He claims that the Afrikaner identity can only de-
velop fully if the Afrikaner language will prevail and can be used everywhere. The
echo of Herder and Fichte is unmistakable.
The Afrikaner people should realize
that their ‘nationality’, which is their national identity, is contained in the language,
he stated emphatically. Language should be goal and instrument of the upcoming
battle at the same time.
Language must be the main target and weapon in the forthcoming or already begun root
struggle. (Pannevis 1882, quoted from Noordegraaf 2004: 181).
3.4. Second Afrikaans Language Movement
Even though the First Language Movement was a clear wake-up call and despite
the publication of their numerous publications, which enabled them to initiate the
standardization of Afrikaans, Du Toit and his friends were politically not very suc-
cessful. This changed after the Second Anglo Boer War of 1899–1902. English jin-
goism became so vehement that it asked for a response, which led to the Second
Language Movement, and which could be described as a continuation of an average
emancipation movement,
if it had not been so full of nationalistic sentiments that
‘(…) deze taal is ons door de Voorzienigheid in de loop des tijds bereid, opdat zij ons het middel
zou zijn om kennis te ontvangen en mee te delen: deze moeten wij gebruiken, zullen wij eenmaal voor
ons zelven en de wereld al datgene worden wat wij kunnen zijn.’
See for the influence of the ‘German Romanticism’ of philosophers such as Herder and Fichte on
the Afrikaner Language Movement and subsequently on Apartheid also Kriel (2013: 77), Kriel (2018:
149) and Webb and Kriel (2000: 31–39). ‘Herderian linguistic nationalism’ was not only a 19
romantic feeling, it remained prevalent in Afrikaner circles for a long time. Webb and Kriel quote
a textbook by Andries G.S. Meiring (1949: 10) who writes ‘Where no language lives, no nation lives”
(Webb and Kriel 2000: 31). The Herderian equation of language and nation also formed the basis for the
Apartheid Homeland policy, according to Webb and Kriel (2000: 39).
‘De taal moet het hoofddoel en het wapen in de aanstaanden of reeds begonnen wortelstrijd
According to the famous Afrikaans literary historian John C. Kannemeyer, who published a his-
tory of the Afrikaans Language Movement (1974: 16), the aim of the Second Movement was ‘to express
the greatest needs and innermost being of the Afrikaner people’, whereas the First Movement focused on
the introduction and acceptance of Afrikaans as a written medium.
Camiel Hamans
were often combined with language. After all, the most important and perhaps only
means of connection between the Afrikaner people, the only common feature of
their identity, was still their language. The Afrikaner poet, language activist of the
Second Movement, and politician Cornelis J. Langenhoven eloquently claimed such
a coincidence of language and identity using words that positioned the Afrikaner
Language Movement even more firmly in the romantic-nationalist tradition of
Herder and especially Fichte.
A nation is not merely a collection of individuals, but an organic body with a national
soul, and national speech is its expression (Langenhoven 1914, quoted from Kannemeyer
1996²: 326).
Afrikaans is made in South Africa to suit our Afrikaans conditions and way of life; it has
grown with our national character; it is the only bond that binds us together as a separate
nation; our only national feature (Langenhoven 1938: 12, 371).
As outlined in section 2, the Second Language Movement eventually led to the
recognition of Afrikaans in addition to Dutch (and English) as the official language
and finally to the formal replacement of Dutch by Afrikaans.
The special position the Afrikaans language had in the emancipatory struggle of
the Afrikaners is symbolized in the striking Language Monument erected on the hills
near Paarl. The first call for an Afrikaans language monument dates from 1942. In
1964, in the heydays of Apartheid, a competition was held and finally the monument
was built between 1972 and 1974, followed by an official unveiling attended by
40,000 invitees in 1975, one hundred years after the founding of the GRA but a few
months before the Soweto uprising. Two texts are placed on the monument, one by
Langenhoven in which he predicts that the future of Afrikaans will be ‘sky high’ in
die bloue lug, the other from an essay written in 1959 by the poet Nicolaas P. van
Wyk Louw:
Afrikaans is the language that connects Western Europe and Africa; it draws its power
from these two sources; it forms a bridge between the great bright West and the magical
Africa – the sometimes still so obscure Africa; they are both great forces, what great can
emerge from their unionthat is perhaps what lies ahead for Afrikaans to discover. But
what we should never forget, is that this change of country and landscape sharpened,
kneaded and knitted this emerging language (…) And so Afrikaans became able to speak
out from this new land (…) Our task lies in the use that we make and will make of this
gleaming tool (ATM 2016).
‘n Nasie is nie bloot ‘n versameling van indiwidue nie, maar ‘n organiese liggaam met ‘n nasion-
ale siel, en die nasionale spraak is die uitdrukking daarvan.’
‘Afrikaans is in Suid-Afrika gemaak om te pas by ons Afrikaanse toestande en levenswys; hy het
saamgegroei met ons volkskarakter; hy is die enigste band wat ons als ‘n aparte nasie aanmekaar bindt;
ons enigste volkskenmerk.’
‘Afrikaans is die taal wat vir Wes-Europa en Afrika verbind; dit suig sy krag uit dié twee bronne;
dit vorm ‘n brug tussen die groot helder Weste en die magiese Afrika – die soms nog so ón-helder Afri-
Afrikaans: a language where ideology and linguistics meet
The monument, of which the main and biggest column, following Langenhoven’s
call, points to the sky represents Afrikaans, also leaves room for other languages that
worked together to enable the emergence of Afrikaans: three small columns for
Western European languages such as Dutch, Portuguese, German, and English, three
round bulges symbolizing the languages of the Khoekhoen, of the other original
inhabitants of the area, the San, formerly called Bushmen, and of Bantu languages,
and a wall representing Malay. The threat of Soweto, however, already echoed in the
words with which Prime Minister John Vorster added luster to the opening. He em-
phasized the right that Afrikaners had to be and to stay in South Africa, because
Afrikaans had originated in Africa and thus is a product of Africa (Huigen 2008:
It were not only Afrikaners who thought highly of their language. The well-
known German linguist and specialist on minority languages Heinz Kloss (1977: 10)
praised Afrikaans as ‘the only non-European and non-Asiatic language to have at-
tained full university status and to be used in all branches of life and learning (…)
All other university languages have their main basis in either Europe or Asia.’ Kloss
could not know that within 40 years Afrikaans would loose its full university status
due to changes in the socio-political system. Kloss, who may be considered a friend
of the then South African Apartheid regime,
was joined in his eulogy by the Ameri-
can geographer, Africa specialist, and anti-Apartheid activist Edwin Munger (1974: 4)
who called Afrikaans ‘the newest of the world’s well-developed languages’. Gili-
omee (2004: 1) quoted a personal communication by the Canadian political scientist
Jean Laponce who supposed that besides Afrikaans only the major languages Hindi
and Indonesian and the special case Hebrew were standardized and came to be used
in all branches of life and learning in the 20
3.5. The place of non-white Afrikaans
The high opinion the African Language Movement had of their own language
made them overlook two aspects that subsequently proved to be essential. This con-
ka; hulle is albei groot magte, wat daar groots aan hulle vereniging kan ontspruit – dit is miskien wat vir
Afrikaans voorlê om te ontdek. Maar wat ons nooit moet vergeet nie, is dat hierdie verandering van land
en landskap as’t ware aan die nuwe wordende taal geslyp, geknee, gebrei het (…) En so het Afrikaans in
staat geword om hierdie nuwe land uit te sê (…) Ons taak lê in die gebruik wat ons maak en sal maak
van hierdie glansende werktuig.’
See Hutton (1999: 144–187) for Kloss’ opportunistic and certainly not flawless behavior during
the Third Reich. Later, Kloss (1978) reacted strongly against Creole theories of origin for Afrikaans. He
expressed aloud the suspicion that these theories were merely posited mit dem Wunsch, die stolzen
Buren zu verletzen durch den Nachweis, daß sie ihre Sprache eigentlich den Nichtweißen verdanken
‘with the wish to hurt the proud Boers by proving that they actually owe their language to the non-
whites’ (Roberge 1990: 147 fn. 4).
Camiel Hamans
cerns the fiction of Afrikaans as a language without variation and the denial to offer
a place in the emancipation and standardization process to the coloured speakers of
Afrikaans. This neglect was not only characteristic of the early years of the language
movement, it has long left its mark on the pursuit of the elevation of Afrikaans. For
instance, in the discussion about the symbolism embodied in the Language Monu-
ment a group under the leadership of the original chairman of the committee rever-
end P.J. Loots heavily protested against references to non-white contributions to
Afrikaans. Not only were they unnecessary, but they were even based on a historical
lie, according to him (Huigen 2008: 882 and Van Zyl and Rossouw 2016). In Loots’
opinion and that of the media that reported about the unveiling of the monument,
Afrikaans was mainly a witmanstaal ‘white man’s language’ (Huigen 2008: 889).
The denial of the fact that not only white people spoke Afrikaans, but also many
coloured people (Van Rensburg 1999: 81), including the descendants of the
Khoekhoen, is a result of a mix of ideological views, some of which later also led to
the Apartheid policy. Analysis of this Gordian knot of opinions and arguments in
fact calls for a monograph. Due to limitations of space, only a few aspects of this
complex problem can be highlighted here.
Even though all educated middle-class Afrikaners must have known that there
existed other varieties of Afrikaans besides the one they spoke themselves, they did
not accept these varieties as part of their civilized means of communication. In this
respect, there is no essential difference between the attitudes of Afrikaans pastors,
lawyers, schoolteachers, journalists, and other Afrikaans middle class people to-
wards the ‘uncivilized’ language of lower social classes in the cities and in the coun-
try side on the one hand and the opinion of their counterparts in London or Paris
towards the language of social lower classes on the other. The language varieties
spoken by poor laborers, craftsmen, shopkeepers, and peasants were seen as uncivi-
lized and therefore not apt for standardization. Afrikaans-speaking bourgeois circles
did not differ from their European or American peers in this respect. As Stell
(2010a: 110–11) puts is, it was a Cape-Dutch intelligentsia that started the First
Language Movement and they choose the ‘unspoiled’ language of the proud and
brave Voortrekker Boers, Frontier-Afrikaans, however combined with a few typical
Cape-Afrikaans features to stress the distance with Dutch, as a binding symbol for
the white Afrikaans speakers at the Cape. After all, they saw the language of the
coloureds as ugly, corrupted, and bastardized. The author and language activist Von
Wielligh (1925: 94), who was a link between the First and the Second Language
Movement, described the Afrikaans of the coloured speakers as ‘the lowest form
ever achieved by Afrikaans’ in his survey of regional varieties of Afrikaans.
Rademeyer, who was the first to study the language of the Basters and the Griquas
called their language ‘deformed’ and ‘degenerated’ compared to the ‘general-
civilized language of South-Afrika’. The speakers of these varieties are an agterlik
klompie wesens, a ‘backward bunch of creatures’, even tough most of them were not
Afrikaans: a language where ideology and linguistics meet
illiterate; their language has ‘always served only one purpose: to amuse’ (Rademey-
er 1938: 5 and 11–12).
No wonder, that the GRA people believed that there was no variation in Afri-
kaans. Their leader Du Toit persisted that Van Tafelsberg tot Soutpansberg praast
dir Afrikaner een taal ‘From Table Mountain to Soutpansberg the Afrikaners speak
one language (Du Toit 1891, quoted by Du Plessis (1987: 152–153). By neglecting
the varieties of Afrikaans, the GRA simply disqualified the non-white varieties as
possible part of their language. That their own language, however, was not as stable
and homogeneous as they believed, will be discussed later.
3.6. Nationhood
Another argument for the denial of the role of coloured speakers of Afrikaans
goes back to romantic-nationalistic ideas, usually attributed to the German philoso-
phers Herder and Fichte but most common in the 19
and early 20
century. This
tradition claims a direct and natural relation between Volk ‘nation, people’ and Spra-
che ‘language’. The First and Second Language Movements were emancipation or
self-affirmation movements by means of a language struggle, just as the Flemish
language movement in Belgium. Taal, the Afrikaner word for language, has a much
broader connotation than the Dutch word taal or the English language.
Taal gives the Afrikaners their identity. It is a product of historical struggle. It is its
speakers’ culture, their Kultuur (Kultuur refers less to the creative arts in Afrikaner usage
than to the traditional forms of Afrikaner life – forms that have to preserved from outside
interference and pollution.) Taal cannot in its implications be separated from its speak-
ers’ religion their community – their gemeenskap. It attests to their unity, which they
call gemeenlikheidsgevoel (Crapanzano 1985: 30–31, quoted from Roberge 1992: 34).
The Dutch linguist Brill, who taught in Bloemfontein, claimed in a public lecture
about the landstaal ‘national language’, presented in 1875 shortly before the found-
ing meeting of the GRA, that ‘the people are all the language,’ which means, he
explains, that ‘when a people is a nationality, there will be one language’. This im-
plies, he goes on, that a national identity should be fostered by promoting the na-
tional language, the study of this language, and the cultivation of a national literature
(Noordegraaf 2004: 175). Looking back, the Afrikaans poet and literary scholar
Vernon February notices how important the claim of being a unique Volk was to
South African emancipators for more than one hundred years: ‘Afrikaner scholars
went out of their way to prove that they were unique as a Volk, while non-Afrikaners
were fascinated by this species as a peculiar human type with a peculiar language
and a peculiar culture’ (February 2009²: 3).
Due to the loss of their independence, the Afrikaans-speakers at the Cape were
not only second-class to the British who played the first fiddle, but more important-
Camiel Hamans
ly, they no longer formed a unity, no longer a Volk ‘nation’. Their socio-political
emancipation process therefore aimed at becoming, once again, a Volk through
emancipation of their language. This nation which had to take its rightful place again
consisted of the formerly ruling whites whose language was Afrikaans. Had the non-
white African speakers also been included in this struggle, the so hoped-for emanci-
pation would not have resulted in the return to power of the white Afrikaans people
only, but the power should have had to be shared with the coloured Afrikaans-
speaking people. Sharing of power, of course, was not the aim of the emancipation
process. Dutch had been the language of white Dutch people. This Dutch had devel-
oped into Afrikaans, but remained seen as white and as a vehicle to reestablish the
(white) Afrikaans nation.
The concept of nationhood and the belief that even though they basically shared
a same language, coloured and whites did not belong to one and the same nation, to
the same Volk, remained so common-place among whites Afrikaners that as recently
as 1983 the wife of the then minister, later president, Frederik W. de Klerk could
claim that coloured people are no nation and in fact are nothing.
But traditionally the Coloureds have no history of nationhood. They’re a different group,
i.e. all different types of people. Between us and [our] small group when the press aren’t
present. You know, they’re a separate group. The definition of a Coloured in the popula-
tion register is of someone who is not a Black, and not an Indian, in other words a non-
person. He is not…not…not. They’re leftovers. They’re people who were left over after
the nations were sorted out. They’re the rest. (…) Their binding power lies in the fact
that they speak Afrikaans, that they’re members of the [Dutch Reformed] Church. That is
their binding power.
