Can Afrikaans Be Divorced From Politics?

Written by Dyami Millarson

I have thought long and hard before writing up this article, because I do not even want to mention the word ‘politics’. It seems that the mention of Afrikaans inevitably invokes a political discussion about apartheid, and we do not delve into politics on this blog, because there is no reason to politicise language, culture and worldview. I deemed it fitting to address this issue, because Afrikaans is neither a political sin nor is it inextricably linked with any particular historical regime or political ideology; Afrikaans is not the language of apartheid anymore than Frisian is a separatist language of people desiring to break free from oppressive Dutch rule, German is a Hitlerian or Marxist language, English is a Trumpian or Victorian language, Chinese is a Moaist or Qing Dynasty language, Arabic is an extremist or terrorist language, Italian is a Mussolini-styled fascist language, Russian is a Stalinist or Czarist language, Latin is a Caesarian language, and so on. None of these languages are inherently linked with historical regimes, political figures or political ideologies, but they are linked with the lives of generations of people who existed long before particular regimes, politicians and ideologies and will exist long after. It is, therefore, very important to distinguish politics and language, and to see language in the right context. Speakers of any language can fall anywhere on the political spectrum; no language itself is inevitably linked with the political ideology of any particular regime or political figure in history. It is possible to politicise any language, but this would be completely unfair to that language. English isn’t beautiful despite Trump’s regime, Russian isn’t beautiful despite Putin’s regime, Dutch isn’t beautiful despite Rutte’s regime, and so on. These languages have a life of their own, and a political figure, political ideology or a regime is only a particular episode in history; it is basically nothing in comparison to the life of any language, because languages span generations and they aren’t confined to particular moments or snapshots of history.

Afrikaans is thus inherently divorced from politics; Afrikaans as a language is no political statement, and it is not linked with any particular political view. People of any political leaning may, nevertheless, choose to view Afrikaans as part of their identity, but so may people falling anywhere along the political spectrum see Chinese, Dutch, Russian and so on as part of their identity. Literally anyone can view Afrikaans as theirs; you do not have to be a Russian to identify with Russian, you do not need to be Chinese to identify with the Chinese language, you do not need to be a Frisian to identify with any of the Frisian languages. I can’t emphasise enough that language is not inherently political, and it would therefore be an egregious error – and of course completely unfair – to view Afrikaans as a vestige of apartheid, as a language stained by apartheid, as a language responsible for apartheid, or the like. Languages are the sum of their speakers, and they didn’t bring about any particular strain of politics, politician or political party, it is just pure coincidence when a particular political ideology, politician or political party uses a particular language and there is absolutely no causal relationship between the two. So when someone wishes to study Afrikaans, it is unfair to bring up apartheid; would people also blame Latin for the rise of Caesar if someone says they want to study Latin, or would people also bring up Trump if someone says they want to study English, or bring up Stalin when someone says they want to study Russian, or bring up Hitler when someone wants to study German? This is simply politicising language and it is ‘decontextualisation’ at its worst; I like being patient and fair to everyone regardless of errors and I know it may be tempting to commit the human error of politicising language, but it is nonetheless a horrible error, a source of extreme injustice even, because it eschews our understanding of what a language truly is, it doesn’t provide us with a complete picture that helps us to see a language in the right context and it simply discourages objective study and research. I strongly recommend that discussions of Afrikaans remain apolitical and Afrikaans be judged on its own merit regardless of any particular regime, ideology or political figure; I wish the same for any other language.


  1. There’s a current trend in the U.S. that says “everything is politics,” from who you are, to what you eat for breakfast, and it is **absolutely exhausting.** I’m sorry that anyone made you feel that way. I hope you continue with your studies and reach your goals 🙂

    Liked by 7 people

  2. I partially agree, but partially differ, Languages remind me of certain regimes. Not just Afrikaans, but certainly including Afrikaans. Where I agree with you is that the link is no stronger than “remind”

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    • Thank you for your comment. It is a human association; humans do politics, languages don’t do politics. One has to grasp what a language is and isn’t. There is no such thing as a political language; a language is something that can be used and abused by anyone. No language can be faulted for being used by a particular person or regime. English is being used by innocent people, but it is also used by murderers, rapists and thieves; does this render English a language of crime? It is just bad luck, but no more than a coincidence really. Languages cover the lives of the entirety of their speakers, regardless of all their virtues and vices. Languages reflect what it means to be human and it does so along generational lines; regimes are but a snapshot of history, languages outlive regimes. I think a significant point is also that the bad reputation of Afrikaans is hurting the feelings of the speakers of Afrikaans; it hurts them in their essence, whether they admit it or not, because they use Afrikaans as a means of communication, as a way of expressing themselves and when one sees the language as but a reminder of a particular regime, one is basically ignoring the legitimacy of their use of the language to express themselves as human beings, this is indeed a grave injustice.

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      • Consider music. Music is comprised of a finite, universal set of notes. Just as languages are composed of letters. In themselves, they are nothing.
        However, the way music is constructed – notes, tempo, instruments etc. – can be used immediately to suggest something. If you hear a calypso, you immediately think “Carreibean”, or western music to suggest horses romping over the prarie. Tchaikovsky even wrote 1812 to symbolise the French invasion.
        So music is suggestive. Language is exactly the same. I’m sorry if you don’t like that, but it is.

