Studying Afrikaans Changes My/Our Definition of Dutch

Written by Dyami Millarson

Afrikaans does not exist in a linguistic vacuum, but it exists within a linguistic context. Namely, Afrikaans, which is mutually intelligible with Dutch to a high extent, is a Dutch-related independent language. One might as well say that Afrikaans is an independent Dutch language, implying that Dutch is not a single language but a language family just like we discovered to be the case with Frisian. My study of Afrikaans this year has definitely made me more cognizant of the fact that it is a myth that Dutch is a single language and it is an obstacle to the growth of our consciousness about the diversity of the linguistic world around us that people are still generally clinging to this myth. Linguists classify Dutch and Afrikaans as Low Franconian, and therefore the language family that Dutch and Afrikaans belong to may be called Low Franconian, but I would be more inclined to simply call it a Dutch language family with the aim of addressing the myth of Dutch being a single language and thereby highlighting the truth that Dutch is not a single language, but rather a collection of related languages; Foundation Operation X will henceforth follow the convention of describing Dutch as a language family rather than a single language, just like we do with Frisian. Additionally, there being multiple Dutch languages is a highly interesting notion, which we will definitely investigate further in the coming years as we intend to study Zeelandic, Brabantian, Limburgish, Flemish and Hollandic. Based on what the Frisian linguistic situation has taught us over the years, we have come to suspect that many Germanic languages, which are commonly supposed to be one single language, are actually language families, i.e., collections of interrelated languages which have been supposed to be a single language, perhaps for political purposes such as nation-building which has often involved the genesis of national identity, national assimilation, and (mandatory) national education. For instance, we suspect that German is probably not a single language either. While we do suspect this, it is nevertheless still important to confirm this with our own studies; we will therefore study the German linguistic situation extensively in the future. Furthermore, I will investigate the linguistic diversity of Afrikaans this year; I will investigate to what extent Afrikaans is a single language, and whether there might be multiple Afrikaans languages.

22 comments

  1. I think I’ve mentioned before that there are distinct differences in the Afrikaans which is spoken in the home, almost to the extent that one of my friend’s families have a whole lexicon of their own expressions! Not that my mastery of the language is up to distinguishing them yet. I’m happy just to get the gist. 🙂

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  2. I think Afrikaans shares the same destiny as Luxembourgish, which is a mix of Dutch, French and Suebian with Scandinavian grammar elements and a pronunciation very similar to English. Afrikaans is no different. It is a mix of Vlaams, Luxembourgish, German with strong Indo-African influence. So Afrikaans is a language of its own, like Portuguese in comparison with Spanish or Bulgarian in comparison with Serbian.

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    • Thank you for sharing this, we are also looking into the etymology of Afrikaans vocabulary, pronunciation and grammar and we are comparing Afrikaans with the Frisian languages as well! 😊 Your Spanish-Portuguese and Bulgarian-Serbian comparisons are certainly apt. 😁

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    • Yes, it is like the relationship between American English and British English, but Afrikaans is a bit further apart from its Dutch parent languages, although still closely related; and Afrikaans is for this reason also closely related to the Frisian and Low Saxon languages of the Netherlands. The three major language families of the Netherlands are Dutch (Low Franconian), Frisian and Low Saxon; all of these are closely related as they developed in close proximity over the course of history, which explains why Afrikaans is also closely related to all of the languages in the Netherlands, particularly to the Dutch languages from which it is directly derived. Afrikaans started as a local form of Dutch and developed increasingly into its own direction as it was no longer surrounded by the Dutch and other related languages which had accompanied it for centuries in the linguistic environment of the Netherlands. The new linguistic environment is what led to new innovations.

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  3. I really appreciate this post. I’ve known South Africans, and I knew Afrikaans came from “Dutch,” but I didn’t know that was a language tree. So that was cool to hear!

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  4. Very interesting study. I’ve always loved languages, but never acquired the diligence and interest you have with your research. My extent of learning a language was in high school when I had a French and Spanish class. Received an ‘A’ in French, and an ‘A+’ in Spanish. I should have pursued a career in languages, to be an interpreter, but got sidelined. Life took a different turn. 😊…thanks for the likes.

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  5. Interesting.

    This article makes me think of the linguistic diversity in South Korea. Until recently, there was a lot of regional conflict and provincialism but, with the spread of Seoul (Gyeongi) dialect, this has really decreased. I’m not sure I consider that a bad thing.

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  6. I enjoyed learning about the similarities and differences with Afrikaans and Dutch. I’ve recently met my husbands musician friend who is from Africa and does speak Afrikaans. If I pay too much attention to the accent I have a hard time following him, but if I get past that and kind of “relax” what he says is perfectly clear. Not sure that makes sense.

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  7. Ah, I study German and knew it had some connections with the Dutch language, but I had no idea it was related with Afrikaans as well. Then again, they are Germanic languages so fair enough I suppose.
    I love to see language content on WordPress, it’s always interesting to read about

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  8. Older Afrikaans leaned really more toward Deutsch, although people who never read old Afrikaans may disagree. Afrikaans has well over 17 million speakers worldwide.

    Surprisingly, the majority of Afrikaans speakers are black. It became a written language in Bo-Kaap when two Imams translated parts of the Q’Uran from Arabic. My wife came across those first pieces of written Afrikaans in a mosque in 2007 or 2008. It did, of course, surprise me as it contradicted what I was taught in school.

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    • Thank you for sharing. It is not really that surprising, since elder Dutch leaned more towards German as well. (People do not read elder Dutch much either these days, though, and so people may not be aware of this.) Let me take the liberty to mention an example. People wrote “ik zie den man” in 19th-century Dutch, which translates to “ich sehe den Mann” in German. In modern Dutch, people write “ik zie de man.” So, written 19th-century Dutch was much more German-like than the written modern language, and this is to be expected in Afrikaans as well. Although expected, nevertheless intriguing.

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