After a few remarks about the Indians, who live in South Africa, Mrs Marike de
Klerk, continued:
They need a bit of supervision. And the supervision [and] our authority [baaskap] of the
white [man] are built in the whole system. (Willemse 2011: 23; insertions HW)
An unidentified minister who took part in the discussion about Marike de Klerk’s
statement provided a striking conclusion to the exchange of ideas: ‘Coloured people
have no eie volksiel ‘own nation soul’ despite their Western cultural heritage, of
which the language can be seen as a part’ (Willemse 2011: 27).
As Willemse (2011: 25–27) shows, Marike de Klerk and the unidentified minis-
ter were not unique in their views. These ideas, which can be traced back to ‘Ger-
man Romanticism’ of Herder and especially his followers and its focus on the Volks-
seele(Afrikaans Volksiel ‘soul of the nation’), were shared by many Afrikaners of
her time and before.
How important the idea of white nationhood was for the Afrikaner group, is
shown by the statement of Henning Klopper, the organizer of the centennial of the
Afrikaans: a language where ideology and linguistics meet
Battle of Blood River in 1938. The white Afrikaans community celebrated this
mythical event with a reconstruction of the Ossewa Trek ‘Ox Cart Trek’. In the me-
morial book the leader of this event, which can best be described as an outburst of
Afrikaner nationalism (Templin 1999), Henning Klopper wrote:
God Almighty, is the Creator of the universe. He created people and then called nations
into his presence. He also called the Afrikaner people into his presence and gave South
Africa to us as a home and a fatherland. The sense of freedom is a gift from God. No one
was born to be someone’s slave, personally, politically, economically, spiritually, or oth-
erwise. The Afrikaner wants and will not be anyone’s slave [here Klopper opposes British
rule]. The rock from which we were hewn, the well from which we were dug, will never
allow the ideal of a separate nationhood with all that it entails to be lost in every respect
and in the fullest sense of the word for the Afrikaner. Afrikanerdom, you have a won-
derful future. Victory is yours. God has given South Africa to you. The Voortrekker ide-
als are still burning. The Woman of South Africa is alive. A light is burning on the hori-
zon. The light of nationhood. Follow it, and you will live and celebrate (quoted from
Jordaan 2004: 138; original italics).
3.7. Social Darwinism
The second half of the 19
century saw the emergence of quasi-scientific theories of
racial difference and the dangers of racial mixing, called ‘amalgamation’ by the then
popular ‘American school of Ethnology’, or, using another 19
century American Eng-
lish pejorative term, ‘miscegenation’. Most of these now scientifically rejected ideas go
back to the French novelist and poet Arthur de Gobineau, who published his Essai sur
l’Inégalité des races humaines ‘An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races’ in
two thick volumes in 1853. The starting point of Gobineau was that there is a hierar-
chy in races and their intelligence and thus in cultures and in languages. Therefore,
mélange de sang ‘mixing of blood’ was dangerous and so it had to be warned about.
With the mixtures of blood come modifications in national ideas; with these modifica-
tions, a malaise that demands corresponding changes in the building (1853: I, 147).
‘God die Almagtige, is die Skepper van die heelal. Hy het mense geskape en daarna volke in syn
aansyn geroep. Die Afrikanervolk het Hy ook in aansyn geroep en Suid-Afrika vir ons gegee as ‘n tuise
en ‘n vaderland. Die vryheidsin is ‘n gawe Gods. Niemand is gebore om iemand se slaaf te wees nie,
persoonlik, staatkundig, ekonomies, geestelik of andersins. Die Afrikaner wil en gaan niemand se slaaf
wees nie [here Klopper opposes British rule]. Die rots waaruit ons gekap is, die put waaruit ons
gegrawe is, sal nooit toelaat dat die ideaal van ‘n afsonderlike nasieskap met alles wat dit meebring in
elke opsig en in die volste betekenis van die woord vir die Afrikaner verlore gaan nie… . Afrikanerdom,
jy het ‘n heerlike toekoms. Oorwinning is joune. God het Suid-Afrika aan jou gegee. Die Voortrekker-
ideale leef nog steeds brandende voort. Die Vrou van Suid-Afrika leef. Voor in die wapad brand daar
‘n lig. Die lig van nasieskap. Volg dit, en jy sal leef en seëevier’.
‘Avec les mélanges de sang, viennent les modifications dans les idées nationales; avec des modi-
fications, un malaise qui exige des changements corrélatifs dans l’édifice.’
Camiel Hamans
Racial mixing usually has a negative effect, according to Gobineau. Only when two,
strong races merge there is a change of reinforcement and improvement. In all other
cases the effect will be negative.
Unfortunately, the great have been lowered by the same process [racial mixing CH]; and
this is an evil that nothing can balance and repair (Ifekwunigwe 2004: 39–40).
The same applies to cultures and languages.
Languages, inequal to each other, are in a perfect relationship with the relative merit of
races. (Gobineau 1853: I, 307).
Miscegenation between whites and blacks led to inferior people, coloureds,
also to an inferior, degenerate language. Rademeyer (1938: 10), who studied the
language of the Basters and the Griquas, remarks that deficient coloured people have
no choice but to speak a corrupted deviant language. The ideas of Gobineau were
not exceptional in his days. The American School of Ethnology followed similar
theories with names such as Joshua Nott, who published an article The Mulatto
a Hybrid – Probable Extinction of the Two races if the Whites and Blacks are Allowed
to Intermarry in 1843, Samuel Morton, a staunch craniologist, George Giddon, who
together with Nott published a monumental work Types of Mankind (1854) which is
now classified as a monument of racism, and the journalist Henry Hotze, who trans-
lated Gobineau’s Essay in English (1856) and provided it with an introduction of
more than one hundred pages of own invention. Racial mixing was a hot topic in the
Unites Stated during the 1860s, since it was the time of the Civil War and the aboli-
tion of slavery. In this way the topic also became an issue elsewhere. In 1868, The
New York Observer and Chronicle for instance published an article by a Swiss sci-
entist Louis Agassiz about racial mixing in Brazil.
He stated that amalgamation was practiced more than anywhere else in the world, caus-
ing the deterioration of the country and produced a mongrel non-descript type, that was
physically and mentally deficient (Brito 2016).
The discussion went world-wide. In London, Robert Knox, who criticized the Boer
for being a cruel oppressor, claimed that ‘nature produced no mules, no hybrids,
neither in man nor animals’.
When they accidentally appear they soon cease to be, for they are either non-productive,
or one of the other of the pure breeds speedily predominates, and the weaker disappears.
This weakness may either be numerical or innate. That this law applies strictly to man
himself, all history proves (…) (Ifekwunigwe 2004: 38).
Les langues, inégales entre elles, sont dans un rapport parfait avec la mérite relatif des races.’
Willemse (2011: 27) quotes the sociologist Geoffrey Cronjé (1945) who stated that “the ‘race
quality of the Coloured was deficient.”
Afrikaans: a language where ideology and linguistics meet
These ideas must also have reached Cape Town and together with the Herderian ro-
mantic-nationalistic theories they must have produced a poisonous ideological mixture
that led to popular social Darwinism according to which people really believed that
coloured people were a sort of bastardized race with inferior features and a deteriorate
culture and language which was bound to disappear or to be put aside by stronger,
superior races. The foreshadowing of The Third Reich and Apartheid is palpable.
Willemse (2011: 29) quotes a 1933 Stellenbosch M.A. thesis from 1933 by
a certain McDonald in which the author bluntly states that the coloured ‘was born in
shame and in shame he continued his life and this to his own detriment and destruction’.
A few years earlier Sarah Millin (1926) claimed that ‘the coloured man is the fruit of the
vice, of the folly, the thoughtlessness of the white man’ (Willemse 2011: 31). Which
emancipation movement wants to be associated with shame, vice, or thoughtlessness?
In the revised edition of his Groningen dissertation (1916) the linguist and later
South-African ambassador to the Netherlands Daniel Bosman answered the remarks
of his colleague Stephanus Boshoff, who criticized the way Bosman objected to the
theory of the Leiden scholar Dirk Hesseling. Both Boshoff’s and Bosman’s com-
ments undeniably demonstrate the influence of this racial thinking. Hesseling
claimed that Afrikaner children at the remote farms who grew up together with the
children of the slaves and of the Khoekhoe cattle drivers must have shared the ‘bro-
ken Dutch’ of these groups and in this way introduced the changes that caused Afri-
kaans to differ from Dutch. This is impossible, Boshoff said, since the young
Afrikaners would give up the vernacular immediately, when they grew up and psy-
chologically realized their racial superiority over the slaves. He wanted Bosman,
who in fact agreed with him, to bring this argument to the front more emphatically.
Bosman admitted that he should have stressed this argument more, citing a statement
by yet another colleague that ruled out influences of indigenous languages on Afri-
kaans because of the white people’s sense of superiority (Bosman 1928²: 40–41).
The same Bosman, who later edited and published the diaries of Jan van Riebeeck,
commented upon the tragic fate of Krotoa/Eva, the Khoekhoe interpreter of Van Rie-
beeck, who grew up in Van Riebeeck’s family. After her European husband passed
away, Krotoa was left without means of support with her young children. Probably be-
cause of this, she ended up in prostitution and got into drinking. Bosman then concludes:
Just as baptism is no guarantee of Christianity, so civilization is no guarantee of morali-
ty. With Eva [Krotoa], both chastity and morality were very superficial, just a layer of
varnish. Each time she falls back into her original state of barbarism (Jansen 2003a: 74).
In other words, you may take the human out of the animal, but not the animal out of
the human.
‘Soos die doop geen waarborg is van christelikheid nie, so is die beskawing geen waarborg van
sedelikheid nie. By Eva was sowel chistelijkheid as sedelikheid baie oppervlakkig, bloot ‘n laagje ver-
nis. Telkens verval sy weer in haar oorspronklike staat van barbarism.’
Camiel Hamans
3.8. Calvinist arguments
The inferiority of non-whites, blacks, Indians, and coloured people, was also
demonstrated by arguments derived from Christian faith. A classical and very popu-
lar argument for slavery in Christian exegesis was taken from Genesis, the Curse of
Ham, actually placed upon his son Canaan (Gen. 9: 20–27). Ham, who was not
ashamed to see his father Noah naked was therefore cursed by him: ‘A servant of
servants shall he be unto his brethren’. Ham would thus be the ancestor of all black
peoples, as popular prejudice said. That is why they and their mixed offspring were
condemned to slavery or subordination; being an underclass, they could not be or
become part of the white Afrikaans nation (cf. Van Diemel 2016: 96–97).
In addition, the Afrikaners were convinced that a divine mission brought them to
South Africa. Jan van Riebeeck was not only sent to establish a refreshment station
and to make money for the VOC but also to bring the true belief and the light of God
to Africa. Van Riebeeck thanked God in a prayer to be chosen to run business at the
and to take such decisions where with all the greatest intent of the [East Indies] Company
will be advanced and justice maintained. And it will be possible to implant and spread
Thy Reformed Christian Teaching as time goes by, among those wild and savage people
in praise and honour of Thy Holy Name (February 2009²: 7).
Of course, the missionary, the white man, is superior to the wild and savage, espe-
cially since it often appeared that the belief and the civilization of the converts was
no more than a thin layer of varnish, as the fate of Krotoa/Eva showed. That could
not be said of the Afrikaners; they were steadfast in their Calvinist faith. Therefore
they were especially blessed by God. The Victory at the Blood River, 1838, had
provided proof thereof.
Afrikaners themselves had no small hand in fostering this image of themselves – a ‘chosen
group’ (…) with a continuing Western tradition and divine sanction (February 2009²: 3).
During Apartheid (1948–1994), Jan van Riebeeck was celebrated as a white saviour
who had brought Christian civilization and thus light to dark Afrika (Posthumus
2020). But it was not only the white man and his white culture that were seen as
couriers of Christianity, also the language of the white Afrikaners was sacred. To
Paul Kruger, president of the independent Transvaal during the Second Anglo Boer
War, is attributed the statement that he heard the voice of God in the voice of his
people (February 2009²: 5).
Van Jaarsveld (1961: 11) points in this connection to the old opposition between
Europeans and non-Europeans, as it was seen in the Calvinist tradition. Europeans
are Christians, whereas non-Europeans were considered heathen, even though many
Afrikaans: a language where ideology and linguistics meet
coloured South Africans were Christianized. In the depths of their being, however,
they were still pagans. Christianity was, of course, superior to paganism. It was via
the Afrikaans language as bearer of the spiritual values of Afrikanerdom that Chris-
tianity and civilization had reached Africa (Jordaan 2004: 111). Roberge (1992: 38)
points to the fact that the leader of the GRA. Du Toit, was a minister of the Dutch
Reformed Church and that it was he who ‘cultivated a mythology that fused Afri-
kaner history, the Cape Dutch Vernacular, and Calvinist theology’.
The central concept was that God Himself placed the Afrikaners in Africa and gave them
the Afrikaans language. He entrusted them with a mission to spread Christian civilization
to Africa.
In addition, the Afrikaner Dutch Reformed Church had good relations with the Re-
formed Churches in the Netherlands, an orthodox neo-Calvinist church movement
that left the Dutch Reformed Church in 1886. Their leader, Abraham Kuyper, also
established a political party, a newspaper, a university, the Free University in Am-
sterdam, and his own social pillar in the already highly pillarized Dutch society.
Kuyper argued that Calvinism was more than a religion or theology. It was
a worldview and should become a factor in society. Part of his worldview was the
doctrine of sphere sovereignty, which says that each sphere of life has its own re-
sponsibility, competence, and authority.
Kuyper, who was also active as a politician, sided with the Boers during the
Second Anglo Boer War. He was prime minister of the Netherlands during the last
period of the war. As a member of parliament, he already campaigned against the
“Perfidious Albion”, as prime minister he did his utmost best to bring about peace in
South Africa. When peace was reached, he published an article in which he sighed
‘One thing has been preserved. Thank goodness, the language [Dutch]. And that is
a lot. A lot for the future’ (Crijnen 1999). No wonder that the Afrikaner Calvinists
showed interest in Kuyper’s political ideas. Kuyperianism became a major factor in
the Afrikaner struggle for self-affirmation. The center became the Potchefstroom
University in the north-western Transvaal (Kriel 2013: 76). One of the most out-
spoken representatives was the philosopher Herman G. Stoker, who became profes-
sor at this university in 1925. In his opinion, Divine Providence had a special pur-
pose for the Afrikaner People, which should be seen as a ‘divine ordinance’
(Roberge 1990: 137).
God willed the diversity of Peoples. Thus far he has preserved the identity of our People.
Such preservation was not for naught, for God allows nothing to happen for naught. He
might have allowed our People to be bastardized with the native tribes as happened with
other Europeans. He did not allow it. He might have allowed us to be anglicized, like for
example, the Dutch in America. He did not allow that either. He maintained the identity
of our People. He has a future task for us, a calling laid away. (Kriel 2013: 77).