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        • @Mister Bump UK

          Languages aren’t inherently suggestive of racism, elitism, crime. Languages can be used to suggest whatever one’s heart desires. For instance, a language isn’t criminal just because someone uses it in a way that is suggestive of crime. Likewise, a knife isn’t murderous/criminal because it is used by a human for murder. A knife has countless use cases, it could simply be used for cutting bread. A knife is an amoral instrument, and so is language. People can use it in both innocent and criminal ways, this is up to human beings.

          Zooming in on the criminal use of knives while ignoring the daily use case (e.g., simply cutting bread) is decontextualisation at its worst; when one decontextualises how knives are actually used, one might construe them as being solely the instruments of crime and such a (mis)representation of knives might erroneously lead one to think the only logical thing to do would be to ban knives. Seeing languages inherently as an instrument of crime is a grave error, not everyone who uses a language is a criminal nor is everyone who uses a language innocent. Such faulty argument is called a hasty generalisation fallacy or an overgeneralisation fallacy in the philosophy of logic, by the way.

          Speaking of logical fallacies, it is important not to commit the fallacy of composition here either: it is not necessarily correct to infer that something is true of the whole even when it might be reasonably believed to be true of some part of the whole. For instance, a particular slang word may be used almost exclusively by criminals, but the usage of this particular slang by criminals does not mean the entire language is used by criminals exclusively. In addition, even when a language is used by a majority of beggars, thieves and hustlers of various kinds, it does not necessarily mean that any random user of that language is a criminal. A good example of this might be Rotwelsch, which has been subject to linguistic repression in the past for being a “robbers’ language.” If it were all as easy as that all speakers of Rotwelsch are criminals, then it might have been justified that all speakers of Rotwelsch be arrested immediately on the legal ground of speaking Rotwelsch being sufficient proof of being a criminal, or at least for them to be under the constant surveillance of law enforcement agencies.

          Whatever you think about the nature of Afrikaans – as well as the nature of other languages – has real-world implications (e.g., in law enforcement), so I would like you to think carefully about your arguments. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. For instance, if one wishes to argue all Afrikaans speakers are guilty of apartheid or likewise, if one wishes to argue all speakers of Rotwelsch are guilty of crime (e.g., thievery), one needs to back up such grand conspiratorial claims with solid evidence. In the case of the Afrikaans language, it is an extraordinary claim to see the Afrikaans language as inherently suggestive of racism, elitism, crimes against humanity.

          Liked by 16 people

      • Reply to Mr Bump UK on music:
        I’m not sure the analogy works. You could equally say the individual song or symphony etc is equivalent to the individual thing that is said in the language: eg the speech at Nuremberg or the love letter, not the language itself. The language (irrespective of what it is used for) might then be equivalent to, say a style or genre.

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  3. I don’t get the point of this post. Language is politicized. Period. In America, there are people who freak out when they call a call center for support and hear press number 2 for Spanish. Just that choice turns them into raving racist maniacs. Language has always been used for control. And if pointing out that reality hurts your feelings, oh well.
    And isn’t understanding of how minority languages are endangered by globalism the point of this blog? Isn’t that politics?

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    • Thank you for your comment.

      Your thesis is that language is politicised and that it is inevitably so. Politicising (rendering something political) is an action that is based on a human decision; humans can decide to use any language for pursuing their political goals, and humans can choose to politicise the reputation of any language by stigmatising its speakers while suggesting their language is inherently associated with any particular political figure, political party or political ideology. This is unfair in the sense that it is not objectively true and it is not a reasonable, humane attitude towards the speakers of any language.

      You bring up the fact that Americans are uncomfortable hearing any other language than English in the USA. I am aware of this attitude, but this attitude is not inherent in the English language. It is a human decision for people to be intolerant of other languages. It is important to emphasise that correlation does not mean causation: the issue of rejecting anyone who doesn’t speak English is a topic related to English, but it is not caused by English. This truth is easily demonstrated by the relativity of languages: one could easily replace English with Spanish and one could be angry at an English speaker for not speaking Spanish, this intolerance has to do with the human beings behind the language and is not caused by the language itself.

      You make the statement that language has always been used for control. Alright, let’s reason more about this: anyone can use language in any way one likes, and so there isn’t anything to stop someone if they decide to use any language (regardless of whether that is English) for pursuing control, but this decision is not language-caused. Animals can pursue control/dominance without language, they can use brute force or threats of violence to achieve this. Conclusion: language isn’t inherently about control.

      You are asking two questions at the end of your comment. The first question presupposes that minority languages are necessarily endangered by globalism – the reality of the world becoming more interconnected. This is not necessarily the case. In fact, the world being interconnected (i.e., being like a global village) presents many unprecendented opportunities for the survival of minority languages. An important function of our blog is to point out the opportunities and possibilities for the survival of minority languages in our modern day and age where the world is interconnected with the help of various technologies. For instance, the internet may be perceived as a blessing to minority languages: writing in and about minority languages on the internet may aid their survival. In the past, when one travelled abroad by boat in the 19th century or travelled by horse in medieval times, one might lose contact with one’s minority language community, but nowadays there is no need to lose contact with them and one may continue to use one’s minority language anywhere on the planet with the help of modern technologies.

