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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


VAN RENSBURG, Christo. Creating a standardised version of Afrikaans - the first 50 years. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2015, vol.55, n.3, pp.319-342. ISSN 2224-7912.

With Steyn's 2014 publication We are going to make a language (Ons gaan 'n taal maak) as stimulus, the beginning of organised writing of Standard Afrikaans since 1875 is discussed, as well as its consequences for the continued creation of Afrikaans. In particular, in this paper comments are made on some of the points that Steyn made. Plans for an Afrikaans Bible translation were initially unsuccessful because Afrikaans was not yet serving a written function at the time. The written language subsequently established by the Genootskap van Regte Afrikaners ("GRA") (Association of Real Afrikaners) was able to fill this gap, as illustrated by the many publications that appeared under the banner of the GRA. Steyn points out that many people were enthusiastically involved in the creation of Afrikaans, then indicates what many of them had done, and continues to mention the expectations some of them had of Afrikaans. The way in which this publication shows how people were involved in the creation of Afrikaans makes it an exceptional document on the development of Afrikaans. The fact that people create standard languages, of which Standard Afrikaans is an example, is highlighted. People often start this process by developing written forms of spoken languages. The title of Steyn's work refers to this human endeavour. In the history of Afrikaans as a written language, a start was made as early as the nineteenth century with the development of a written form of some varieties of Afrikaans. A written tradition where Muslim Afrikaans was written in religious scriptures, in Arabic script, has possibly been in existence since 1830. This movement had a large readership and was based on the Cape variety of Afrikaans. At Genadendal Afrikaans was possibly written from 1859, and in Paarl from 1875. All these ways in which Afrikaans was written were close to the spoken variety. Patriot Afrikaans, as the GRA's written Afrikaans in the Paarl was also known, was based on the farmers' dialect of the area. It did not enjoy a high status, and developed speakers did not want to associate themselves with it. This Afrikaans was nevertheless made known by means of a large number of publications, which were read across the country. Up to 1895 no fewer than 81 000 copies were printed under the GRA banner. Afrikaans was also written from time to time by newspapers, but not uniformly, with Afrikaans being written the way it was spoken by the various speech communities whom these newspapers wished to reach. The Afrikaans written in this newspaper tradition made the dialectal Afrikaans of their target group a little more dignified by adding some Dutch to it. The farmers' variety on which GRA Afrikaans was based, was closely interwoven with the Khoi Afrikaans of the Khoi-Khoi people, the learner's Afrikaans that to a large extent had displaced their Khoi-Khoi mother tongue by the end of the seventeenth century. Besides the Afrikaans of the farmers, Khoi Afrikaans was one of the two main languages spoken for approximately a hundred years in the Interior Region, located more or less between the Hottentots Holland mountains and Graaff-Reinet. The two dialects had a mutual influence on one another, as is illustrated by the general use of the word ons (in the subject position) in current Afrikaans, which was earlier stigmatised as Khoi Afrikaans. This area of the interior is currently regarded as the origin of many of today's Afrikaans dialects. At the beginning of the twentieth century, language creators made serious efforts to Dutchify GRA Afrikaans, and the "write as we speak" principle of the GRA was changed in such a way as to link Afrikaans more closely to Dutch; the writing somewhat resembled the way Afrikaans was written in the newspaper tradition. In this way, a shortcut was taken to elevate the status of Afrikaans and expand its corpus. This Dutchification process had a number of implications for later Standard Afrikaans. Dutchified Afrikaans created some distance between this Afrikaans and the Afrikaans of its dialects, with the result that this rich source of Afrikaans became marginalised. The spelling of many words from GRA Afrikaans was adapted to the Dutch model, and earlier well-known rural constructions and dialectal forms were lost (such as agint, speul and worre, for agent, speel and word). Currently there is an increase in literary works written in varietal Afrikaans. The Afrikaans used in these works differs in various respects from Standard Afrikaans because it still contains some remnants of the language spoken in the period before Dutchification took place. But Dutchified Afrikaans remained a separate language. Quite a bit of material from the farmers' language, as written by the GRA, was preserved. The same applies as regards created constructs. The argument put forward here is that the Afrikaans double negative, for which a source cannot be found in the history of the Afrikaans language, was created by the GRA. By linking Afrikaans to Dutch during early legislation, an interesting move was made to support Afrikaans: In this, the argument was that Dutch included Afrikaans, something that is not borne out by the history of Afrikaans. After the Dutchification phase, "Dutch" continued to be linked to the language name "Afrikaans", for example in compounds such as "Afrikaans-Dutch". Steyn's outstanding book does not just deal with the origins of Afrikaans. Ons gaan 'n taal maak shares with its readers, through many of the approximately 200 photographs that have been used, the highlights of the Afrikaans language creation period, and takes them through the later period of its history, sometimes with quite some nostalgia. Reading Steyn's book brings one to a better understanding of the creation of Afrikaans, and it is simultaneously also quite thought-provoking.

Keywords : Afrikaans as an official language; the Afrikaans writing traditions; diglossia; dutchification of Afrikaans; history of Afrikaans; Khoi Afrikaans; negation with nie-2; standard Afrikaans; varieties of Afrikaans.

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