Thisidea that the Christian God had a special plan for the Afrikaner people and Afrikaans held
out for decades to come. Then President P.W. Botha thanked ‘the Creator of all languages and nations
Camiel Hamans
The sphere sovereignty as defended by the Afrikaner Calvinists provided an extra
argument to keep distance from the British oppressors but also to exclude non-
whites from their group (Willemse 2011: 26). In this way a mixture of Calvinist
faith, 19
century nationalism, quasi-scientific racism, and civil disregard of social
lower classes led to the exclusion of non-white Afrikaans speakers from the lan-
guage emancipation process and later to Apartheid in which all non-white people
were socially segregated.
Carstens and Raidt (2019: 333),
quote with approval the Afrikaans poet Daniel
Hugo (2009) who concluded that the main fault of the GRA was that it never came
to their mind to involve the coloured speakers of Afrikaans in the language strug-
Even worse, the Afrikaner Language Movement not only excluded non-whites
from their ranks, in fact their striving can even be seen as a form of appropriation:
An ironic aspect of the Afrikaans language movement(s) was that the language was so
totally appropriated by its white speakers: what was initially a language of the nonelite,
the working class, black people, brown people, and uneducated white people, came to be
regarded as the “exclusive” property of the white “elite” (despite, of course, the fact that
more than half of its speakers were not white) (Webb and Kriel 2000: 22).
3.9. Homogeneity
So far a glimpse has been shown of the complex arguments regarding the refusal
by the Afrikaners to allow their coloured fellow speakers of Afrikaans in the Lan-
guage Movement.
Therefore their language varieties were excluded to play a role
in the process of standardization and this is also why the language activists could
falsely suggest that Afrikaans was homogeneous, and thus originated from a homo-
geneous, Dutch, source. But even the white language which was to promote to the
standard was not homogeneous, as Ana Deumert (2004) demonstrated.
[volkere]’ for his ‘miraculous gift to our soul’ at the parliamentary celebration of the 60th anniversary of
the recognition of Afrikaans in 1985. A few weeks later at a ceremony at the Language Monument in
Paarl he claimed that ‘the creation of another [Afrikaner] civilization, with a new language of Africa
[Afrikaans],’ was God’s plan. ‘Afrikaans is the God-given instrument used by millions of people in
Africa when performing their daily task (…) when playing, but also when praying (…) when they serve
their Creator’ (Webb and Kriel 2000: 42).
The second volume of this new handbook on the history of Afrikaans can be considered a contin-
uous plea for an inclusive approach to Afrikaans, i.e. for a correction of the previously made mistakes of
excluding non-white speakers of Afrikaans.
“Dat dit skynbaar nooit by hul opgekom het om die Afirkaanssprekende bruinman in die taalstryd
te betrek.” (Carstens and Raidt 2019: 333).
In his Ghent dissertation (1905: 105), the Afrikaans linguist Pieter du Tout claimed that the lan-
guage of the white Afrikaner speakers did not show any dialectal variation; the Afrikaans, however, of
the coloured speakers showed enormous differences, he confirmed.
Afrikaans: a language where ideology and linguistics meet
The claim that Afrikaans was a homogeneous language without much variation,
however, was not a product of the ‘true Afrikaner’ language activists of the GRA or of
the Second Language Movement. Already the first grammarians who published about
Afrikaans had and kept the delusion that Afrikaans is a language without variation.
It is still striking how the first linguists, in fact without exception, saw Afrikaans as a lan-
guage without variation. Changuion (1844) himself, Mansvelt (1884), Viljoen (1896), and
also S.J. du Toit [the founder of the GRA CH] are of the opinion that Afrikaans “from the
Cape to the Limpopo” is one language, without significant variety. According to my opin-
ion, the main reason for this lies in that by the end of the last century Afrikaans had begun
to be a standard language, and for many of them it had centered on Afrikaans as a national
language. It was important for them to free Afrikaans from its patois-label, because then di-
alect still meant more or less unacceptable deviation (Du Plessis (1995: 145).
In 1882 Hugo Schuchardt, who was interested in Afrikaans since he expected to
come across Creole phenomena in Afrikaans, wrote a letter to Johannes Brill in
Bloemfontein in which he asked for information about Afrikaans and the possible
influence of other languages on Afrikaans. Brill’s answer did not differ from what
he stated in his 1875 Bloemfontein lecture.
In the whole of South Africa – with the exception of the larger cities and the eastern part
of the Cape Colony and Natal only one language is spoken: the so-called Cape Dutch
(Noordegraaf 2004: 173).
Brill admits that there may be some kleine dialektische Eigenthümlichkeiten ‘small
dialect peculiarities’.
For example, Dutch as it is spoken in the vicinity of Cape Town may be different from
the language of the Transvaal farmers in some respects (…) these differences are gener-
ally quite insignificant and where you come you will be able to understand others with-
out any effort and even be understood by them (Noordegraaf 2004: 173).
Even though Thomas le Roux in his phonetic description of Afrikaans (1910) point-
ed to differences and variation and although the language activist and author Gideon
‘Dit is nog opvallend hoe die eerste taalkundiges Afrikaans feitliks sonder uitsondering as varia-
sieloos sien. Changuion
(1844) self, Mansvelt (1884)
, Viljoen (1896)
, en ook S.J. du Toit [the
founder of the GRA CH] is gesteld daarop dat Afrikaans “van die Kaap tot by die Limpopo” een taal is,
sonder noemenswaardige verskeidenheid. Die hoofrede hiervoor lê m.i. daarin dat teen die einde van die
vorige eeu om Afrikaans as kultuurtaal begin gaan het, en dat dit vir baie van hulle om Afrikaans as
nasionale taal gesentreer het. Dit was belangrik vir hulle om Afrikaans van sy patois-etiket te bevry,
want toe het dialek nog min of meer onaanvaarbare afwyking beteken.’
‘Im ganzen Süd-Afrika wird mit Ausnahme der grösseren Städte und des östlichen Theils der
Kapkolonie und Natal – nur eine Sprache gesprochen: das sogen. Kap-Holländisch.’
‘z.B. das Holländische wie es in der Umgegend der Kapstad gesprochen wird, mag von der Spra-
che der Transvaalschen Bauern in einigen Hinsichten verschieden sein (…) diese Verschiedenheiten
sind in allgemeinen genommen ganz unbedeutend und wohin man kommt wird man ohne Mühe andere
verstehen können und selbst von ihnen verstanden werden.’
Camiel Hamans
von Wielligh published a first survey of regional varieties of Afrikaans in 1925,
it took till the 1980s and the work of Christo van Rensburg before the obsession of
Afrikaans as a homogeneous language was given up.
The Standard Afrikaans that we know today developed roughly in the first quar-
ter of the 20
century (Roberge 2003: 31); the norm, however, was artificially set in
the 19
[T]he standardization efforts of the first language society [GRA CH] drew on the well-
known imitations of Cape Dutch Vernacular speech which had been popularized in the
Cape dialect literature from the 1830s. The Cape dialect writing tradition is best under-
stood as a type of ‘variety imitation’ (…), that is out-group members (i.e. well-educated
journalists and other middle class writers) imitate the marked linguistic behaviour of an-
other social group (i.e. the language use of rural Cape farmers and artisans). Dialect imi-
tations typically involve the overgeneralization of otherwise rare and variable linguistic
features. (…) Gradually Cape Dutch writers created a relatively uniform representation
of the ‘vernacular’ as an amalgamation of different non-standard features which did not
necessarily coexist (…) in the speech of any individual, but which endowed the texts
with the stereotypical characteristics of local speech and helped to establish a typological
model of what constituted ‘Afrikaans’. The process of creating a unified representation
of the local vernacular was continued by the first language society when formulating the
linguistic rules of the new standard – rules which defined Afrikaans as a uniform linguis-
tic diasystem in its own right, independent of Dutch (Deumert 2002: 6).
A standard language originating from one dialectal source is highly exceptional;
Afrikaans is not such an exception. Deumert (2004) shows that standard Afrikaans is
composed by ‘language engineers’ (Grebe 2009: 21) on the basis of phenomena
from different sources.
In addition, Deumert concluded through an accurate analysis
of private Cape Dutch documents from the last decades of the 19
and the first of the
century that the upcoming ‘standard’ language used at the turn of the 19
and 20
century varied widely. There existed a dynamic continuum of sociolects till at least
1900, her sources demonstrate. The idea that there was one Afrikaans variety which
could be traced back straight to Dutch varieties of the past thus becomes very implau-
sible. Yet this is a thought that has been defended with fire for nearly a hundred years.
4. Theories about the origin of Afrikaans
4.1. Earliest views
Even though the first linguist who described the nature of Afrikaans, Theophilus
Hahn (see section 1), described the language as a mixed language, as a product of
The work of the pioneer dialect geographer Stephanus A. Louw, who published an atlas of Afri-
kaans, Afrikaanse Taalatlas, in 1959 focuses on the dialectal differences between Dutch and Afrikaans.
The way Afrikaans is constructed reminds of the the way Ivar Aason designed Ny Norsk.
Afrikaans: a language where ideology and linguistics meet
Teutonic phonetics and Hottentot idiom, and as ‘psychologically’ Hottentot, his
classification was not widely shared. Since he only (dis)qualified the language and
did not give any arguments in his 1882 address, it was clear that one had to look for
data and arguments. That is what Hugo Schuchardt, the father of Creole studies, did.
He wrote a letter to Matthias de Vries, professor of linguistics at Leiden University
and, as founder of the Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal ‘Dictionary of the
Dutch Language’ (1864–2001, 43 vols), a central figure in the study of Dutch. Schu-
chardt asked for information about Afrikaans. De Vries advised him to contact Jo-
hannes Brill (see sections 3.6 and 3.9). Brill answered him that the language is pure
(…) only in a degenerate grammatical form. (…) Neither the Hottentot [Khoekhoe CH]
nor the Kaffir language [Bantu language] had the slightest direct influence on them, and
this is as true of the inner parts of the country as it is of the immediate vicinity of Cape
Town. There could be an indirect influence of the Malay and the African coloured peo-
ple, insofar as they may have contributed more or less to the grammatical degeneration
of the Dutch language, but such influence, although it has to be generally recognized, is
difficult to demonstrate in detail (Noordegraaf 2004: 172–173).
In fact, Brill claimed that the differences between Afrikaans and Dutch were the
result of a spontaneous development, albeit that there may have been some influence
from Malay speaking slaves and of the language(s) of the coloured people. It is not
surprising that Brill did not agree with Schuchardt’s Creole assumptions. After all,
in his 1875 speech he had already explained that the wearing down of the Afrikaans
word endings and the simplification of the forms in Afrikaans are a consequence of
normal language changes based on the sound laws, as they also apply to the other
Germanic languages (Van Niekerk 1916: 32).
Brill’s answer did not convince Schuchardt, as his review of the first Afrikaans
dictionary (1884) by Mansvelt (see fn. 41) shows. Schuchardt, who turned out to be
very well acquainted with all the research into Afrikaans, partly due to references
received from Matthias de Vries, as he indicated, concluded that
Cape Dutch [Afrikaans] is the result of a very strong and strange mixture of languages.
(Schuchardt 1885: 466).
‘(…) nur in entarteter grammatischen Form. (…) Weder die Hottentottische [Khoekhoe CH]
noch die Kaffersprache [Bantu language] hat den geringsten directen Einfluss auf sie gehabt, und dies
gilt eben so sehr von den innern Theilen des Landes wie von der unmittelbaren Umgegend der Kapstadt.
Von einem indirecten Einflusse der Malaier und der Afrikanischen Naturellen könnte allerdings die
Rede sein, in so weit als sie mehr oder weniger zur grammatischen Entartung der Holländischen Sprache
mögen mitgewirkt haben, aber solcher Einfluss, obgleich er im allgemeinen anerkannt werden musz,
liesze sich schwierig in Besonderheiten nachweisen.’
‘Das Kapholländische ist das Resultat einer sehr starken und merkwürdigen Sprachmischung’.
Camiel Hamans
Schuchardt appreciated Mansvelts approach, especially since Mansvelt appeared
to be able to find sources and roots for Afrikaans lexemes in older Dutch texts and
Dutch dialects.
The D u t c h foundation already shows, quite apart from the preservation of many old
forms [and] very different dialect elements, in the determination of which the author has
made an honest effort. (Schuchardt 1885: 466; spacing orginal).
He criticised, however, the fact that Mansvelt underestimated the possible German
influence on Afrikaans. Quite a number of the VOC employees, soldiers, and early
colonists were German and that is why Schuchardt pointed to German roots.
And in this way, a lot of G e r m a n came into Cape Dutch [U]nd so ist denn viel
D e u t s c h e s ins Kapholländische gekommen (Schuchardt 1885: 467; spacing orginal).
Later research, however, showed that Schuchard is mistaken in this respect.
Following Matthias de Vries, who described Afrikaans as Dutch in French, Hu-
guenots’ mouth, Schuchardt (1885: 468) also considered a possible French influ-
ence, which he rightly did not want to overestimate, even though he noticed a possi-
ble parallel between the brace negation ne …pas in French and nie…nie in
Afrikaans, which does not exist in Dutch, and and the coincidence of the subject and
object forms of the personal pronoun 1st person plural, ons in Afrikaans and nous in
French, whereas Dutch has two different forms e.g. wij (subject) and ons (object).
The total number, however, of French words in Afrikaans appeared to be rather
small. More interesting, he thought, are the Malay words in Afrikaans, just as the
Portuguese, which show that there must have been a certain influence. The role of
the indigenous languages, however, is much more intriguing.
The most important point of contention finally remains the question of the influence of
the Hottentot language (the Bantu languages can be put aside) on the formation of Cape
Dutch. (…) The question arises whether the Creole coloring, which the Cape Dutch
wears, is to be put on account of the Hottentot language (Schuchardt 1885: 469).
The idea of creole influences on the language of the white Afrikaner was not appre-
ciated in South Africa. Johannes Brill (1910, quoted by Noordegraaf 2014: 527)
attributed the rejection of Creole influence primarily on sentiment. For the white
‘Schon der h o l l ä n d i s c he Grundstock zeigt, ganz abgesehen von der Erhaltung vieler Alter-
thümlichkeiten, sehr verschiedenartige dialektische Elemente, im deren Feststellung sich der Verf[asser]
redlich bemüht hat.’
‘[U]nd so ist denn viel D e u t s c h e s ins Kapholländische gekommen.’
‘Als allerwichtigster Streitpunkt bleibt endlich die Frage nach der Einwirkung des Hottentot-
tischen (von den Bantusprachen ist abzusehen) auf die Bildung des Kapholländischen übrig. (…) Es
fragt sich, ob die kreolische Färbung, welche das Kapholländische trägt, auf Rechnung des Hottentot-
tischen zu setzen ist.’
Afrikaans: a language where ideology and linguistics meet
speakers of Afrikaans, it felt as if the status of language has been degraded when
formed under the influence of a slave language. No wonder that the Dutchman C.J.
van Rijn, who taught in Cape Town, where he published a series of Dutch and Afri-
kaans school books from the turn of the century, including a reading method that
claimed to be the first in South African based on the ‘home language, the spoken
heavily protested against the suggestion that Afrikaans was a product of
language mixing, in a pamphlet-like booklet intended for teachers, ministers, and
interested parties, in which he studied the close relationship between Dutch and
Afrikaans is not a bastard, babble or mixed language. (…) Your language has been pre-
served as a miracle, despite the browns that shattered it, despite lack of education, de-
spite “a century of injustice”. (…) Afrikaans is Dutch through and through (1914: 75).