      As for your last question, being political is a choice. We have decided not to be political on this blog, and so we do not look at globalism from a political angle. We do not interfere with policy regarding globalism; we do not interfere with politics. Likewise, science isn’t necessarily political, nor is philosophy. We pursue objectivity, rationality and humanity. We study, research and hypothesise – without pursuing politics.

      I am, however, open-minded to talking with anyone, politicians not excluded. During our studies, we do nevertheless sometimes stumble upon some specific problems that politicians might need to consider or could potentially solve: when we do find something is objectively bad for the survival of any language (e.g., the use of a particular language being prohibited in school), we may feel free to share this with the relevant authorities and discuss our findings with them, especially when it is within their control. Authorities are usually interested in objective facts. I have spoken with municipalities about what they can practically do for aiding the continued existence of local languages, yet I must emphasise that my role is simply to offer my help by analysing the situation objectively based on my findings about what is good or bad for the survival of the local languages; while I am simply describing what is good or bad for the survival of languages, I am not a politician nor am I taking any political stance. When polticians wish to talk with me about the survival of local languages, I might emphasise that tolerance for local languages is relevant for their long-term survival; if they are excluded in any way, that might jeopardise their survival in the long term. So it is good to encourage people to use minority languages in school, on the internet, at home, at work, and so on. This isn’t about politics, but this is simply objective and pragmatic; when a language is used in more domains, this is usually positive for its continued existence, which basically amounts to continued use.

      Conclusion: we are not compelled to choose sides in the game of politics when we are simply studying (the continued survival of) local languages, cultures and worldviews.

      We will continue pursuing an apolitical approach to language revival/survival. For our work, it makes no practical difference whether a language is spoken in a democracy or dictatorship for instance; we are free to conduct our work anywhere because it is not about politics and we know full well that minority languages face particular challenges to their survival regardless of the political system in which they exist. We will simply comply with the rules of any country where we perform our studies, and we will cooperate with authorities to share our findings if they wish to know about how to support local languages spoken in their administrative region effectively. We usually notify the authorities when we wish to visit a minority community living within the borders of their administrative region, and we believe this is generally the correct course of action regardless of the political system.

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  4. Good try but disagree – language expresses the many facets of the culture that developed and used(es) the language or dialect. British and American English both support the racism, elitism and super-nationalism of their culture’s history.

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    • Thank you for your comment. Let’s reason more about this, because it is relevant for determining what language is and isn’t. In science, any hypothesis has to be falsifiable. The thesis you present can be proven correct or proven incorrect by simply switching the language from English to another language. Relativity is important here: if your thesis were right, then replacing English with Arabic, Zulu, Chinese, Russian, Latin, Ancient Greek, Ancient Persian, Ancient Egyptian, Tlingit, Ainu, Manchu, Nahuatl, Maori, Esperanto, Elvish, Na’vi or any other language known to or created by man would immediately solve the problems proposed in your thesis. This is not the case because people can use languages however they like and there is nothing stopping people from pursuing their goals when they speak any particular language – the language will simply be the hostage or victim, it has no say in this because language isn’t a political entity, humans do politics whereas language doesn’t. There are murderers and thieves who happen to use English, does that make English a language that supports crime? English is not responsible for the actions or goals of its speakers, these are human choices and humans can use English or any other language during their thought processes to make their decisions – this is true irrespective of English. Alternatively, as a variation on your thesis, one could propose a thesis that human language enables mankind to pursue vices, but that really depends on how one uses language while human language may also be used to pursue virtues.

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      • The language is controlled by what is taught in schools and is written into “approved” texts. American English is used to support racism, elitism, and the view of those who control traditional culture. I do not believe language can be separated from its culture – it is not the same as mathematics, biology, chemistry, etc.

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        • Your thesis that language is controlled by schools would seem to suggest that language is not influenced by factors outside school. People go to school for only some % of their lives, yet even when they are still going to school, they also have a life outside school. Moreover, languages have existed long before school.

          While schools may have some influence on the development of language, they do not have any total control over it nor do they have near-total control. Schools have no monopoly over language, and this is also a very important point that I keep stressing when people wish to save languages; one can’t expect a school alone to save a language, it is simply an unrealistic expectation. Moreover, it is important to distinguish information and language. When people share certain information using a language, that particular language isn’t to blame, nor is it necessarily associated with it. There are endless possibilities of information we might share in any language and if languages could be characterised by a single type of political information shared in any languages, things would indeed really be simple, as we could argue languages are all representives of particular ideologies, regimes or politicians, but that is not the case. Languages are used by entire populations of human beings saying different, often conflicting things.

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      • All you’re saying is language is not a person. Everyone knows that. It’s so obvious in fact that no one argues this position. People do use language as a tool to subjugate people. Period.

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        • Thank you for your comment. I am saying more than that: a language is not inherently associated with any particular political figure, regime or ideology. It is just pure coincide when a particular politician, regime or ideology uses a particular language to achieve political goals. Therefore, English itself is not inherently associated with any particular ideology, regime or politician; never was and never will be. English isn’t a racist or liberal democratic language, Chinese isn’t a communist or monarchist language, Italian isn’t a fascist language, and so on. Languages aren’t political in and of themselves, but people can be if they wish to be and specific political figures, regimes or ideologies can coopt languages for political purposes. Let me draw an analogy: one may use social media for spreading one’s political message, but that doesn’t mean social media are specifically aligned or associated with that particular political message. It is highly relevant to distinguish politics and language. Languages aren’t inherently oppressive.

