2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Languages

Spoken in: South Africa and Namibia 
Region: Southern Africa
Total speakers: 16 million +
Language family: Indo-European
   West Germanic
    Low Franconian
Official status
Official language of: South Africa
Regulated by: Die Taalkommissie
(The Language Commission of the South African Academy for Science and Arts)
Language codes
ISO 639-1: af
ISO 639-2: afr
ISO/FDIS 639-3: afr 

Afrikaans is a Low Franconian language mainly spoken in South Africa and Namibia with smaller numbers of speakers in Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Zambia. Due to the emigration of many Afrikaners, there are an additional estimated 300,000 Afrikaans-speakers in the United Kingdom, with other substantial communities found in Brussels, Belgium; Amsterdam, the Netherlands; Perth, Australia; Toronto, Canada; and Auckland, New Zealand. It is the primary language used by two related ethnic groups: the Afrikaners and the Coloureds or kleurlinge/bruinmense (including Basters, Cape Malays and Griqua). These two groups are collectively known as Afrikaanses, roughly meaning "the language community of Afrikaans-speakers". It is also spoken as a first language by many Tswana people in South Africa's North West Province.

Geographically, the Afrikaans language is the majority language of the western one-third of South Africa ( Northern and Western Cape, spoken at home by 69% and 58%, respectively). It is also the largest first language in the adjacent southern one-third of Namibia ( Hardap and Karas, where it is the first language of 43% and 41%, respectively). It is the most widely used second language throughout both of these countries for the population as a whole, although the younger generation has better proficiency in English.

The name Afrikaans is simply the Dutch word for African, i.e. the African form of the Dutch language. The dialect became known as " Cape Dutch". Later, Afrikaans was sometimes also referred to as "African Dutch" or "Kitchen Dutch", although some now consider these terms pejorative. Afrikaans was considered a Dutch dialect until the late 19th century, when it began to be recognised as a distinct language, and it gained equal status with Dutch and English as an official language in South Africa in 1925. Dutch remained an official language until the new 1961 constitution finally stipulated the two official languages in South Africa to be Afrikaans and English (although, curiously, the 1961 constitution still had a sub-clause stipulating that the word "Afrikaans" was also meant to be referring to the Dutch language). The 1925 decision led Dutch to enter disuse and be replaced by Afrikaans for all purposes.

There are basically three dialects, of which the northeastern variant (which developed into a literary language in the Transvaal) forms the basis of the written standard. Within the Dutch-speaking zones of the Netherlands, Belgium and Suriname, there is greater divergence among the dialects than there is between standard Dutch and standard Afrikaans. Although Afrikaans knows some typical Hollandic tones, there particularly exist striking similarities between Afrikaans and Zeeuws (the dialect of the Zeeland province of the Netherlands which has also similarities with West Flemish). Zeeland is a coastal province of the Netherlands and most of the Dutch spoken in former Dutch colonies is very much influenced by Zeeuws/the Zeeland dialect as many people from Zeeland were involved in The Netherlands' emperial/colonial expansion.

It was originally the dialect that developed among the Afrikaner Protestant settlers and the indentured or slave workforce brought to the Cape area in southwestern South Africa by the Dutch East India Company (Dutch: Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie — VOC, Afrikaans: Nederlandse Oos-Indiese Kompanjie - NOIK) between 1652 and 1705. A relative majority of these first settlers were from the United Provinces (now Netherlands), though there were also many from Germany, a considerable number from France, and some from Norway, Portugal, Scotland, and various other countries. The indentured workers and slaves were South Indians, Malays, and Malagasy in addition to the indigenous Khoi and Bushmen.


Afrikaans is linguistically closely related to 17th and 18th century Dutch dialects spoken in North and South Holland and, by extension, to modern Dutch. Today, speakers of each language can make themselves understood fairly easily by speakers of the other.

Afrikaans grammar and spelling is simpler than that of Dutch, in the same sense and to approximately the same degree that English grammar is simpler than German grammar. Afrikaans also has a more diverse vocabulary, including words of English, Indian, Malay, Malagasy, Khoi, San and Bantu origins. Other closely related languages include Low German spoken in northern Germany and the Netherlands, German, and English. Cape Dutch vocabulary diverged from the Dutch vocabulary spoken in the Netherlands over time as Cape Dutch absorbed words from other European settlers, slaves from East India and Indonesia's Malay, and native African languages. Research by J. A. Heese indicates that as of 1807, 36.8% of the ancestors of the White Afrikaans speaking population were of Dutch ancestry, 35% were German, 14.6% were French and 7.2% non-white (of African and/or Asian origins). Heese's figures are questioned by other researchers, however, and the non-white component, in particular, quoted by Heese is very doubtful.

Standardization of Afrikaans

The linguist Paul Roberge suggests that the earliest "truly Afrikaans" texts are doggerel verse from 1795 and a dialogue transcribed by a Dutch traveller in 1825. Printed material among the Afrikaners at first used only proper European Dutch. By the mid-19th century, more and more were appearing in Afrikaans, which was very much still regarded as a set of spoken regional dialects.

