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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

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


LIEBENBERG, Helena. The Western Cape Archives and the beginning of Afrikaans. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2018, vol.58, n.2, pp.204-236. ISSN 2224-7912.

The transcribed contents of a number of 17th and 18th century VOC document series vested in the Western Cape Archives were used in the present study. Since 2001 this information was made available during the execution of four extensive transcription projects, of which the VC Daghregister Project is still continuing. The linguistic material in the Resolutions of the Council of Policy, intestate inventories, auction rolls and journals of the Cape Commanders and Governors contains numerous examples of forms used at the time and which became part of the vocabulary of Afrikaans. The language today serves as conservancy of obsolete and dialectal words in modern Dutch. Many Dutch "boeretaal" words remained in Afrikaans. Other Western European dialects, especially Low German, also influenced the language. Although only a few Eastern and Khoi-Khoi borrowed words were noted, the numerous Khoi-Khoi place-names did then and still enrich the landscape. The Western Cape Archives and the beginning of Afrikaans was the title of this keynote paper delivered at the 9th international congress ofthe Southern African Association for Dutch Studies. It is not a theoretical linguistic study, but presents historical language material extracted from documents of the Dutch East-India Company (VOC) written at the Cape of Good Hope and conserved in the Western Cape Archives. The VOC collection is part of UNESCO's Memory of the World Register, which makes it obligatory to conserve the heritage and make it publicly available. Various projects were/ are run: TANAP - Towards a New Partnership, which transcribed the Resolutions of the Political Council. TEPC - Transcription of Estate Papers ofthe Cape of Good Hope (inventories and auction rolls, as well as muster rolls). The VOC Daghregister Project - Transcription of the VOC Journals under the auspices of the Tracing History Trust. Journals missing from the Western Cape collection were photographed in the Nationaal Archief, The Hague, the Netherlands. The VC (verbatim copies) Daghregister Project - The documents were photographed and then transcribed. This project is still continuing. Ever since the first Resolution had been recorded on board the Drommedaris on 30 December 1651, every important event at the Cape of Good Hope was documented until 16 September 1795 when the British first took over the Cape. The Resolutions were written in formal bureaucratic style. Nonetheless, typical Afrikaans forms can be seen, coexisting with many French forms that came to South Africa as part of the 17th century Dutch vocabulary. Here and there, the influence of sailors'vocabulary is clear. The Estate Papers were written by trained scribes as well as "ordinary" people. Many Afrikaans words can be traced to the informal language of the latter rather than standard Dutch. The VOC Journals were written by trained scribes, but in a relaxed style. An entry describing the weather was customary every day. Diminutives are markedly Afrikaans rather than Dutch and there are a few interesting slips of the pen. All VOC officials had to know and use the 17th/18th century Dutch of their time; the Resolutions refer to this language form as "Nederduijtsch" or "Duijtsch". The Commanders and Governors wrote many documents themselves and were all Dutch mother tongue speakers, with only two exceptions. A secretary or "first sworn clerk" was responsible for the documentation in each of the various government departments, assisted by other scribes. The initial Dutch speakers were later joined by writers from the Low Dutch, German and Scandinavian regions. Unwittingly, the authors of the Resolutions, Journals, Inventories and Auction Rolls recorded invaluable clues to the development of Afrikaans and the influence ofthe Khoi-Khoin, slaves from the East, German- and French-speaking people and people from Scandinavia. The paper traces various fascinating case histories of Afrikaans words. When these original sources of historical language material are studied, it is clear that Afrikaans developed from 17th and 18th century Dutch and serves as a conservancy of forgotten, obsolete and dialectal Dutch words.

Keywords : VOC; Western Cape Archives; Conservation; digitisation; transcription; resolutions; inventories; auction rolls; Duitsch"; Boeretaal vs. Standard; loan words; French Huguenots; etymologies; Afrikaans as conservancy.

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