          About the notion that people use language as a tool to subjugate people: this is not necessarily what language may be used for and this is not the only use case of a language. If that were true, then all we needed to do is abolish language and then oppression would be gone, which isn’t true. Therefore, language isn’t the cause of oppression or subjugation. Correlation does not mean causation. English isn’t some kind of highly specialised weapon of which the existence can only lead to subjugation; since correlation does not mean causation, removing English in particular or language in general wouldn’t change anything about subjugation. As I mentioned in this thread, animals which do not possess language can use violence or threats of violence to subjugate others. Hence, subjugation isn’t language-specific. Again an analogy: people can use English – or any other language – to commit crimes such as robbery, murder or theft. This doesn’t make English – or any other language – a language that supports crime. If it were the case that English – or any other language for that matter – supports crime, we could simply arrest people based on their language since they’d commit crimes anyway.

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          • “Hence, subjugation isn’t language-specific.”
            You obviously don’t get it. In a context, and ALL language exists in a context, a language can subjugate. It’s just a fact. Sorry to disillusion you.

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          • Any language can be used for committing any range of criminal offences. People can commit any crime using whatever random language. This doesn’t say anything about that language. Analogy: it doesn’t really say anything about a social media platform if scammers also happen to use it particularly for committing crimes.

            Subjugation can be done regardless of language – with or without language, one can achieve it; crime can be committed regardless of language as well. It truly isn’t a thing specific to language, it isn’t an inherent trait built into language. People can use electricity to electrocute others, but it can also be used to save others in a hospital. Electricity being used to kill others doesn’t define electricity. Electricity is what it is regardless of how humans use it, and language is what it is regardless of how humans use it. There are so many use cases for electricity, so many use cases for language; in the case of electricity being used to kill someone, it isn’t fair or reasonable to blame the existence of electricity for crimes committed by means of electricity. Removing electricity from society wouldn’t solve anything. Likewise, removing language – if it were at all possible – wouldn’t really solve crime in general or subjugation in particular.

            Conclusion: context doesn’t really change the fact that subjugation isn’t inherent to language. Likewise, to use the electricity analogy again, context does not change the fact either that electrocuting people isn’t inherent to electricity.

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  5. Thank you for this post. Plenty of people who speak Afrikaans are not racists and were instrumental in bringing about the end of apartheid too. Languages may be politicised by anyone for any number of reasons but the language itself is not inherently political.

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    • Thank you for your comment. I agree with you. Speakers have a wide variety of thoughts they express using their language, including a wide variety of political thoughts. Speakers aren’t a homogeneic bunch, also not on a political level. Humans are all unique and they can express their uniqueness using any language, so it is worthwhile to study the languages these people use in order to get to know these unique human beings better and get familiar with the creative ways in which they express their thoughts. These days I really enjoyed learning more about how people express love and romance in Afrikaans; I was watching some Afrikaans movies, listening to Afrikaans songs and reading Afrikaans poems for this purpose. If you can suggest some interesting Afrikaans materials of this kind to me, I am definitely open to it!

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      • I studied Afrikaans in 1988 in preparation for a Foreign Service posting (the program has since been discontinued). I later married a South African and now live in Cape Town. During my posting in South Africa, the “Voelvry” movement, a group of Afrikaans singers protesting apartheid, came onto the scene and greatly enriched my experience with the language. They sang about other aspects of life as well, including love (which, in the apartheid era, was of course often mixed up with politics). Koos Kombuis, one of the movement’s leaders, issued a CD compilation of love songs called “Mona Lisa: Die Mooiste Love Songs van Koos Kombuis.” If you Google it you can find a track list (some songs are in English but most are in Afrikaans) and find the songs on YouTube. His most famous love song (or maybe it’s a just friends song?) is Liza se Klavier. Coca-Cola Nooi is about an illegal interracial romance. Atlantis in Jou Lyf is a love song for his Namibian wife. Some of my favorite Afrikaans love songs by other singers are Ou Ou Lied van Afrika by Johannes Kerkorrel, the leader of the Voelvry movement, Valiant Swart’s Duisend Myl Blues, Gert Vlok Nel’s Beautiful in Beaufort-Wes, and ‘n Brief vir Simone by Anton Goosen, a more mainstream Afrikaans singer.

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  6. Interesting discussion. As an English, English speaker who has lived in South Africa for the past 10 years, I whole-heartedly support your view and I agree with Jacqui’s comment above.

    I have friends who speak a beautiful version of Afrikaans: soft and lyrical, not at all like the stereotypical view of it as a hard, guttural language. They, and their community, were not on the side of Apartheid, anything but! However, their home language is Afrikaans.

    There’s also a dialect called Kaapse-Afrikaans, which is spoken by the coloured community in the Cape Town area. I’d recommend Adam Small’s poetry for examples of this – in fact Small is an excellent example of an anti-Apartheid Afrikaans speaker. I think you’ll enjoy this version of one of his poems:

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  7. Thank you for the clarification, I think it is important. I wish you all the best with this venture of studying Afrikaans. I am sure much can be learned and shared. It is an opportunity for positivity with much potential. I am not denying the fabric that the language is woven into, but we must follow the threads of language. Of course on the journey we will learn much of what happened within the snapshots, but that doesn’t mean that we align ourselves with the many snapshots but rather we learn from it and hopefully offer some thing constructive. Take care.