In 1861, LH Meurant published his Zamenspraak tusschen Klaas Waarzegger en Jan Twyfelaar, which is considered by some to be the first authoritative Afrikaans text. Abu Bakr Effendi also compiled his Arabic Afrikaans Islamic instruction book between 1862 and 1869, although this was only published and printed in 1877. The first Afrikaans grammars and dictionaries were published in 1875 by the Genootskap vir Regte Afrikaners ("Society for Real Afrikaners") in Cape Town.

The Boer Wars further strengthened the position of the new Dutch-like language. The official languages of the Union of South Africa were English and Dutch until Afrikaans was subsumed under Dutch on 5 May 1925.

The main Afrikaans dictionary is the Verklarende Handwoordeboek van die Afrikaanse Taal.

Difference between Dutch and Afrikaans

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

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

Most linguistics scholars today are certain that Afrikaans has been influenced by creole based on the South-Holland Dutch dialect. It is hard to trace this influence as there is no material written in Dutch-based creole languages besides a few sentences found in unrelated books often written by non-speakers.

Although much of the vocabulary of Afrikaans reflects its origins in 17th century South Hollandic Dutch, it also contains words borrowed from Asian Malay (one of the oldest known Afrikaans texts used Arabic script; see Arabic Afrikaans), Malagasy, Portuguese, French, Khoi and San dialects, English, Xhosa and many other languages. Consequently, many words in Afrikaans are very different from Dutch, as demonstrated by the names of different fruits:

Afrikaans Dutch English
piesang* banaan banana
pynappel ananas pineapple
lemoen sinaasappel orange
suurlemoen** citroen lemon

* from Malay pisang (via Dutch East Indies history), Piesang is also used in The Netherlands and Indonesia.
** suur = sour (which is essentially the same as the Dutch word 'zuur'). Lemoen or limoen is also used in standard Dutch.

Provinces of South Africa in which a majority of the population are Afrikaans native speakers. Other provinces also have significant numbers of speakers.
Provinces of South Africa in which a majority of the population are Afrikaans native speakers. Other provinces also have significant numbers of speakers.



Written Afrikaans differs from Dutch in that the spelling reflects a phonetically simplified language, and so many consonants are dropped (see also the grammar section for a description of how consonant dropping affects the morphology of Afrikaans adjectives and nouns). The spelling is also considerably more phonetic than the Dutch counterpart. A notable feature is the indefinite article, which, as noted in the grammar section, is "'n", not "een" as in Dutch. "A book" is "'n Boek", whereas in Dutch it would be "een boek". (Note that "'n" is still allowed in Dutch; Afrikaans uses only "'n" where Dutch uses it next to "een". When letters are dropped an apostrophe is mandatory. Note that this "'n" is usually pronounced as a weak vowel (like the Afrikaans "i") and is not as a consonant.

Other features include the use of 's' instead of 'z', and therefore, 'South Africa' in Afrikaans is written as Suid-Afrika, whereas in Dutch it is Zuid-Afrika. (This accounts for .za being used as South Africa's internet top level domain.) The Dutch letter 'IJ' is written as 'Y', except where it replaces the Dutch suffix —lijk, as in waarschijnlijk = waarskynlik. Interesting to note that the use of the hard "k" is analogous to the pronunciation in parts of Flanders, which was once part of the United Provinces, and whence many an Afrikaner came. Also surprising for many Dutch is the double negative, which could possibly be attributed to the French origins of many Afrikaners: Moenie rook nie ("Do not smoke not") — Do not smoke; compare to the French "Ne fumez pas".

Comparison with Dutch, German and English

Afrikaans Dutch German English
ag(t) acht acht eight
aksie actie/aktie Aktion action
asseblief alstublieft/alsjeblieft
(lit. "als het u/je belieft)
(Afrikaans lit. trans. = "wenn es dir beliebt")
(lit. "if it pleases you" - compare archaic " lief")
bed bed Bett bed
dankie dank je/dank u danke thank you
eggenoot echtgenoot Ehegatte (lit. "Ehegenosse") spouse (Latin root)
goeienaand goedenavond
guten Abend good evening
lughawe luchthaven
Flughafen airport (Latinate root)
my mij/mijn mein my
maak maak machen make
nege negen neun nine
oes oogst Ernte (Herbst=autumn) harvest
oop open offen open
oormôre overmorgen übermorgen the day after tomorrow (lit. "overmorrow")
reën regen regen rain
saam tesamen/samen zusammen together (compare "same")
ses zes sechs six
sewe zeven sieben seven
skool school Schule school
sleg slecht schlecht bad (compare "slight")
vir voor für for
voël vogel Vogel bird, fowl
vry vrij frei free
vyf vijf fünf five
waarskynlik waarschijnlijk wahrscheinlich likely (alternate root), probably (Latin root)
winter winter Winter winter
ys ijs Eis ice


Afrikaans is the first language of approximately 60% of South Africa's Whites, and over 90% of the " Coloured" (mixed-race) population. Large numbers of black South Africans, Indians, and English-speaking whites ( Anglo-Africans) also speak it as a second language.