This aversion to a possible coloured influence was so common in South Africa that
it should come as no surprise that the first study on the history of Afrikaans,
Viljoen’s 1896 Strasbourg dissertation, comes to the conclusion that the phonetic
system of the language is based on spoken North-Holland, thus Dutch, dialects,
which he calls Volksprache Nordhollands, even though he accepts a certain influ-
ence of the white European languages French and German (Viljoen: 1896: 58).
It was not only Afrikaners who could not accept a coloured or slave influence,
the Dutch linguist Cornelis Stoffel (1882) and the Amsterdam professor of Dutch
literature and Linguistics Jan te Winkel (1896) shared the opinion of Matthias de
Vries and argued that it was the Huguenots who influenced the formation of Afri-
kaans (Noordegraaf 2014: 527).
4.2. The denial of language mixing
The question raised by Hahn whether Afrikaans was a ‘Teutonic’, thus European,
or a Hottentot language, continued to dominate the debate about the origin of Afri-
kaans. Two schools faced each other in this often heated discussion. The first group
of scholars defended the European, West-Germanic, character of Afrikaans, whereas
the other stressed the Creole features of the language. Within the first group, a dis-
tinction can be made between those who see the history of Afrikaans as nothing
more than a spontaneous development from Dutch and Dutch dialects of the
900&qt=facet_yr%3A (retrieved 15.03.2021)
‘Het Afrikaans is geen bastaard-, brabbel- of mengtaal. (…) Uw taal is als een mirakel bewaard
gebleven, ondanks de bruinen die haar radbraakten, ondanks gebrek aan onderwijs, ondanks “een eeuw
van onrecht”. (…) Het Afrikaans is door en door Hollands.’
Camiel Hamans
century into Afrikaans
and scholars who attribute changes to the problems that
second language learners at the Cape encountered while mastering Dutch. These
second language learners included Khoekhoe and Malay or Creole-Portuguese
speaking slaves in addition to French and Germans. However, the emphasis was on
the European immigrants as they mixed with the Dutch-speaking whites. Eurocentric
theories were favored, since mixed languages or better, Creole languages, were not
highly regarded around 1900.
[T]he Zeitgeist generally favored a purist attitude towards both linguistic and racial mat-
ters, and creolization was equated with miscegenation, both being regarded as deviations
from the norm by linguists and laymen alike. The Newgrammarian approach to linguistic
description, based on the Stammbaumtheorie (or Family Tree Theory), relegated what
were regarded as mixed languages to the position of “black sheep of the family”, or ille-
gitimate children, because the accepted line of descent was one parent per child (…). Ra-
cialist attitudes characterized the investigation of the origin and history of languages (…)
(Kotzé 2005).
The Dutch linguist Dirk C. Hesseling had to experience this hostility when he pro-
posed a theory that attributed an important place to a slave language in the develop-
ment of Afrikaans. Hesseling was a specialist in Modern Greek and had been con-
cerned with the question of how Modern Greek had developed: straight from Attic
or from a mixture of different languages and dialects (Noordegraaf 2014: 527). After
he had become acquainted with the ideas of Schuchardt and with Schuchardt him-
self, he dared to ask similar questions with regard to the origin of Afrikaans
According to Markey (1982: 169), the Dutch dialectologist Kloeke, who published a monograph
about the origin and growth of Afrikaans (1950), is the representative par excellence of a most strict
spontaneous evolution theory. This school ‘lauds “the miracle of Afrikaans”, denies linguistic miscege-
nation, and is exclusively Eurocentric: it represents the politically-tinged party line of white supremacy.’
Kloeke argued he could designate a South Holland founder’s dialect for Afrikaans on the basis of dialect
agreements. His work was not well received in South Africa and especially the doyen of the ‘philologi-
cal school’ Scholtz (see 4.5) heavily criticized Kloeke’s work, especially his analyses of diminutive
formation in Afrikaans and in the dialects of the province of South-Holland (Scholtz 1950, reprinted in
Scholtz 1963: 232–256; see also Den Besten 2005). Although Markey presents Kloeke as a symbol of
scholars who worked from a belief of white supremacy, Kloeke (1950: 213–214) made an open plea for
the equal rights, also linguistically, for coloured Afrikaans. He also questioned whether the characteris-
tics and developments of coloured Afrikaans are indeed secondary to white Afrikaans.
The discussion on the origin of Afrikaans has been described by many authors, among others by
Smith (1927), Barnouw (1934), Nienaber (1949 and 1953), Smith (1952), Boshoff and Nienaber (1967),
Zimmer (1992), Ponelis (1993), Roberge (1990, 1994 and 2002), Holm (2000: 27–29), Kotzé (2005),
Hinskens (2009), Bergerson (2011), Grebe (2012), Conradie and Groenewald (2017), Carstens and Raidt
(2017), Kriel (2018) and Groenewald (2019). Kotzé and Kirsten (2016) discuss the views on the origin
of Afrikaans from three different schools of linguistic thought and their relation to nationalistic purism.
Roberge (2006: 2401) calls him the first linguist ‘to bring out an extensive study of the origins of
Afrikaans: a language where ideology and linguistics meet
afterwards also the Negro-Dutch of the Virgin Islands. After a first publication in
1897 Hesseling published a detailed monograph about the ‘history of the Dutch
language in South-Africa, in which he stressed the ‘hyper-analytical’ character of
If only in our century we could point out examples of a language that so much distin-
guishes itself from Dutch by its hyperanalytic character, we would already have difficul-
ty in believing that the spontaneous development of any Dutch dialect could be envis-
aged here. It is not easy to point out an example that the language of a colony deviates to
such an extent from the linguistic forms of the mother tongue in the course of two centu-
ries apart from the influence of a foreign idiom (Hesseling 1899: 11).
Hesseling discussed all possible foreign idioms that may have influenced Afrikaans.
Since he thought that the contact between the colonist and the Hottentots was much
more restricted than with their slaves, it must have been the languages of the slaves
which caused the language ‘simplifications’. Afrikaans, however, did not completely
creolize due to inhibiting and neutralizing factors such as the constant arrival of
fresh Dutch speakers from the Netherlands, the influence of the Dutch bureaucracy
and administration, of the Dutch speaking pastors who often came directly from the
Netherlands, and of the Bible, translated in a sort of standardized Dutch (Grebe
2012: 16). Afrikaans stopped half way on its development to become a Creole lan-
guage (Hesseling 1923²: 128). Since Hesseling followed Schuchardt who reported
about a Malay-Portuguese Creole found in Batavia (Java, Indonesia) (1890), he
incorrectly believed in a combined lingua franca of Bazaar Malay and Portuguese
Creole (Van der Wouden 2012: 291–300). But it was not because of this mistake,
that would only be criticized much later, that Hesseling’s theory encountered much
opposition. Barnouw (1934: 21) summarized the reception of Hesseling’s theory.
Dr. Hesseling’s theory is not popular in South Africa. It is felt to put a stigma on the race
of the Voortrekkers and on their language, and Afrikaans scholars, foremost among
whom are Professor D.B. Bosman, Professor Smith, and Dr. S.P.E. Boshoff, have done
their best to refute it by tracing the peculiarities of the Taal [Language] back to certain
peasant dialects of Holland.
Unlike Dutch, Afrikaans has no grammatical gender and thus only one definite article. Afrikaans
shows deflexion, the same form is used for infinitives of verbs and present tense. Afrikaans dropped the
simple past tense, except for a few exceptions. Afrikaans has only one auxiliary to form the present
perfect, whereas Dutch distinguishes between verbs with zijn ‘be’ and hebben ‘have’; there is a coinci-
dence of demonstratives and interrogative pronouns in Afrikaans etc.
‘Indien we eerst in onze eeuw staaltjes konden aanwijzen van een taal, die zóo zeer door haar hy-
peranalytisch karakter zich onderscheidt van het Nederlandsch, zouden we reeds moeite hebben te
gelooven dat hier aan de spontane ontwikkeling van eenig Nederlandsch dialect kan worden gedacht.
Niet licht zal men een voorbeeld kunnen aanwijzen dat, buiten den invloed van een vreemd idioom, de
taal eener kolonie in den tijd van twee eeuwen in die mate afwijkt van de taalvormen der moedertaal.’
Camiel Hamans
Reinecke (1975: 322–323) rightly concludes that it is not the Creole-like simplifica-
tion of Afrikaans, which is felt offensive by the white Afrikaans speaking community
of linguists, ‘but the word Creole with its smack of color’.
C.J. van Rijn, the Dutch
schoolmaster living in Cape Town introduced in section 4.1., joined in the discus-
sion with catchphrases on the back cover of his booklet for teachers and ministers
What is Afrikaans? Is it a Mixed language? A Bastard language? Oh no. NOTHING of
it! Is it Dutch? In heart and soul. Does Malay-Portuguese have anything to do with it?
Nothing at all.
59, 60
On the same back cover Van Rijn calls on its readers to discuss these questions in
their debating clubs and to use the arguments he has put forward against the Malay-
Portuguese hypothesis. The opposition against Hesseling was not limited to South
Africa. The German linguist, early anti-Nazi, and specialist in mystical movements
Heinrich Meyer-Benfey (1901: 10–18) was the first one to oppose Hesseling’s theo-
ry in his grammar of Afrikaans. According to Meyer-Benfey the influence of the
slaves on the Dutch language was limited, since ‘the bearers of the language’ were
and remained the original Dutch speakers, who cultivated and cared for their lan-
guage, even though he pointed to the broken-Dutch of the Hottentots who picked up
Dutch as a foreign language and transmitted that language to the next generations.
Also Etsko Kruisinga, a Dutch specialist in English and prolific writer on linguistic
matters, criticized Hesseling.
Dr. Hesseling thought of the influence of Malay-Portuguese, which was spoken in the
coastal towns by the slaves imported from various parts of Africa, as well as by
the whites. But according to H. himself, the slaves learned Dutch soon after their arrival,
and this was promoted by the government. That makes a significant influence of the
slave language unlikely (Kruisinga 1906: 418).
Kruisinga claims to have shown that all the data and examples Hesseling adduces to
support his theory could be the result of an independent internal development of
Dutch (1906: 426).
Hesseling only found support in a Ghent dissertation by the Afrikaner linguist
Pieter du Toit (1905) and in a series of articles by the Dutch specialist in
Markey (1982: 169) must establish that this view ‘has met with general hostility.’
‘Wat is Afrikaans? Is het een Mengeltaal? Een Bastaardtaal? O, Neen. NIETS daarvan!
Is het Hollands? In hart en nieren. Heeft het Maleis-Portugees er iets mee te doen? Glad niks.’
Note that Van Rijn claimed to write Dutch. His exclamation ‘glad niks’, however is Afrikaans
and is not known in Dutch, where it should have been helemaal niets.
‘Dr. Hesseling heeft gedacht aan invloed van het Maleis-Portugees, dat op de kustplaatsen
gesproken werd door de slaven die uit verschillende delen van Afrika werden ingevoerd, en ook door de
blanken. Maar volgens H. zelf leerden de slaven, al spoedig na hun aankomst, Hollands, en werd dit
door de regering bevorderd. Dat maakt grote invloed van de slaventaal niet waarschijnlijker.’
Afrikaans: a language where ideology and linguistics meet
old-Germanic, Arie Bouman, who taught in South-Africa for many years. In an arti-
cle about the Afrikaans double or brace negation (1923) Bouman pointed to a possi-
ble influence of Bantu languages next to a phonological explanation. Bouman
(1924) he supported his argument with a few examples of the early slave lingua
franca (see section 3.2.). Some years later he wrote
In the field of Afrikaner linguistic history, one will also have to revise the term “sponta-
neous development” more and more with reserve, which borders on mistrust. (Bouman
1928: 41).
The rest of the Dutch and Afrikaner academic world still stuck with the old idea of
white supremacy, also in linguistics. The history and fate of the thesis of the young
Afrikaner Theo Schonken provides a strange but striking example of the negative
attitude towards Hesseling’s Creole theory. F. Theo(philus) Schonken (1879–1909)
was a young Afrikaner scholar who was interested in folk traditions. After his stud-
ies in the Netherlands he went to Leipzig, where he prepared a doctoral dissertation
under the supervision of Eugen Mogk, professor of Scandinavian philology. Before
he could defend his thesis, he passed away. His study, however, was published in
1910 as a supplement to the Internationales Archiv für Ethnographie under the title
Die Wurzeln der Kapholländischen Volksüberlieferungen. His Dutch friends, being
interested in Afrikaner culture, wanted the book to be translated into Dutch. When
doing so and when comparing the printed text with the manuscript, they noticed that
a whole paragraph about the Afrikaner language was omitted, due to an intervention
of Eduard Sievers himself (Schonken 1914: X). According to the neogrammarian
Sievers this part was not to be included since it enthält viel Anfechtbares ‘it contains
much which is contestable’.
In the Dutch edition (1914) this paragraph is included and starts:
Dr. Hesseling has informed us in detail about the close relations of the indigenous Afri-
can people with the slaves of the Indies and about their influence on the language. Be-
cause they, together with the exiled Malays [people from now Indonesia who were sent
in exile to South Africa by the Dutch colonial government CH], soon formed a sizable
element of the Cape, which was in constant communication with the Dutch, the language
of the European colonists adapted to their Creole language forms, thus determining the
present form of Afrikaans, while many bastard words from their common language, Ma-
lay-Portuguese, invaded (Schonken 1914: 158).
‘[M]en [zal] ook op het terrein van de Afrikaanse taalgeschiedenis de term ‘spontane ontwikkeling
meer en meer met reserve, die grenst aan wantrouwen, moeten herzien.’
‘Dr. Hesseling heeft ons uitvoerig op de nauwe betrekkingen der Afrikaners tot de uit Ind
stammende slaven en over hun invloed op de taal ingelicht. Doordat zij te zamen met de verbannen
Maleiers weldra een talrijk element aan de Kaap vormden, dat in gestadig verkeer met de Hollanders
stond, heeft de taal der Europeesche kolonisten zich aan hun kreoolsche taalvormen aangepast, waardoor
de tegenwoordige gedaante van het Afrikaansch bepaald werd, terwijl vele bastaardwoorden uit de hun
gemeenzame taal, het Maleisch-Portugees binnendrongen.’
Camiel Hamans
Subsequently, Schonken presents ample examples of words from everyday life that
originate in Malay. When he comes to the phonology of Afrikaans, Schonken refers
to Hesseling and Schuchardt (1914: 167)
and regularly points to phonological
parallels between Malay and Afrikaans and to possible Malay influence on the Afri-
kaans pronunciation.
The aversion to or better, dislike, of Hesseling’s theory thus arose both from sci-
entific animosity between linguistic schools and from national, racist pride. The
ruling neogrammarian views and overlying social feelings went hand in hand to
defend a Eurocentric position. The urge from the rest of the world to the Afrikaners
to also provide space for a non-white influence on the origin of their language, and
society, was therefore very limited.