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  8. Phew! It is quite rare to stumble across a really interesting debate on the blogosphere but you certainly seem to have done it here.

    At first I baulked at ‘…there is no reason to politicise language, culture and worldview’, but I think I get what you are saying – about language in particular. I’m not sure whether what you say about language also applies to culture and worldview, but that’s another can of worms.

    I found it interesting that a lot of the commenters’ ripostes were relatively short whereas you responded at some length. It may be that that was because you were trying to articulate a distinction which others were not seeing, chose not to see, or thought was illusory.

    Yes there is a distinction between a particular language (what’s in the dictionary) and what is done and has been done with it (from love poems to hate speech and everything in between). Saussure made a distinction between ‘langue’ and ‘parole’, which I think refers to something like this. The question though is whether anything seeps back from the ‘parole’ to the ‘langue’, and if it does, how would you objectively identify it? And what significance does it have?

    If a bunch of Martians arrived on Earth speaking English what would lead us to think they were speaking the language of the oppressor rather than the language of the oppressed? What if we later discovered they were invaders engaged in imperialist expansion – or frightened refugees escaping slavery?

    What to me is fascinating about the case of Afrikaans is that its context exposes these questions so starkly. Afrikaans wouldn’t have existed without Dutch imperial expansion. But modern English wouldn’t have existed without the Norman Conquest, American English wouldn’t have existed without the British Empire and so on.

    History, including political history, is embedded in our languages. English has no gender-neutral 3rd-person pronoun, which means we have to go all round the houses or bend grammar rules to avoid defaulting to ‘he’. English words for kinds of meat often derive from the Norman French of those who ate it (mutton, beef, pork etc) whereas words for the corresponding animals derive from the Anglo-Saxon of those who tended them (sheep, cow, swine etc).

    But I don’t see how we can extrapolate from this to the idea that there’s something oppressive or imperialistic or sexist or racist (or … or …) about a particular language itself (langue) just because of what we know about its history and its heritage. At any point in time language usage rules & conventions may contain implicit assumptions (default ‘he’, Victorian ‘it’ to refer to child, mademoiselle in French etc) which eventually get addressed & amended. But if this means that any language as a whole is a politically manipulative entrapment device, then that would need convincing proof. If it’s true of Afrikaans it’s probably true of many if not all other languages.

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  9. Wow …. I had to think for some time about your post.
    There’s so much I can say about this (as well as after reading all of the comments) … but what I really hope for and having an eagerness for, is that I will be very happy if Afrikaans can indeed be divorced from politics – as stated in your post.

    I’m very proud in speaking Afrikaans, my home language, and you know what … I’ve never thought about it as an “oppressive language” (it is true that I wasn’t so exposed to what was happening in my country since we grew up in a very secluded town), but I never got the idea that people who does not speak Afrikaans in my country, look at me with disgust/hate … maybe I’m just naive …

    When me and my husband walked the Camino’s in Spain and Portugal (where a lot of different languages are spoken) and other hikers heard us speaking in Afrikaans to each other, they were always intrigued and polite. It was rarely that they wanted to know about the politics in our country, but rather about the beauty of our country and its people (and the sport, of course 😉).

    Dalk, sal taal van politiek kan verwyder word wanneer mense leer om met respek teenoor mekaar op te tree … ek hoop.

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    • Ya, ek weet wat jy bedoel, ek voel dieselfde… Being brought up bilingual (more English though) in a more Afrikaans community I knew people as people but I was also young. It’s quite an arousing conversation and it is good to think and evaluate one’s perspectives. Geniet die dag.

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  10. Excellent article, Dyami, written with the passion that you give to what you love doing. I am Sub-Saharan African by birth speaking both Afrikaans and English along with just a smattering of other African languages. ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,’ rings true to me in this discussion. Each of us will see what we want to see, whatever our motive. In this respect it is easy (but not wise) to ‘judge from a distance’ about countries, other than our own, their language, culture and their politics. But have you ever sat under African skies and heard songs being sung in multitudes of beautiful languages – devoid of politics; millions of people, Xhosa, Zulu, Afrikaans and English cheering for their rugby side as their national anthem is sung in five different languages, three of which are sung in Nkosi Sikelel’ Afrika and two in Die Stem van Suid-Afrika? If you have, then you would have a love of people, their language and culture and set the politics aside.

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  11. Thanks to you and everyone that help to make this brought into our consciousness, those who do this are made aware. In this way we all thank you for presenting in a way that is receptive and learned from. Being multiracial, identification and it’s experiences was always forth in my upbringing. Many naturally view minorities as associating to particular political parties and even shun those that stray from the norms. Perhaps when we gain the acknowledgment as all being one in conscious solidarity we can see through the forms we take. I love the community adding great conversation to this topic! 😃

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  12. Everything is fair in love and war, someone said. Add politics and business to it. Anything goes, as long as it can be benefited from. Humans give meaning to everything. A Swastika has associations today, as does a Lotus flower, or a Green flag with a star. Language is a powerful political tool in India which has many regional languages.

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  13. Remove the greatest difference among humans—race/color—and left are less obvious differences over which to clash: ethnicity, religion and, oh yes, language. And throw a contemporary deadly virus into the ugly equation for a really hateful fire.