It is also widely spoken in Namibia, where it has had constitutional recognition as a national, not official, language since independence in 1990. Prior to independence, Afrikaans, along with German, had equal status as an official language. There is a much smaller number of Afrikaans speakers among Zimbabwe's white minority, as most left the country in 1980.

Many South Africans living and working in Belgium, The Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom are also Afrikaans speakers.

Afrikaans has been influential in the development of South African English. Many Afrikaans loanwords have found their way into South African English, such as "bakkie" ("pickup truck"), " braai" ("barbecue"), "takkies" ("sneakers", in Afrikaans tekkies). A few words in standard English are derived from Afrikaans, such as " trek" ("pioneering journey", in Afrikaans lit."pull" but used also for "migrate"), "spoor" ("animal track"), "veld" ("Southern African grassland" in Afrikaans lit. "field"), "boomslang" ("tree snake") and apartheid ("apartness").

In 1976, high school students in Soweto began a rebellion that contributed to the end of apartheid and the whites-only government of South Africa. This has been credited to that government's decision that Afrikaans rather than English be used as the language of instruction in non-White schools. However, many historians argue that the language issue was a catalyst for the rebellion rather than a major underlying cause (which was racial oppression). Afrikaans is more widely spoken than English (and is, in fact, spoken by a majority of residents in two of South Africa's nine provinces), so children may not have objected to the use of Afrikaans, per se. Some argue that it was the further directive, within the instructional language directive, that non-White (i.e., Black, Coloured and Indian) South African children be denied instruction in all but the most basic topics of mathematics, sciences, fine arts etc., on the theory they would never need to know those subjects because they would never have the occasion to use such an education; see History of South Africa.

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

In spite of these moves (which have upset many Afrikaans speakers), the language has remained strong, with Afrikaans newspapers and magazines continuing to have large circulation figures. Indeed the Huisgenoot, an Afrikaans language general interest family magazine, is the magazine with the largest readership in the country. In addition, a pay-TV channel in Afrikaans called KykNet was launched in 1999 and an Afrikaans music channel, MK89, in 2005. A large number of Afrikaans books also continue to be published every year.

Although Afrikaans has diverged from Dutch over the past three centuries, it still shares approximately 85 per cent of its vocabulary with that language, and Afrikaans speakers are able to learn Dutch within a comparatively short period of time. Native Dutch speakers pick up Afrikaans even more quickly, due to its simplified grammar. This has enabled Dutch companies to outsource their call centre operations to South Africa, thereby taking advantage of lower labour costs.

International view of Afrikaans

Outside of South Africa, there is a growing interest in the Afrikaans language, and it is currently taught at universities in Germany, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Poland, Russia and Uzbekistan.

Nevertheless, the language is sometimes regarded with contempt. When the British design magazine Wallpaper* described Afrikaans as "the ugliest language in the world" (with reference to the Afrikaans Language Monument), South African billionaire Johann Rupert (chairman of the Richemont group), responded by withdrawing advertising for brands such as Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Montblanc and Alfred Dunhill from the magazine .

In 2061: Odyssey Three, Arthur C. Clarke states that Afrikaans is the world's best language to curse in, and that even relatively innocent conversation is "damaging to innocent bystanders."

Afrikaans phrases

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

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

An interesting sentence having the same meaning and written (but not pronounced) identically in Afrikaans and English is:

  • My pen was in my hand. ([məi pɛn vas ən məi hɑnt])

Similarly the sentence:

  • My hand is in warm water. ([məi hɑnt əs ən varəm vɑˑtər])

has almost identical meaning in Afrikaans and English although the Afrikaans warm corresponds more closely in meaning to English hot and Dutch heet (Dutch warm corresponds to English warm, but is closer to Afrikaans in pronunciation).

Additional information

  • Afrikaans has a monument erected in its honour. The Afrikaans Language Monument (Afrikaanse Taalmonument) is located near the Western Cape Province town of Paarl.
  • The letters c, q and x are rarely seen in Afrikaans, and words containing them are almost exclusively borrowings from French, English, Greek or Latin. This is usually because words which had c and ch in the original Dutch are spelt with k and g repectively in Afrikaans (in many dialects of Dutch (including the Hollandic ones), a ch is spoken as a g, which explains the use of the g in Afrikaans language). Similarly original qu and x are spelt kw and ks respectively. For example ekwatoriaal instead of "equatoriaal" and ekskuus instead of "excuus".
  • Afrikaans uses 26 letters, just like English, although it makes use of various punctuation marks to modify a letter: è, é, ê, ë, î, ï, ô, û, these should not however be regarded as special characters in addition to the 26 normal letters. ʼn is also regarded as two separate characters, and the "n" in 'n may never be written in upper case. When used at the beginning of a sentence, the second word's first letter should be capitalized. ʼn is the Afrikaans equivalent of the English "a" eg: Ek het ʼn hond (I have a dog).

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