How the Afrikaner cultural and intellectual world actually thought about their
language is best expressed in the often quoted words of the poet-politician and lan-
guage activist Cornelis J. Langenhoven in an address to the South African Academy
for Language, Letters and Arts in 1914 in Bloemfontein Afrikaans as voertaal ‘Afri-
kaans as language of communication’:
[Th]is our most precious fame, our highest possession: the only white man’s language
made in South Africa and not brought over the sea in completed condition (Kannemeyer
1996²: 331).
4.3. Against a Malay-Portuguese influence
Although a scholar like Kruisinga (1906) used linguistic arguments to challenge
Hesseling’s theory, most of his opponents simply stated that his view was wrong and
that a single ancestor theory had to be correct for Afrikaans. Jacobus J. Le Roux
(1921: 3), for instance, started his introduction to Afrikaans for Dutchmen with
a statement
First and foremost, it has been stated that Afrikaans is essentially the same language as
Dutch, from which it originated since the seventeenth century.
The first scholar who seriously disputed Hesseling’s Creole views, Daniël B.
Bosman, accepted a certain but small influence of the slaves’ lingua franca but in
fact defended the theory that Afrikaans was an extraterritorial variety of Dutch.
The tension between Schuchardt and the Neogrammarians is a well-known fact in the world of
linguistics. Think only of Schuchardt’s Über die Lautgesetze.Gegen die Junggrammatiker (1885) ‘About
the sound laws. Against the neogrammarians.’
‘[D]is ons kostelikste roem, ons hoogste besitting: die één enigste witmanstaal wat in Suid-Afrika
gemaak is en nie oor die seewater klaar gekom.’
‘Voorop is gesteld, dat het Afrikaans in de kern dezelfde taal is als ‘t Nederlands, waaruit ‘t se-
dert de zeventiende eeuw gesproten is.’
Afrikaans: a language where ideology and linguistics meet
Bosman (1916 and 1923) checked the muster-roll of the VOC ships and found that
most of the sailors were Dutch. He found that 1,500 vessels moored in the first forty
years of the refreshment station. More than 1,300 of this number were Dutch and
only four ships a year arrived in Table Bay with a crew that spoke broken Portu-
guese. Therefore the influence of a sailors’ lingua franca should be excluded. In
addition, most of the slaves who were brought to the Cape till 1677 came from Afri-
ca, which implies that they did not speak Malay. Moreover the number of slaves
from Malay speaking regions remained very little till 1715. After all, the number of
colonists exceeded the number of slaves till the beginning of the 18
century. There-
fore, it is very unlikely that there was a an influence from the slaves on the colonists
in the first decades of the colony, a period essential for the emergence of the new
language variety, he supposes.
Bosman (1928²: 53) criticizes the selective way Hesseling used sources and, as
he puts it in his preface, that is why he cannot escape being polemic (1923: 3). Hes-
seling’s ‘theory has many followers, at least in the Netherlands, and so he had to
fight it and defend his own vision’. Bosman’s own hypothesis is that Afrikaans is
a direct daughter of Dutch.
Insofar as Afrikaans is not the spontaneous development of Dutch, it is a development of
Dutch mainly under the influence of the Dutch of foreigners (Bosman 1923: 100–101).
This means that scholars who come across phenomena in Afrikaans which differ
from Dutch first of all have to look into historical and dialectal data from Dutch to
find out whether this phenomenon could not have developed spontaneously from
Dutch. If not, one may turn to interlingual transfer (Grebe 2012: 17) from the lan-
guage of foreign speakers whose mother tongue could be a European language,
a slave lingua franca, or the language of the Khoekhoen. Attempts by non-Dutch
speakers to speak Dutch lead to simplifications (Carstens and Raidt 2017: 430).
More than 60 years later Ponelis (1991 and 1993) again defended the important role
the Dutch of foreigners played in the changes from Dutch to Afrikaans. Ponelis
(1991: 192), however, accepts the term creolization for this influence.
Bosman (see section 3.7) has been criticized by Boshoff for not being racist
enough when he accepted the possibility of a common language of slave children
and their white playmates and peers. Bosman (1916: 39–40) however, denied that
this should automatically lead to a mixed adult language.
A fact that has so far received too little mention in the writings on Afrikaans is that
a white man who is aware of his superiority does not so readily take over a word from
a slave or young man standing below him, except when he is in conversation with the
slave or young himself. (…) Most whites, fathers, mothers, and children (in the East of
‘In sover as Afrikaans nie die spontane ontwikkeling van Hollands is nie, is dit ‘n ontwikkeling
van Hollands hoofsakelik onder invloed van die Nederlands van vreemdelinge.’
Camiel Hamans
the Orange Free State) know Sesotho and speak it to their [servant CH] people on a daily
basis. It often happens that children up to their fifth or sixth year, can speak Sesotho bet-
ter than Afrikaans, sometimes exclusively Sesotho, and yet in the fifty years (which this
situation exists), no mixed language, or anything similar, arises.
Hesseling’s remark that social distinctions hardly play a role in the emergence of
Creole languages, as can be shown in the case of Negro-Dutch (Hesseling 1905: 54),
did not convince Bosman. The social stratification in South Africa is different
(Bosman 1928²: 118). In addition, Creole influences are only found in coloured
Afrikaans, which is not suiwer Afrikaans ‘proper Afrikaans’ (Bosman 1928²: 80).
Boshoff (1921) followed Bosman in his dislike of Hesseling’s theory and in his
claim that most of the phenomena of Afrikaans which seem to differ from Dutch can
be explained as a result of spontaneous developments originating in Dutch. Boshoff
did not share, however, the second part of Bosman’s claim. According to him, there
is no need to enlist the help of Dutch-learning foreigners to explain apparent particu-
lars. The background of the Dutch and other European settlers was rather diverse.
Therefore they had to equalize their language. Boshoff uses the German term Aus-
gleich ‘equalization’ for this process (Boshoff 1921: 34). Nevertheless, many differ-
ent forms remained active. Unlike Dutch, where a relatively homogeneous starting
point formed the basis for the development of the national language, this was not the
case for Afrikaans. Boshoff followed the theory of the dilettante linguist and lan-
guage activist reverend Willem Postma (1912: 594) and stressed the role of the lan-
guage-learning Afrikaner child (Boshoff 1921: 77).
(1) Afrikaans is the language of the Afrikaans child, born of Dutch parents and surround-
ed by different kinds of people, who spoke a different language than him.
(2) The material, which the Afrikaans child used for language formation, is Dutch of the
century as it lived in the vernacular.
(3) Dutch became Afrikaans in the mouth of the Afrikaans child, because he had to adapt
his language to the circumstances, in which he was born and grew up.
„n Feit wat tot nog toe in die geskrifte oor Afrikaans te weinig vermelding gevind het, is dat die
sig van superioriteit bewuste blanke, nie so geredlik ‘n woord van ‘n slaaf of jong wat beneden hom
staan oorneem nie, behalve wanneer hy in gesprek is met die slaaf of jong self. (…) Die meeste blanke,
vaders, moeders en kinders (in die Ooste van die Oranje-Vrijstaat), ken Sesoetoe en praat die daagliks
met hulle volk. Dit kom dikwels voor dat kindertjies tot hulle vyfde of sesde jaar, beter Sesoetoe as
Afrikaans kan praat, soms uitsluitend Sesoetoe, en tog is daar in die vyftig jaar (wat dié toestand
bestaan), geen mengeltaal, of iets wat daarop lyk, ontstaan nie.’.
‘(1) Afrikaans is die taal van die Afrikaanse kind, gebore uit Hollandse ouers en omgewe van
verskillende soorte mense, wat ‘n ander taal gepraat het als hy.
(2) Die materiaal, wat die Afrikaanse kind gebruik het vir taalvorming, is Hollands van die I7e eeu
soals dit geleef het in die volksmond.
(3) Hollands het in die mond van die Afrikaanse kind Afrikaans geworde, omdat hy sy taal moes
aanpas aan die omstandigbede, waarin by gebore was en groot geworde het.’
Afrikaans: a language where ideology and linguistics meet
To show how Afrikaans lexical items could be traced back to Dutch, Boshoff took
a sample of 2,000 words from three spheres of use, heritage, own property, and bor-
rowed culture, and demonstrated how they could be etymologized in different lan-
guages, but especially different Dutch dialects. This research became the starting
point of Boshoff’s successful career as the most esteemed etymologist of Afrikaans.
Boshoff remained skeptical about Creole explanations of Afrikaans develop-
ments, especially about the Malay-Portuguese theory, till his last publication. Refer-
ring to the revival of Creole explanations by Valkhoff, he polemically wrote in the
introduction to the etymological dictionary by Bosman and Nienaber (1967: 25) that
‘the old wandering spirit of Malay Portuguese has not yet been conjured up’ and
‘and is taken from the grave from time to time, with or without the help of a magic
potion or a clown’.
A third opponent against Hesseling’s Malay-Portuguese hypothesis was Johan-
nes Smith, who voiced his objections for the first time in 1913 (Slomanson 1993:
421), again in 1927 but made them widely heard with his 1948 lecture, published
posthumously in 1952. At first glance, his argument looks terminological; an ideo-
logical racist undertone, however, cannot be denied.
(…) I wish to point that when people speak of the process of creolizing in connection
with Afrikaans, something totally different is intended from what we mean when we use
the term in connection with the usual Creole languages. A Creole idiom like Pidgin-
English is a European language creolised in the speech of a native of Africa, Asia or
America; but in the case of Afrikaans nobody can seriously maintain that it is a language
that originated among slaves or Hottentots, and that the white colonists then exchanged
their own speech for this idiom. All history flatly contradicts such a view (…) (Smith
1952: 11).
In this context, Smith explicitly targeted Pieter du Toit, whose 1905 dissertation was
the only Afrikaans linguistic publication to support Hesseling’s Malay-Portuguese
theory. According to Smith, Afrikaans is a peasant dialect which rapidly developed
into a language deviating from Dutch through a change of environment followed by
isolation, but whose basis could be found in the Dutch dialects. Like Boshoff, Smith
defends a monocausal theory of spontaneous origin.
In any case, there cannot be the slightest doubt that the Afrikaans population of South
Africa and consequently the Afrikaans language originated in the country districts (Smith
1952: 15).
The Netherlandish colonists of South Africa came to a totally different sort of country,
where the kind of farming practiced was unknown in the Netherlands. At an early date
the agricultural and pastoral populations moved into the interior and got isolated not only
from the European mother country but also from the South African mother city [Cape
Town CH].
(…) Is it then surprising to find that the language of the colonists changed very rapidly?
Camiel Hamans
Besides it should be remembered that the dropping of the flexion can be regularly ex-
plained, as in English, by the unchecked working of analogy and a few sound laws which
were already to some extent found in the dialects of the Netherlands and Low Germany
(…). It should not be forgotten that Afrikaans did not start from the modern standard
Netherlandish, but from the popular dialects of the provinces of Holland, Zealand and
Utrecht (Smith 1952: 16–17).
4.4. Revival of Creole-Portuguese influence
When Smith gave his lecture, Marius Valkhoff had already published his first
study about the origin of Afrikaans seven years earlier. In this book he explicitly
linked up with Hesseling (Valkhoff 1941: 90), even though he concentrated more on
the influence of the Creole-Portuguese varieties of the slaves on the emergent Afri-
kaans. Valkhoff, a Dutch Romanist, was no stranger to South Africa, because he
held chairs in the Netherlands and South Africa alternately. And his publication
could hardly have escaped attention, because after a first edition in the Netherlands
(1941), a second revised edition followed in 1943 in Belgium. Despite this, Smith
does not mention him. Later African scholars also prefer to overlook his work. Jo-
hannes du Plessis Scholtz for instance wrote in the introduction to his 1980 book on
the origin of Afrikaans:
I long doubted the desirability and necessity of including the two books of Marius F.
Valkhoff [1966 and 1972] in the bibliography, its unscientific and offensive tone and
also because there is nothing new of importance in it, at least not in support of an origin
theory he wanted to breathe new life into. (Scholtz 1980: V).
Valkhoff who polemically introduced the terms ‘albocentrism’ and ‘diachronistic
purism’ for the ideological and linguistic stances of adversaries who supported
a spontaneous development from Dutch to Afrikaans and accused them of racial
prejudices realized that Afrikaners disliked the idea of a mixed origin of their lan-
guage and of their group.
The Afrikaners themselves feel something demeaning in the Malay-Portuguese
theory and from that I also explain its almost general rejection in South Africa, next
to acceptance with us. However, I cannot justify that of them; that our common an-
cestors did not always live as saints, we have known for a long time! Different
times, different customs, and both were somewhat rougher in the 17
century than
they are today. Nor is there anything despicable in an influence by Creole-
‘[E]k het lank getwyfel oor die wenselikheid en noodsaak van die insluit in die bibliografie van
die twee boeke van Marius F. Valkhoff [1966 and 1972], om die onwetenskaplike en aanstootgevende
toon daarvan en ook omdat daar niks nuuts van belang in voorkom nie, althans nie ter ondersteuning van
‘n onstaansteorie wat hy graag nuwe lewe wou inblaas nie.’.
Afrikaans: a language where ideology and linguistics meet
Portuguese; after all, it only means that a simplified form of a Romance cultural
language, with some Malay and other Eastern words through it, has become spoken
alongside Dutch and has acted on its structure. Besides, it is not about what is pleasant
for the researcher or not, but what can be scientifically justified. (Valkhoff 1941: 96).
Valkhoff, who also published in English, which made his views widely known,
called Afrikaans ‘a Netherlandic language that has undergone a beginning of creo-
lization’ (1941: 90). Also in this respect he followed Hesseling. Notwithstanding his
international fame, his research has not survived time. Even scholars who them-
selves work within Creole theories indicate that the data on which he based his re-
search was extremely weak.
The research in Valkhof 1972 is undeniable slapdash. (…) If nothing else in his work
turns out to be of lasting value his insistence that the genesis of Afrikaans was subject to
the continuum principle (that is, that we should speak of more or less ‘advanced’ forms
of Afrikaans) ought to be a serious issue for anybody holding the view that language con-
tact at the old Cape was more than random and unsystematic (Roberge 1990: 145–146).
Roberge (1986: 196) is somewhat more positive about Valkhoff’s work:
[T]he value of Valkhoff’s research lies not in its theory on the origins of Afrikaans but
rather in its explicit recognition of a common heritage for the Afrikaans spoken by
Whites and ‘Coloureds’.
4.5. The Philological School
As shown, the polemics between adherents of ‘spontaneous evolution’ theories
that dominated the discussion about the origin of Afrikaans much of the 20
(Willemse 2015–2016: 9) and proponents of Creole hypotheses kept the Afrikaans
historical linguistic world busy for decades. It became more and more clear that all
the views were untenable as long as they were not supported by hard linguistic data.