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  14. In 1978, I lived in South Africa for a year as a foreign exchange student. I was hosted by (and deeply loved, respected and appreciated) an Afrikaans family. I attended an Afrikaans school. It was during that year that I learned the basic premise that “mothers are mothers” – which can be applied to other designations of a human’s description (brothers are brothers etc…) regardless of the family or society in which they are born or adopted. I also learned that people, even in democratic societies, do not inherently agree with every ideology that a government promotes or supports, even the government that they voted into power. During my stay in South Africa, I learned to speak Afrikaans and I was proud to still be able to communicate within that language a decade later when I attended a wedding with many Afrikaaners. I agree with the premise of your article. It can be difficult for some judgers to separate language from culture from behavior. It’s important that you offered the topic up for discussion. However, I am saddened to read that you put former US President Trump in the same sentence as some seriously inhumane and criminal individuals. There isn’t any evidence that he should be compared to those people, just like there isn’t evidence that speaking a language like Afrikaans should be paired with any type of political belief system. President Trump over saw a very successful administration, not a regime. With a bit of digging for the truth, you will find that he did more for the average American citizen than any other US President in recent history. Believing the leftist media libelous stories of a standing president is a bit like believing the untruths that are paired with speaking Afrikaans.

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    • Thank you for sharing, Tammie. An important aspect of my article is not to pass judgement on Trump or any other political figure. I should emphasise my apolitical approach once more as I perceive how easily things tend to get misinterpreted as being political: I am not taking sides on any political issue here, nor do I wish to distance readers of any political persuasion. I am politically neutral on my blog.

      On principle, I completely reject the notion of making any political statements here as well as the idea that I should mix politics with my interest in language, culture and philosophy; various people have tried to lure me into politics and I have always rejected this because I am just interested in acquiring new skills and studying different languages, cultures and perspectives objectively. Consequently, I hope that you do not read a particular political stance into my piece.

      The key point pertaining to my article is that people are politicising language, detractors of particular languages are often trying to link a language they dislike to their bogeyman of choice, they are deliberately pushing the narrative that languages are attached to particular regimes or political figures. This is false, and it is holding people back from learning those languages and acquiring new knowledge in that fashion. Languages are not beholden to political ideologies, political parties or political figures. Many political actors could only wish that were true and that they could exert total control over the languages of the peoples they wish to control.

      Interestingly, such political actors only exist for a short period of time in history, way shorter than the total time it took for those languages to develop; the timelines of the development of languages are truly immense by human biological standards and so the lifetime of languages is usually hard for people to comprehend because it spans so many generations.

      Languages escape control, and they cannot be tamed by those who wish to tame them. In relation to the “uncontrollable nature” of languages that are multigenerational tools passed from one generation to the next (a quaint historical analogy might be swords which were passed down for generations in medieval times), you may also read this piece which is the result of a collaboration between me and Ken Ho:

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  15. Hi Dyami,

    As a South African, I’d say, even if you’d put apartheid aside for a second, if you simply pay attention to its origins and then of course context, from that alone you find that you really can’t separate Afrikaans from politics.

    You can’t look at it in isolation.

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    • Thank you for your input.

      Is Afrikaans the inherently evil twin of Dutch carrying intrinsic political stains? Dutch is not associated with any particular political view, and one could regard Afrikaans as just another form or incarnation of Dutch, for that is the source whence it came. Afrikaans as an independent Dutch language is part of a Dutch language family and such a language family may be called “Low Franconian” by linguists.

      Language is separated from the political views one holds, one can express anything in any language and therefore, logically, also hold any political view one wishes to hold regardless of the language one so happens to use; politics is not dependent on particular languages and erasing Afrikaans wouldn’t change anything about the political landscape because people will hold the same political views anyway regardless of particular languages spoken in certain geographical contexts. Politics is not language-specific, and therefore context matters not. One has to take into account the transferability of ideas as one can easily express the political views one holds in any another language. Linguists often say “all languages are equal” and Afrikaans is not singled out from this principle (if one argues otherwise based on “context,” one would be committing the special pleading fallacy and this faulty argument may be properly classified as a rationalisation for linguicism/linguistic discrimination against Afrikaans).

      Languages are separated from politics, but it is possible to politicise languages, i.e., make languages a political issue. The historical context from which Afrikaans has sprung does not make it a political language or a politically tainted language. I have sometimes used a hostage-terrorist analogy to explain this. Saying Afrikaans is a political or tainted language is like saying a hostage is guilty because he/she is associated with the terrorist who captured him/her, and therefore we should blame the hostage and punish the hostage for the wrongdoing of the terrorist; or taken to its logical extreme, give the death penalty to the hostage for being associated with the terrorist. Associations mean nothing logical/rational here, context does not render Afrikaans a political language or a language tainted by politics, all languages are equal as linguists say and the unequal treatment of languages, including Afrikaans, amounts to linguicism/linguistic discrimination.

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      • Thank you. I am continuing my linguistic studies of Afrikaans. I am particularly interested in the phonology, morphology and syntax of Afrikaans. I am studying Afrikaans etymology as well.

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    • It’s not really about personal opinion, but scientific consensus. You have to disprove science to make your point. We can get into linguistics much deeper if you like. I am trying my best to simplify it so laymen can follow it.