That is why Johan Franken (see section 3.1) went into the archives in order to find
older Cape Dutch data, surviving texts and testimonies about language use. Johannes
du Plessis Scholtz (or du P. Scholtz) followed another path. He blamed the earlier
‘De Afrikaners zelf voelen iets vernederend in de Maleis-Portugese theorie en daaruit verklaar ik
ook haar vrijwel algemene verwerping in Zuid-Afrika, naast aanvaarding bij ons. Ik kan dat echter niet
van hen wettigen; dat onze gemeenschappelijke voorouders niet altijd als heiligen geleefd hebben,
wisten we toch al lang! Andere tijden, andere zeden, en beide waren in de 17
eeuw wat ruwer dan thans.
In een beïnvloeding door Creools-Portugees ligt evenmin iets verachtelijks; immers het betekent slechts
dat een vereenvoudigde vorm van een Romaanse cultuurtaal, met enige Maleise en andere Oosterse
woorden erdoorheen, naast het Hollands gesproken is geworden en op de structuur daarvan ingewerkt
heeft. Trouwens het gaat er niet om wat aangenaam voor den onderzoeker is of niet, maat wat weten-
schappelijk te verantwoorden is.’
Camiel Hamans
theory builders for relying too much on sociohistorical data (Carstens and Raidt
2017: 427). The research program he advocated consisted of collecting and analyz-
ing hard core linguistic data in older Dutch texts and Dutch dialects.
Scholtz introduced to Afrikaans historical linguistics a very rigorous inductive approach
that explicitly precludes aprioristic theories of language genesis founded on external evi-
dence: ‘The emphasis now falls were it belongs: on the collection and evaluation of purely
linguistic data, without conclusions being pressed into service in support of some pre-
conceived theory that will in any event never “explain” the “origin” of the entire linguis-
tic system (Scholtz 1980: 34; transl. Roberge 1992: 41).
By following his own program and by attracting followers such as Roy Pheiffer, the
young Gabriël Nienaber, and especially Edith H. Raidt, Scholtz founded what the
Dutch generative linguist Hans den Besten (1985) called ‘the philological school’ in
his review of a study by Raidt. Elsewhere (Den Besten 2000: 9) he calls this school
They claimed to be averse to any theory formation. As long as
the facts were not clear, it was too early for hypotheses. It is not for nothing that he
called the collection of ‘his ground-breaking articles’ (Groenewald 2019: 11) ‘pre-
studies to the history of Afrikaans’ (Scholtz 1963). Nevertheless ‘Scholtz found it
expedient to adduce from his empirical findings a synoptic explanation of the genesis’
of Afrikaans in an otherwise unpublished lecture (Roberge 1992: 41). At the end of
the 17
century the language situation at the Cape was a mixture of different tongues
such as Dutch, German, French, Khoekhoe, Bazaar Malay, Creole Portuguese.
Out of this melting-pot of languages an amalgam of them all could have arisen in which
it would have been difficult to recognize any of the original components. But such
a mixed language or bredie of languages did not, in fact arise; and if it had, it would not
have resembled the Afrikaans we know to-day. Afrikaans is in its vocabulary and syntac-
tical structure 99% pure Dutch (…). The differences are mainly grammatical the still
strongly flectional Dutch of the 17
century having been driven towards deflexion – that
is: along the same path as English was driven from Anglo-Saxon (Scholtz 1959: 4, quot-
ed from Roberge 1992: 41).
‘The preservation of the essentially Netherlandic character of Afrikaans was due to
the fact that Dutch was the official language of the colony and had behind it the
prestige of the VOC’ (Roberge 1992: 42).
Die nadruk val nou, soos dit hoort, op die versameling en bestudering van suiwer taalgegewens,
sonder om die gevolgtrekking daaruit in diens te stel van ‘n voorbarige teorie wat tog nooit die “on-
tstaan” van die hele taalsisteem kan “verklaar” nie.
Den Besten (2000: 9 fn. 2) does not want to use Valkhoff’s term albocentric or even the less of-
fensive word Eurocentric, since these terms refer to the ideological background and not to the linguistic
method. The alternative hollandocentric is not broad enough, since they also accepted Low German
roots to explain Afrikaans phenomena. Theodiscus is the early Middle-Latin word for Continental West-
Germanic. The ‘Dutch’ alternative is Diets.
Afrikaans: a language where ideology and linguistics meet
The method followed by ‘the philological school’ was to collect as many written
Cape sources as possible and to compare the data from these texts with comparable
data from the current and 17
century Dutch vernacular and dialects. If it was possi-
ble to derive the Afrikaans data from any Dutch source no matter how far fetched,
this was seen as a proof of the Dutch origin. Or as Den Besten (Van der Wouden
2012: 226) put it:
The South African Philological School certainly does not deny the existence of interfer-
ence from other languages (nor does it deny the influence of ‘broken Dutch’). Yet, its
methodology could be rendered by the saying: “If it can be Dutch, it’s got to be Dutch” –
where Dutch refers to any type of Dutch (early, modern, standard, nonstandard, dialec-
tal). Thus, for the pertinent scholars superficial correspondences between structures in
Dutch and structures in Afrikaans suffice as an argument for deriving these Afrikaans
structures from Dutch.
How the analyses and monocausal explanations of the philological school worked
will be shown in section 5.
Since Scholtz and his school had a great aversion to theories, they never went
into the ideological background of their method. Even though one must admit that
much of their philological research is sound and is a fine example of value-free
scholarship, one cannot escape the impression that their emphasis on Dutch descent
was influenced by the Apartheid ideology of their time. After all, Roy Pheiffer
(1979: 9) made it clear that the suggestion of a Creole influence should be avoided
and that even the term Creole was anathema.
Theories of creolization or incipient creolization e.g. between Dutch and Malay or Ma-
layo-Portuguese, propounded earlier, have proved to be unhelpful in giving a name to the
change process which has come to light through meticulous and painstaking analyses of
a large number of written sources. The features which modern creolists have identified as
typical of the creolization process in general have brought some clarity on the point of
a definition of the term itself, but there is still no general agreement.
To cut a long story short: some change processes appearing in the development of Afri-
kaans do resemble those encountered in true creolization, but then again, so many of the
essential characteristics are lacking, such as drastic reduction in word forms and
a brusque restructuring in the syntax, that other terminology becomes necessary.
Even though Edith Raidt was Scholtz’s ‘most important student’ (Groenewald 2019:
15), she did not follow him in ignoring Valkhoff’s work. She explicitly discussed
Valkhoff’s ideas in two publications (Raidt 1975 and 1977) and notices that his
ideas are met with sympathy mainly by overseas non-specialists, due to political
factors (Raidt 1983: 45). Although, she still followed the program of Scholtz, see for
instance the title of her 1975 study ‘Afrikaans and its European Past’, the ‘encounter
with Valkhoff’s ideas greatly influenced her own conception of the history of Afri-
kaans (…)’ (Groenwewald 2019: 15). She remained opposed to the idea of a Creole
Camiel Hamans
influence on Afrikaans but accepted language interference as a possible factor caus-
ing changes. ‘She started studying Afrikaans within the context of language contact ‒
something that Scholz never considered’ (Groenewald 2019: 16). For example the
way she explained the occurrence of the Afrikaans preposition vir plus direct object
differs essentially from the way Scholtz did, as will be shown in section 5.2. In Raidt
(1983: 184) she writes:
In contrast to many other Afrikaans peculiarities, there are no direct points of contact in
the Dutch dialects of the 17
and 18
century. The connection comes from the Creole-
Portuguese trade language, which was commonly used in the 17
, 18
century among
merchants and natives in the east of India. Dutch merchants of the East India Company
were necessarily familiar with this commercial language, which explains why Jan van
Riebeeck had already allowed such connections to slip through in his official
‘Daghregister’ ‘daybook’.
Raidt’s more ‘liberal’ attitude towards possible influence of language contact on the
development of Afrikaans does not imply a more positive evaluation of Creole hy-
potheses with regards to Afrikaans. The postscript of her 1983 monograph, in which
she opposes a Creole explanation of Wh-movement in Afrikaans by Hans den
Besten (1981), is that the most characteristic features for the development of a Cre-
ole language are missing in the history of Afrikaans. The emergence of Afrikaans
took around 200 years (see also Raidt 1983: 118, 126, 159), whereas a pidgin nor-
mally pops up in 30 years. One does not find the abrupt and simultaneous structural
changes typical for pidgins and Creoles.
Even though the final results of the Afrikaans language change often coincide with Cre-
ole characteristics, they were not caused by pidgin factors but by interference, as the
study of the sources clearly shows (Raidt 1983: 191).
4.6. Afrikaans as a sister language of Dutch
Even tough Scholtz and his pupils focused on data collecting instead of wild
theorizing and although there gradually arose some appreciation for language con-
‘Im Gegensatz zu vielen anderen afrikaansen Eigenheiten bestehen hier keine direkten Anknüp-
fungspunkte im dialektalen NDL. des 17. und 18. Jh. Die Verbindung stammt aus der kreol.-
port.Handelssprache, die im 17., 18. und 19. Jh. im ostindischen Raum bei Kaufleuten und Eingeborenen
gebräuchlich war. Holl. Kaufleute der Ostindischen Kompanie waren mit dieser Handelssprache not-
wendigerweise vertraut, daher erklärt es sich auch, daß bereits Jan van Riebeeck in seinem offiziellen
‘Daghregister’ vereinzelt derartige Verbindungen durchschlüpfen ließ.’
Obwohl die Endergebnisse des afr. Sprachwandels oft mit kreol. Kennzeichen übereinstimmen,
wurden sie, wie aus dem Quellenstudium einwandfrei hervorgeht, nicht durch Pidgin-, sondern durch
Interferenzfaktoren verursacht.
Afrikaans: a language where ideology and linguistics meet
tact as a possible cause for change, this did not end the mutual denunciation by rep-
resentatives of creole theories and from the corner of the spontaneists. In particular
Valkhoff and Hendrik J.J.M. van der Merwe stood opposite each other. Van der
Merwe, who was head of the department of Afrikaans and Dutch at the University of
South Africa, an institution for distance education, was a much sought-after radio
speaker, editor of a widely read scientific journal, and editor/author of the most im-
portant university handbooks (Van der Merwe 1963, 1964 and 1968). His mud fight
with Valkhoff, and over his head, also with Hesseling, therefore received more in-
terest than it deserved in terms of content. From an ideological point of view, how-
ever, his remarks and ‘extreme spontaneist’ views (Roberge 1990: 145) are more
interesting, the more since the focus of his activities was in the 1960s and 70s, the
heydays of Apartheid.
Already in 1951, however, he summarized his view on the origin of Afrikaans in
an Afrikaans language book for English speakers.
The linguistic point of view generally adopted today is that Van Riebeeck and his subor-
dinates were not only speakers of the Dutch colloquial dialects, but that they also be-
came, although unconsciously, exponents of the trends of these dialects, especially the
tendencies towards deflection, substitution of the weak verb for the strong, levelling of
all unnecessary linguistic ballast and discarding of linguistic encumbrances. No foreign
language as such was responsible for this tremendous change of the old colloquial dia-
lects and for their ultimate fusion into a new language; what was in progress in the old
mother-country was simply carried out to the full in the new country with its new envi-
ronment, requirements and topographical conditions. The same might have happened in
the Netherlands if this process of “deterioration” had not been arrested by the deliberate
establishment of a Standard language, which was furthered by the schools. (…) In South
Africa the natural progress along the trends indicated above could not be halted as there
were no schools at the beginning. By the time these were established the new language
was already an accomplished fact. (…) If the commanders at the Fort and the early colo-
nists did not bring about this change, i.e. at an early stage, how otherwise must one
account for the remarkable uniformity of Afrikaans as it is encountered over so vast an
area? (…) From the above it is clear that Afrikaans did not originate from present-day
Dutch, but from the colloquial Dutch of the 17
century, so that Afrikaans and Dutch
must be regarded as sister-languages [italics CH]. Afrikaans has retained its Germanic
character to a far greater extent than English, which was changed tremendously under
French influence, but even so retained so much of its Germanic heritage that anyone can
easily detect the remarkable affinity between Afrikaans and English (Van der Merwe
1951: 21–22).
In an article which appeared after his death, Van der Merwe (1974: 33) again
claimed that ‘a general language was already far advanced in the Netherlands in
1652’, a claim that has little support in Dutch historical linguistics. Van der Merwe
claimed that both Dutch and Afrikaans developed in a normal way (1974: 33).
Camiel Hamans
Dutch, however, branched off to the left, to use an appropriate anti-communist met-
aphor of these Apartheid days. This happened, according to Van der Merwe, under
the influence of a schooling system compulsory education, however, did not start
in the Netherlands before the end of the 19
century. Afrikaans branched in a differ-
ent direction, to the right, to continue the metaphor, where it could develop freely
and follow a natural path. Van der Merwe’s idea that Afrikaans and Dutch are sister
languages is generally seen as bizarre.
The idea of accelerated drift in an extraterritorial setting reaches back to a long obsolete
conception of language genesis (spontaneous development). As a scientific statement, it
flies in the face of everything we know about the sociolinguistic context in which Afri-
kaans developed and about ordinary rates of linguistic change generally (…). Not sur-
prisingly, van der Merwe’s views were passed over in silence in Afrikaans historical lin-
guistics (…) (Roberge 1992: 44).
Linguists may not have taken him seriously, but Van der Merwe was highly appreci-
ated socio-politically. In 1966 he was invited on the basis of the cultural treaty be-
tween Belgium and South Africa for a three-month lecture tour through the Low
Countries, during which he visited important universities and language centers
(Neerlandia 1966, 70: 31). His denunciation of Hesseling ‘one time professor of
New Greek, who never had been to South Africa’ (Van der Merwe 1964: 70) – and
the way he tried to ridicule Valkhoff’s Creole Portuguese theory and Franken’s data
about sexual intercourse between whites and slaves
may not have impressed his
linguistic colleagues, but were very much in line with the predominant voice in the
Afrikaner politico-linguistic debate of the time.
Moreover, Van der Merwe himself was convinced of the inescapability of the
conclusions of his linguistic research, and perhaps given his popularity, so were
the general public.
Whatever can be ascribed to our racial prejudice, one thing is very clear: our logical re-
jection of non-white influence in regard to Afrikaans rests on scientific facts and not on
racial prejudice (1968: 29).
In 1951, however, Van der Merwe explicitly stated that ‘unity of languages also
suppose unity of race’ (Van der Merwe 1951: 17).
‘Apparently the drift of this is that fornication usually was accompanied by a dialogue in the lan-
guage of the woman, for which everybody who indulged in these lusts therefore had to know Portuguese
Creole, which have strongly promoted the Portuguese lingua franca at the Cape’ (Van der Merwe
1969=1968: 33, quoted from Kotzé 2005, translation EFK). An additional argument against the possible
influence of Malay-Portuguese-speaking slaves on the development of Afrikaans was that, according to
Van der Merwe, the homogeneous group of Afrikaners who lived at the Cape Fort already left for the
interior before the first slaves arrived (1961: 75). So they never met.
Afrikaans: a language where ideology and linguistics meet
4.7. Afrikaans and Creole studies
With the international rise of sociolinguistics and Creole studies, new accents
emerged in the study of Afrikaans. Kotzé (1983) described variation in Malay-
Afrikaans. Nienaber (1994a),
for example, accepted that there existed several vari-
eties of Afrikaans next to each other. One of these varieties was Khoekhoe-
Afrikaans, which variety showed certain features of creolization and exhibited
a range of similarities with later Afrikaans and therefore should be considered as
part of the genesis of Afrikaans (1994: 139). In addition, Nienaber (1963) was one
of the first to describe the Nama language in detail. And so he noticed, for example,
a parallel between the Afrikaans brace negation and a more or less similar Nama
construction, which became the starting point for Den Besten’s analysis of the Afri-
kaans ‘double negation and its relation with the genesis of Afrikaans’ (Van der
Wouden 2012: 221–256).
The variationist Van Rensburg (see 3.2) distinguished three varieties of Afri-
kaans, Orange River Afrikaans which was highly influenced by Khoekhoe, Frontier
Afrikaans, which was the language of the Voortrekkers, the heroes of the Boer-
culture, and Cape Afrikaans, a variety that was highly influenced by the Malay and
Creole Portuguese of the slaves (Van Rensburg 1997: 7). The Orange River Afri-
kaans and Cape Afrikaans may be described as aanleerdersvarieteite ‘learner varie-
ties’ of Dutch, which is an interlanguage, a form of Dutch acquired, spoken, and
transmitted to following generations by speakers of another mother tongue. Even
Frontier Afrikaans did not remain pure Dutch, according to Van Rensburg. Due tot
the cohabitation with Khoekhoe personnel, who used their own Khoekhoe-Frontier
Afrikaans, this variety also got mixed (Van Rensburg 2012a: 147). Van Rensburg
(2016: 457–459) agrees with Nienaber (1994a) and wants to call the Khoekhoe-
pidgin that grew from the contacts of the Khoekhoen with Western European seafar-
ers at the end of the 16
century a learner variety with which the emergence of Afri-
kaans started.
Nienaber’s ideas about the character and origins of Afrikaans have changed greatly over time. He
started out as a party member of Scholtz. In his 1949 book, he still called Afrikaans a white man’s lan-
guage, developed by the Afrikaner volk, and recreated in the mouths of whites, and not borrowed back
from skew speakers (Kriel 2018: 144). Through his studies of Khoekhoe, however, and later also
through the encounter with den Besten’s work, Nienaber (1994a) realized his earlier work to be ‘albo-
centric’ and recognized the important place that should be attributed to the contribution of the
Khoekhoen to the development of Afrikaans. Incidentally, the Werdegang [not a term in current English
use; replace by development?] of Nienaber’s view can be read well from the titles of his publications.
While he still used the name Hottentot in the 1950s and 60s, from 1989 on he used the term Khoekhoe.
Nienaber (1989b and 1994b) explains why Hottentot should be replaced by Khoekhoe. In Nienaber
(1994a) he described the origin of Khoekhoe-Afrikaans. He then distinguished three varieties of Afri-
kaans, Burger-Afrikaans ‘bourgeois Afrikaans’, Khoekhoe-Afrikaans, and Malay-Afrikaans. For an
overview of Nienaber’s work see Grebe (2012: 20–28).
Camiel Hamans
The first non-impressionistic study of Afrikaans from a Creole background is by
an American scholar, Thomas Markey (1982). Markey, specialist in Germanic lan-
guages, checked whether all eleven diagnostic features which classify a language as
a Creole could be detected in Afrikaans. This turned out not to be the case. Afri-
kaans tested positively for only two features, with two other features being weakly
present. The Negro Dutch from the Virgin Islands, however, tested positively for all
eleven. ‘Makhudu (1984: 3–4, 54–590 is rightly critical of Markey for having culled
his information chiefly from a normative grammar of standard Afrikaans (…). His
determination that ‘coloured’ Afrikaans and Flytaal [or Flaaitaal, an urban argot
made up of Afrikaans and Bantu language(s) CH] show significantly higher indices
of creolicity provides a necessary corrective to the woefully incomplete picture that
the unwary reader will adduce from Markey’s article (…)’ (Roberge 1994: 48).
At one level, Makhudu’s general conclusion is entirely in line with current thinking
among those who adopt the creolist perspective: ‘It now seems likely that pidginization
and creolization did indeed occur in the non-native Dutch communities of the early
Cape’. Racial separation preserved creolisms in the ‘coloured’ community, while the
Afrikaans of Europeans developed under the ‘conserving influences of Dutch immigra-
tion and the promotion of the High or standard variety of Dutch until the early 20
tury’ (Makhudu 1984: 96–97, quoted from Roberge 1994: 48–49).
These and other observations brought Roberge (1994: 50) to the conclusion that
Afrikaans ‘will inevitably fall somewhere within the mid range of any reasonable
scale of creolicity’, a conclusion which is shared by the prominent members of the
“Amsterdam School” of creolists
(Holm 2012: 399), Muysken and Smith (1994: 5),
who call Afrikaans a semi-Creole, or Den Besten, Muysken, and Smith (1994: 93)
who prefer the term creoloid.
Even though Den Besten explicitly defends Creole views on the origin of Afri-
kaans, just as Roberge and Deumert, one better calls his approach a convergence
theory. Den Besten, who not only proposed a theory but also studied the sources of
early Afrikaans and Khoekhoe, is convinced of a Khoekhoe influence on the devel-
Holm (2012: 399) introduced this name in an article in which he appreciably discussed Den
Besten’s contribution to the research into the origins of Afrikaans after his early death. He even awarded
Den Besten the honor of having this group of Afrikaans scholars ‘evolved around him’. For the sake of
completeness: it is perhaps no coincidence that this group of Creolists found fertile soil in the freethinker
environment of Amsterdam in the 1970s. In any case, Amsterdam was a center of Dutch and European
Anti-Apartheid activism in those years.
Note that Reinecke (1937: 559) already called Afrikaans semi-creolized. Roberge (1994: 15)
cannot hide his surprise when he sees how many different terms Afrikaans is classified with: rudimen-
tary Creole, fusion Creole, acrolectal Creole, (non radical) fort Creole, in addition to creoloid and semi-
Creole. See Holm (2004) for a typology of partially restructured languages. About the classification of
Afrikaans, see also Kotzé (2018).
Afrikaans: a language where ideology and linguistics meet
opment of Afrikaans in the early formative period.
In a series of publications col-
lected in Van der Wouden (2012) he gradually developed a model in which different
varieties of pidginized and creolized Dutch merged.
As soon as European sailors met with the Khoekhoen at the Cape in the last dec-
ades of the 16
century, the Khoekhoen created a trade jargon, a primitive pidgin,
which was elaborated to a Dutch pidgin when the Dutch established their refresh-
ment station at the Cape some 60 years later. The slaves who arrived at the Cape
also had to develop a common means of communication, which also led to an, albeit
different, Pidgin Dutch. These two pidgins merged due to mutual social contact and
produced a first Creole Dutch around 1700, which he calls Proto Afrikaans I. VOC
officials, settlers and sailors continued to speak Dutch. However, since they all came
from different regions and backgrounds, their language showed a certain form of
koineization and might be called Cape Dutch or Proto-Afrikaans II.
In the second half of the 19
century Creole Dutch and Cape Dutch converged,
which led to an Afrikaans koine, in which there still existed dialectal differentiation.
Due to the influence of the language engineers of the late 19
and early 20
a Standard Afrikaans emerged alongside non-standard dialects. On the one hand the
language activists chose a few phenomena from lower African dialects to accentuate
the difference with Dutch, and on the other hand they sought a connection with Dutch,
especially where the lexicon was concerned and when words or phenomena appeared
to be missing in Afrikaans. Standardization of Afrikaans in fact was construction of
Standard Afrikaans. This job lasted for almost fifty years and was done around 1930.
Even though the reception of Den Besten’s theory in South Africa was initially
highly critical – for instance Ponelis (1993: 33–34) blamed him ‘that his position is
based entirely on shaky linguistic evidence’ and that he ignores ‘socio-historical
evidence’ now the belief dominates that he ‘deserves high praise for having sal-
vaged the Khoikhoi from where they were hidden under the umbrella term of “for-
eigners” and rightly argued for their significant contribution to the genesis of Afri-
kaans’ (Groenewald 2019: 23).
4.8. Afrikaans as a black language
As has already been said in 2.5 the release from prison of the later president
Nelson Mandela on 11 February 1990, was the starting point for major changes in
The Afrikaans linguist Ponelis (1997: 608) who endorses language contact as one of the main as
causes for the origin of Afrikaans doubts whether the Khoekhoen were tightly enough integrated to play
such an important role.
Ponelis (1993: 30) essentially subscribes to Den Besten’s view: ‘That there was a spectrum of
creolization at the Cape follows from the logic within the multilingual Cape community. On the one
hand, there was (spoken) matrilectal Dutch and on the other a whole range of interlectal varieties de-
pending on closeness of contact. Afrikaans (…) is a continuation of an acrolectal variety.
For an illuminating diagram of Den Besten’s model see Van der Wouden (2012: 272).
Camiel Hamans
South Africa, also in terms of language policy and the status of the various lan-
guages. Apartheid came to an end and the new government aimed at equal rights for
all people of South Africa regardless of colour, origin, and mother tongue and strove
for reconciliation between the groups. Instead of being privileged, the white speak-
ers of Afrikaans and their political and linguistic leaders turned out to speak one of
eleven nationally recognized languages. In addition, they saw themselves confronted
with two major language problems: Afrikaans was seen as the language of the
oppressor, especially by black South Africans and the majority of Afrikaans speak-
ers appeared to be non-white. These bruinmense,
lit. ‘brown people’, ‘coloured’
people, now had the same rights as the white speakers and started to claim their
rights. The most heard solution, in addition to healing and reconciliation, is to accen-
tuate the Creole character of Afrikaans and to even call it a black language, as will
be shown.
Afrikaans is the third largest language of South Africa. It is the mother tongue of
more than 13% of the population, which amounts to just under 7 million people. Of
this total number of Afrikaans mother tongue speakers only 2,700,000 are whites.
More than 3,500,000 are coloured, which is more than 50% of total number of the
Afrikaans speakers. What is even more important: eighty percent of all coloureds in
South Africa speak Afrikaans.
Nevertheless, they still form a cultural minority
among the speakers of Afrikaans. For example, ownership of the big Afrikaans me-
dia is still mainly white (Rawlings 2020).
In the process of standardization of Afrikaans the coloured varieties did not play
a role. The language engineers of the GRA simply neglected or overlooked the ex-
istence of coloured Afrikaans speakers and their language (see section 3.3 and 3.5).
Consequently Afrikaans did not meet the needs of half of the Afrikaans speaking
population (Van Rensburg 1992: 187). Without the input of the indigenous
Khoekhoe and imported African and Asian slave labor, however, there would have
been no Afrikaans, as Den Besten (1987: 24–25) rightly states and Van Rensburg
(2012) agrees with. The fact that the contribution of the Khoekhoen and the slaves
was so important brings Webb and Kriel (2000: 22) to the conviction that linguists
and language activists in fact appropriated Afrikaans from its rightful owners.
An ironic aspect of the Afrikaans language movement(s) was that the language was so
totally appropriated by its white speakers: what was initially a language of the nonelite,
the working class, black people, brown people, and uneducated white people, came to be
regarded as the “exclusive” property of the white “elite” (despite, of course, of the fact
that more than half of its speakers were not white).
Michael le Cordeur (2015, a leader of the current coloured Afrikaans language movement argues
that the term kleurling ‘coloured’ has so many negative political connotations that a new term had to be
introduced. He suggested Afrikaans bruinmense.
For more figures see Beukes (2004), Den Besten and Biberauer (2013), Van Sluijs (2013), and
Carstens and Raidt (2019: 700–714),
Afrikaans: a language where ideology and linguistics meet
Kriel (2018: 132) calls Afrikaans a Creole, albeit an atypical one (2018: 142), that
was hijacked by nationalists.
It was a language invented by Khoekhoen and slaves
out of their necessity for communication, but later on
the language has become the talisman of a narrow racist nationalism dedicated to the
oppression of its real creators (Kriel 2018: 132 and 146).
Even though well-intentioned educators and linguists like Randall van den Heever
(1987) attempted ‘to establish an ‘Alternative Afrikaans’ movement, which was
designed to serve the interests of the nonwhite speakers of Afrikaans’ (Webb and
Kriel 2000: 23), there remained a language-internal tension. Coloured Afrikaans
speakers still feel squatters in their own language (Le Cordeur (2010b: 5). Therefore,
linguists such as Van Rensburg (1992 and 1999) and Steyn (2014) advocate a repo-
sitioning of the Afrikaans standard. Maybe the only way out is a deformalization,
de-standardization, or re-standardization as suggested by Stell (2010a, b), Van
Keymeulen (2010), and Odendaal (2012 and 2014). The Cape-variety, Afrikaaps,
has been frequently suggested as the Afrikaans of the future (Le Cordeur 2010a,
Pearl 2021, Williams 2021).
The exclusion of colored speakers of Afrikaans is not the only problem that threat-
ens the language. A perhaps even bigger problem is the aversion to Afrikaans among
blacks, which is a consequence of the arrogance of the Apartheid regime that led to the
riots in Soweto. Since the Soweto uprising was a result of the language demands of the
Apartheid government (see section 2.5), the ‘struggle’ turned against the language. As
Van Rensburg (1992: 185) explains it, it was a process of metaphorical transfer from
the oppressors to the language of the oppressors. Language became the target of the
aggression rather than those who speak the language. Consequently, the focus of that
struggle for freedom turned against Afrikaans (Carstens and Raidt 2019: 640–652) and
this was not only among the black pupils of the schools in Soweto but it became also
the moment of truth for coloureds whose mother tongue was Afrikaans.
For many of us who speak Afrikaans, Afrikaans has been around us like water or like air
for years – always present. Then June 1976 dawned. This was when pupils in the streets
of Soweto held up posters and protested against Afrikaans as a language of instruction,
and many were injured and killed in the days and weeks that followed. Posters such as
“We do not want Afrikaans”, “To hell with impurities: Afrikaans stinks!” “It was a day
of recognition for us as Afrikaans speakers, a moment of revelation. In Derridaian terms,
we would probably typify the moment as la rupture, “the break”, the event. (…) The
moment in which not only the nature of language as such is revealed, but also the associ-
ations of Afrikaans, our own connection, and even our sense of connectedness (Willemse
The only contribution of the white speakers of Afrikaans is the standardization and expansion of
the language into a complete cultural and scientific language (Van Keymeulen 2018, 2019a: 84)
‘Vir talle van ons wat Afrikaanssprekend is, was Afrikaans vir jare om ons soos water of soos
lug, ‒ altyd aanwesig. Toe breek Junie 1976 aan. Dit is toe leerlinge in die strate van Soweto plakkate
Camiel Hamans
Afrikaans became the symbol of Apartheid, the language of the oppressor (Webb
1997: 227) or as the white poet-artist and anti-Apartheid activist Breyten Brey-
tenbach (2015: 16) called it Apartaans, a well-chosen blend of the words Apartheid
and Afrikaans.