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        • Let’s take a brief look at the structure of languages if you are interested. Afrikaans is a spoken natural language. From a phonological perspective, spoken natural languages are made of sounds (divided into vowels and consonants); from a semiotic perspective, these sounds constitute signs that convey meaning, and these signs are commonly known as words.

          Let’s take a look at another human-made analogue: musical instruments can produce sounds as well, and these sounds, which instruments produce, can be interpreted as signs conveying meaning. Therefore, instruments can potentially be used to communicate a political message through sounds that constitute signs. This does not render instruments tainted with politics, nor does it render instruments inherently political and even sounds that may be produced by instruments and interpreted as signs are not inherently political; whatever can be done with or whatever is possible with instruments does not mean that this defines the essence or intrinsic nature of instruments. This itself is a reductio ad absurdum.

          Furthermore, context cannot be an exception to the general observation or conclusion that musical instruments are not inherently political. In the same vein, context does not provide a counterargument to the established fact that Afrikaans is not inherently political.

          Relevant to our topic at hand might be the English metaphoric phrase of “shooting the messenger,” which pertains to the idea that one should not blame the bearer of bad news. Afrikaans is the messenger here, and people are tempted to shoot the messenger, because this messenger has been used to bring what they perceive as bad news. People believe that Afrikaans is inherently associated with this bad news, they view the language as politically tainted based on historical context, and hence they might prefer that the Afrikaans language disappears on account of being part of a “tainted political history.”

          The concept of “shooting the messenger” has already been known since ancient times, and it was considered a foolish act that humans are tempted to commit when they are experiencing strong and heated emotions. The ancient Greek philosopher Plutarch recounted in his book on the moral virtues and failings of 48 men that Tigranes had the head of a messenger cut off and the result was that he acquired no further information. Similarly, seeing Afrikaans as inherently tainted is definitely an impediment to further learning; it discourages one from seeking to understand the structure and the essence of the language in an unbiased way.

          My aim is never to shoot the messenger, but rather to learn everything about the messenger that I possibly can; for I wish to understand the messenger, and I wish to gain intelligence from the messenger (Afrikaans in this case), and from all other messengers (other languages).

          If it is the case that languages are not inherently political, then those who claim, think or otherwise still feel a particular language can be inherently tainted with politics or be politically tainted on account of context fail to understand what a language is and is not, and this hinders further learning about the world in which we live and what role languages, including Afrikaans, play in it. Consequently, to claim an exception on account of context, without understanding what language is and is not (whilst this intelligence could be potentially be obtained from a serious scientific inquiry into Afrikaans and other languages), is a direct return to pre-scientific magical thinking; it constitutes a quasi-religous magical understanding of languages, where languages can be magically tainted with politics.

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  16. As an Afrikaans speaker of the European kind, the language is not the sole possession of those who came here on VOC ships. Although spoken by 60.8% of the white population (2.7 million) it is also spoken by 75% of the cape-coloured population (3.5 million) leaving 800 000 out of the 2011 census population total who speak the language, i.e. about 7 million people.

    Afrikaans (in my opinion) is about the same result as what English did to French…to Dutch. Afrikaans is a phonetic morphology of the parent languages with a reductive grammar as a result. It developed from hearing, through necessity, informally, as a franca lingua. It retained some affinity with Dutch due to the rapid development of the white population, post the initial “wild” days, until religious and governmental structures were formalised and they were able to formally school their offspring.

    This establishment of order (among the inception turmoil of South Africa during the colonization stampede of the early 1900s) lead to foundation of the group promulgated from the womb of the Dutch golden era calling themselves Afrikaners, as from the mouth of Hendrik Biebouw. They spoke Afrikaans and contented for a slice of the European colonial pie within the international setting of that time.

    In Africa this (as history told) led to dearth and strife for many peoples, especially after 1886 when gold was discovered. The white Afrikaner became an international hindrance to imperial wealth and later to international politics. Their tenacity and stubbornness not withstanding made the hatred overall to imbibe those Afrikaners as a people in toto.

    Wresting control from a willful people takes effort. In a continuance of the scorched earth policy of Lord Roberts during the boer war, their determined will had to be crushed. Throwing all characteristics that constitute your foe into the bag of options from which to concoct a destructive propaganda as the final solution is a requirement for scorched earth.

    Afrikaans (the language) was gulped into the toxicity of the “apartheid” era attack. The nature of those propaganda campaigns find their continuance today in the shaming of white supremacy in general. To say that Afrikaans as a language that became a political identity is akin to linking a “white” skin to a white supremist.

    “The difference between treason and patriotism is only a matter of dates.” ― Alexandre Dumas

    “Playing Politics” is a key tool to success where you are required to foster good relationships, i.e. make friends not enemies. Through storytelling facts are shape that impact our understanding of reality, i.e. the political narrative. A political narrative is crafted carefully, viz., reading political fiction and real accounts, determine what to change (identify the target and attack), craft the approach (plan), and systematically dismantle and change the narrative over time by propagating the new normal, using “friends” who are sympathetic to the cause.

    Afrikaans (being so closely affiliated with a people linked to a political agenda) got baked into the “apartheid” narrative as an inextricable characteristic and identification of the “enemy”. The qualities “white” and “Afrikaans” are presently the epitaphs of the destructed adherents of apartheid.