This language, Afrikaans, received equal rights in 1996. No wonder that it was
approached negatively. In practice, Afrikaans did not lose so much of its speakers as
of its status (Renders 2005: 13, Ideh and Onu 2017: 76, Van Keymeulen 2018) and
((semi-)public) domain (Roberge (2003: 33).
This resistance intensified and aggravated by black student actions in the years
2015–2017. The riots started as a protest against an increase in tuition fees, #Fees-
MustFall, then spread to an attack on colonial symbols #RhodesMustFall and finally
resulted in an attack on Afrikaans as university language of instruction #Afrikaans-
MustFall. The campaign along the campuses had the effect that even the most Afri-
kaans university, that of Stellenbosch, withdrew the primary rights for Afrikaans as
a medium of education in 2016. An appeal to the Constitutional Court failed. The
Court ruled that the previous language policy of the university advocating Afrikaans
created an ‘exclusionary hurdle specifically for black students’. Most white and
coloured students were able to follow classes in Afrikaans, a minority of black stu-
dents, however, were not, whereas all groups had sufficient command of English.
Afrikaans-speaking coloured students started to object to the subordination of Afri-
kaans in April 2021. On 9 April, 2021, they went on strike in what they see as the
start of the third Afrikaans Language Movement (T’Sjoen 2021). It was the first
time of an organized coloured protest in South Africa. DAK
Netwerk, the organi-
zation of coloured people in South Africa, joined the protest. Their president Danie
van Wyk, a lawyer by training, posted a petition on the door of the academy building
with the grievances of the colored people. The first is: ‘recognize Afrikaans as an
indigenous language.’ Or in the words of Jean Oosthuizen (2021): Afrikaans is so
unique to South Africa as fynbos and the quiver tree.
The 2015–2017 campaign against Afrikaans not only caused much concern
among white Afrikaans speakers, but also coloured speakers of Afrikaans felt left
omhoog gehou en betoog het teen Afrikaans as ‘n onderrigtaal, en talle in die dae en weke daarna beseer
en gedood is. Plakkate soos ”We don’t want Afrikaans”, “To hell with impurities: Afrikaans stinks!”’
Dit was ‘n dag van herkenning vir ons as Afrikaanssprekendes, ‘n oomblik van openbaring. In Derridi-
aanse terme sou ons waarskynlik die moment typeer as la rupture, “die breuk”, die gebeurtenis. (…) Die
oomblik waarin nie net die aard van taal as sodanig ontbloot is nie, maar ook die assosiasies van Afri-
kaans, ons eie verbintenis en selfs ons sin van verbondenheid.’
of-the-senate-of-the-university-of-stellenbosch-and-others-cct311-17 (retrieved 10.10.2019)
DAK is an acronym, consisting of the initials of the 16the century Khoekhoe leaders/interpreters
Doman-Nomoa, Autshumao (Harry the Sandpiper), and Krotoa (Eva), see
(retrieved 24.11.2020).
‘Afrikaans is so eie aan Suid-Afrika soon fynbos en die kokerboom.’
Afrikaans: a language where ideology and linguistics meet
out in the cold. During Apartheid they were not white enough and now they were
not black enough (Adhikari 2005 and Vlasblom 2017). Titus (2016: 189–190)
accused the ANC government of a deliberate attempt to write brown South Africans
out of history. Consequently, the coloured community and their white friends want-
ed to stress how active they have been in the struggle against Apartheid (Carstens
and Raidt 2019: 595, 654) and that Afrikaans was not only ‘the language of racists,
oppressors and unreconstructed nationalists’(Willemse 2017) but also of resistance,
that it was a ‘battle language’ (Plaatjies 2016: 87) a language ‘of anti-imperialism,
anti-colonialism, of an all embracing humanism and of anti-apartheid activism
(Willemse 2017).
In this context it will come as no surprise that Afrikaans was given the designa-
tion of a full creole language. Breyten Breytenbach called everyone in South Africa
mixed, including the blacks, in terms of language, culture, and blood, and that is
why Afrikaans is a Creole; his colleague poet Danie Marais (De Vries 2012: 137)
did not need such a reservation. It is clear to him: Afrikaans is Creole. Hein Willem-
se (2015) not only followed him in this, in addition he identifies coloured South
Africans with the blacks. Consequently, ‘Afrikaans also has a black history’, ‘Afri-
kaans has a multifaceted nature, numerically dominated by its black speakers’ and
finally ‘Afrikaans is more black than white’. Willemse is not alone, already in 1989
The New York Times published an article Blacks Shaped Language Of Apartheid,
Linguists Say (Wren 1989). This form of appropriation of blackness and Creole
looks as the opposite of the appropriation of Europeanness by Apartheid supporters
and by defenders of spontaneous evolution theories. It looks like an answer to the
title of the collection of poems by the anti-Apartheid poet Antje Krog Begging to be
black (2010). Groenewald (2019: 24) contradicts the suggestion that the acceptance
and popularization of Creole explanations is now due to ‘a politically correct re-
sponse to current realities’.
It cannot be denied that Afrikaans has a Creole back-
[Afrikaans] originated at the Cape because the Dutch – not the English, not the Portu-
guese – settled at the Cape in the 17
century, but today Afrikaans is spoken because of
the influence of slaves and Khoikhoi who needed to learn this new language.
5. Some examples of linguistic strife
The discussion between the philological school that used good linguistic and
philological craftmanship to implicitly prove a Eurocentric point of view and the
Groenewald’s view is not shared by everyone. The well-known journalist Leopold Scholtz com-
plained in 2009 in the newspaper Die Burger that the now politically correct point of view is to say that
Afrikaans comes largely from the languages of Khoi and slaves (Grebe 2012: 7).
Camiel Hamans
creolists who stressed the contribution of indigenous and slave languages to the
origin of the new language, Afrikaans, revolved around several linguistic facts. One
party tried to find Dutch or European data which could explain the phenomenon, the
opposite party looked for Malay, (Creole) Portuguese, or Khoekhoe data to explain
its origin. Three of these phenomena and the discussion about their origin will be
summarized here briefly. These phenomena are:
Substitution of the subject form of the personal pronoun of the first person
plural by its object counterpart: ons
vir followed by direct objects
brace negation (double negation): nie…nie
5.1. The convergence of ons
In the first international publication on Afrikaans, Schuchardt (1885: 468) al-
ready noticed that there is something special about the personal pronoun first plural
in Afrikaans compared to Dutch. In Dutch there exist two forms, wij as subject and
ons as object. Afrikaans only has ons.
Dutch Afrikaans Gloss
Subject: wij lopen ons stap we walk
Object: zij zien ons hulle sien ons they see us
Schuchardt was told, he reports, that this convergence was a result of French influ-
ence. After all, French only has one form: nous. Du Toit (1897: 30), the leader of the
GRA, wrote in his comparative grammar of Afrikaans and English:
To the same source [the French of the Huguenots CH] is to be traced the use of ons in
Cape Dutch, where in Dutch wij and ons are used, being a regular version of the French
According to Hesseling (1899: 138) this explanation is highly unlikely, because the
corresponding possessive pronoun in Afrikaans is also ons, whereas French makes
a difference between the personal and possessive pronoun: nous versus notre and
nos. He found, however, a parallel in Malay, where there is also no difference be-
tween the subject and the object form of this personal pronoun. The corresponding
Malay form is kami, when the speaker excludes himself from the group, and kita
when he includes himself.
Scholtz (1980: 68), one of the leaders of the then South African linguistic world,
was not very happy with this suggestion. He claimed that the substitution of the
subject form of a personal pronoun by the corresponding object form is a very com-
mon phenomenon in the history of languages and dialects. It is generally accepted,
he stated, that the cause is a need to emphasize; and object forms are more suitable
for emphasis. In the dialects of the two western provinces of Holland one does not
Afrikaans: a language where ideology and linguistics meet
find ons as subject, in the dialects of the South-Western province of Zealand, how-
ever, is has been attested. The probability of this explanation is limited, he admitted,
since the influence of Zealand dialects on Afrikaans is rather small.
Valkhoff (1966: 222) also discussed the ons case. He raised a number of ques-
tions related to the Zealand hypothesis.
Were there Zealand settlers at the old Cape who could have transmitted this feature? If so,
were they numerous enough and did they have the opportunity of doing so? Well, then,
among the first (104) free-burghers about whom we have records, there were five from
Zealand and according to Bosman, who studied these and later figures, “it is clear that the
Zealand influence should not be stressed too much” [Bosman 1922: 120]. Like the Flem-
ings, they did not arrive all at once, but one by one, and do we know whether they all had
slaves or Hottentot servants to whom they could have communicated their form ons?
And, in case they did adopt it, would these servants have had such prestige among their
countrymen or their comrades as to impose this trait? These are realities we have to face,
instead of all the wishful Dutch etymologies proposed, as beautiful as they are unreal.
Valkhoff went on quoting Hesseling’s Malay slaves proposal but he also added that
there is another option: the Hottentots did not distinguish ‘between “we” and “us”
and “our” in their languages either.
Am I deluding myself, or is what happened not more or less this? In the 17
century the
Hollanders had more success with their language at the Cape than in Ceylon [Sri Lanka]
and in Batavia [Jakarta]. So both slaves and Hottentots learnt Dutch pretty soon, but they
were not taught it in schools. Therefore they adapted the new language to their own lin-
guistic habits as best they could, and the result was what any linguist outside South Afri-
ca would call “creolized speech” (Valkhoff 1966: 222–223).
Scholtz was convinced that the great changes in Afrikaans have taken place in the
first decades after the landing at the Cape, therefore Hesseling’s theory, that speak-
ers of Malay had an influence on the convergence of ons, had to be dismissed as
unlikely because there were hardly Malay people at the Cape before 1720. A Hotten-
tot influence could be more plausible. After all, in Hottentots, as in Malay, French,
and Portuguese, forms for object and subject are not distinguished in these cases.
However, Scholtz did not want to give up a development from Dutch or at least from
Germanic. In a language such as Afrikaans, which is so characterized by emphasis,
this explanation remains very defensible, he stated.
Whoever is aware of the abundant examples of function changes among pronominal
forms in Dutch vernacular, can hardly believe [italics CH] that foreign influences in
a similar phenomenon in the history of Dutch at the Cape are a decisive factor.
Scholtz (1963: 116) was still convinced that the change in the use of ons comes ‘from the father-
land (sic!), maybe from Zealand where the use of ons is more emphatic than wij.
Camiel Hamans
An extra argument for the Germanic background of the convergence of Dutch wij
and ons in Afrikaans ons can be found in a Low German dialect, the Danish vernac-
ular, and several English dialects, Scholtz adds in a footnote. Thus, he wants to be-
lieve in a spontaneous evolution from a Dutch or Germanic base.
Belief appears more often an argument in this discussion. Achmat Davids (2011:
60–61 = 1991), the father of Cape Malay studies,
find[s] it difficult to accept that these grammatical changes were copied from the colonist
speaking a Dutch dialect. Firstly, I do not have any evidence of Cape Dutch sources indi-
cating that wij was substituted by ons in the spoken language of the colonists at the time;
secondly, if I were to agree with her [Raidt] I would have to ignore the fact that the Ma-
layo-Polynesian grammar is remarkably simple and could have influenced this change.
The use of ons for the Dutch subjective wij could be a reflection of the Malayo-
Polynesian grammar, which does not modify or change words by inflection to express
case, number or gender. Hence the Eastern slaves were more likely to have applied a rule
of grammar known to them and used one word, ons, for the pronoun “we”, rather than
two different words – wij and onz(e) ‒ for a single concept.
Raidt (1983: 155–156), the grande dame of the philological school, hardly dealt
with ons. She indicates that texts from 1672 on have been handed down in which
ons appears as subject in the broken Dutch of slaves and Khoekhoe. Around 1735,
ons as frequent but incorrect subject form already appeared to be a characteristic
feature of the Boers. This data, however, did not bring her to conclude that ons orig-
inates in the language of the Khoekhoe or of the slaves.
The origin of ons instead of wij was often attributed to the broken linguistic usage of the
Khoin and slaves and regarded as a pidgin mark or creolism. However, the use of ons as
subject form instead of wij is an old dialect form that is still in use today, especially in
Zealand. W.W. Schumacher [1973] pointed out that this nominative-accusative replace-
ment is a case of “Germanic vulgarism”, since exactly the same thing occurs today in
Vulgar Danish and other Germanic languages; and something similar could be said of
Vulgar English. It is therefore more than likely that ons in the subject function comes
from the dialectal Dutch vernacular but was strengthened and spread at Cape through the
influence of foreigners.
‘Wie bewus is van die oorvloedige voorbeelde van funksiewisseling onder pronominale vorme in
Hollandse volkstaal, kan moeilik glo [italics CH] dat vreemde invloede bij soortgelyke verskynsel in die
geskiedenis van Hollands aan die Kaap ‘n deurslaggewende faktor was.’
‘Die Herkunft von ons statt wij wurde oft dem gebrochenen Sprachgebrauch der Khoin und
Sklaven zugeschrieben und als Pidginkennzeichen oder Kreolismus betrachtet. Der subjektivistische
Gebrauch von ons anstelle von wij is jedoch eine alte Dialektform, die heute vor allem in Zeeland noch
gebräuchlich ist. W.W. Schumacher [1973] wies darauf hin, daß es sich bei diesem Nominativ-
Akkusativ-Ersatz um einen Fall von „Germanic vulgarism” handle, da genau dasselbe heute im Vul-
gärdänischen und anderen germ[anischen]. Sprachen vorkomme; und ein ähnliches könne vom Vul-
gärenglischen gesagt werden. Es ist daher mehr als warscheinlich, daß ons in Subjektfunktion aus der
Afrikaans: a language where ideology and linguistics meet
In Raidt (1976a: 111–113), she first presented several 17
and early 18
texts in
which examples with ons can be found from the Hottentot language and from slave-
Dutch and then asked the question how ons as subject could be explained. Does it
come form the Dutch of the colonists or is it due to the influence of Hotentots or
slaves from the East? Her answer (1976a: 184) simply follows Scholtz (1963) and
sticks to influence from Zealand. However, she suggests carefully that emphatic ons
also was in use in the neigbouring dialects of Holland, albeit in ‘uncivilized’ varieties.
Even though Raidt is not the last one who wants to defend an origin from Zea-
land – the Dutch linguist Piet Paardekooper (1996) hints to parallel constructions in
the dialects of Zealand and the Flemish speaking part of North France, so called
French Flanders the now most accepted explanation is that ons as subject form
arose because new language learners abolished the subject-object distinction (Ponel-
is 1993: 27–30). It is, however, remarkable that ons as subject cannot be traced back
to one of the Khoi languages.
The explanation is that it is typical for a learner’s
variety to avoid morpheme differences (Van Rensburg 1996: 138 and 2015: 90).
Subsequently, ons became an inherent part of Khoi-Dutch and Khoi-Afrikaans but it
was seen as highly stigmatized (Ponelis 1993: 218). Later on ons as subject became
destigmatized and established (Van Rensburg 2016). Or as Van de Glind (2016: 25)
puts it: ‘the emergence of ons as s