    So, it’s a language, i.e., a communication medium not a political vehicle. However, just as being “white” today is an automatic resolve to racist and supremacist; these have become political characteristics–in the planned narrative of those furthering their global ideals–just like Nazi Germany did to Jews, it’s now being done to “white supremacists” (globally) who also are also Afrikaans speaking in the South African context.

    At least for now, in my opinion, Afrikaans can’t be divorced from politics.

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    • Languages are, objectively speaking, already divorced from politics. Just like knives are. You can use it to cut bread, you can use it to kill or oppress people. It says nothing really about the knife, the knife itself is already divorced from politics. My question was a rhetorical one, because people misunderstand what language is. Absolutely no historical situation can change what a knife is, nor can history change what language is. They are divorced from politics, no matter the fact that political actors can use it for achieving their goals.

      It is fascinating that such a large group of people lives in a non-scientific reality where things are magically an inherent part of politics, which rather says something about the zeitgeist, i.e., it is fashionable to link everything to politics and to politicise every topic and make it a cause for polarisation. It does not matter what political persuasion a group of people has, but communists can use Afrikaans to push their agenda, White nationalists can use Afrikaans to push theirs and liberals can use it to push theirs – this says really nothing about the essence of the language, Afrikaans is not communist, nationalist or liberal, it is just Afrikaans and it can accommodate people of any political persuasion as languages are wont to.

      If Afrikaans were inherently linked to one political agenda or another, then people would have been hardwired to make that political ideology become victorious, and if it were the case that apartheid were inevitably linked with Afrikaans, then all speakers would have been hardwired to support the apartheid regime and this unanimous support would have led to the continued dominance of apartheid, which is a fantasy reality that does not match our reality as speakers of Afrikaans always had a variety of political agendas and their politics did not necessarily align.

      Superstition about the Afrikaans language would certainly not have helped the apartheid regime stay in power, and such occult beliefs, which are neither based in reality nor based on a healthy desire to grasp the essence of things, may lead to the downfall of regimes or political factions. To sum it up, it would most likely not have helped the regime to believe Afrikaans as a language was on their side or to believe it was an absolutely powerful unifying force that would have kept the regime in power; despite whatever our superstitious minds are saying, language and politics objectively aren’t the same thing.

      If language had been the magically unifying force it is purported to be, then it would have worked way better in favour of the apartheid regime. The regime itself might have made a bet that people would rally behind Afrikaans as a symbol of the regime’s desired political identity, but their faction did not manage to be victorious because even if they held on to Afrikaans as their potential saviour, Afrikaans could never have magically saved or helped any political group as it is a language, not a political deity that magically controls the minds of whoever happens to come into contact with it.

      Whoever believes that Afrikaans is a deity magically favouring their cause or magically opposing their cause is deluded. This superstition belongs in the same category as that of two opposing superstitious armies who believed God was on their side. Afrikaans is on no one’s side. For the sake of illustration, let’s suppose the Chinese start speaking Afrikaans en masse and start claiming it is their language. There is nothing inherent in Afrikaans opposing or supporting this move, Chinese people can simply adopt it and claim it as theirs. This is the very essence of languages: anyone can use it and even claim it, all languages are equal in this regard. There is no language on earth that nationalists, communists or liberals can’t learn – neither is there any language on earth that Whites, Africans or Asians can’t learn, which underscores the equality of languages.

      The point of this equality being, no language is on anyone’s side and stereotyping a group of speakers as being aligned with any particular political movement or belief system is just plain wrong, because it is simply untrue, objectively speaking. Rotwelsch – a language distantly related to Afrikaans – has been stereotyped as a language of beggars and such. The police even investigated speakers of Rotwelsch and speaking Rotwelsch was a cause for suspicion until law enforcement came to the realisation language is not necessarily linked to crime, and although Rotwelsch may be used for criminal activities, it may also be used for normal purposes. The use of Rotwelsch itself cannot be seen as suspicious or being a criminal act. It would be a misunderstanding to see Rotwelsch as inherently linked with crime, and the same goes for those believing Afrikaans is inherently linked with (racial) politics.

      Furthermore, the conclusion that anyone can learn a language is relevant for our work with Frisian, because it allows us to see that Frisian can be used by anyone, there are no limits in this regard, and if we fully embrace this, the language can be used by any future generations of people who are simply fascinated with Frisian, regardless of political or racial background. This is our same attitude to Afrikaans. We will simply learn to speak Afrikaans, we can claim it as our own when we have reached the same level as fluent speakers and do whatever we want with it – no one can stop us anyway.

      Languages are not controlled by anyone, and we as individuals can take it in whatever direction we like. This has clearly been seen with all the minority languages we have learned – we can use it in the artistic ways we want and we can use them even for conducting scientific and philosophical investigations. A common misunderstanding is that only particular languages can be used for science, for instance, but any language can be used for it if a fluent speaker so desires. Truly, all languages have equal potential, there can be a Shakespeare in any Frisian minority language and such literary genius – or the same kind of genius in an oral tradition – can be replicated, or independently developed, in any language. We will definitely use Afrikaans for artistic, philosophical and scientific purposes as we see fit. Since we know what Afrikaans is and isn’t, we can be realistic about the applications of the language and we know very well how it fits into our work.

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