What Is Afrikaans A Mix Of? The Origins Of The Language
You’re probably already aware that Afrikaans is a descendant of Dutch, a language that’s primarily spoken in the Netherlands. But did you know that Afrikaans is a creole language that also has influences from other languages?
That’s right – due to the diverse geography of South Africa and its colonial history, Afrikaans has absorbed words from a number of languages. In fact, it’s estimated that between 5 – 10% of the Afrikaans lexicon is of foreign/non-Dutch origin.
In this article, we’re going to take a look at which languages have had the biggest influence on Afrikaans, how this came to be, as well as some of the more interesting foreign words that have made their way into the language.
Languages that influenced Afrikaans
About 90% – 95% of Afrikaans derives from Dutch. This is because Dutch colonists who arrived in South Africa in the 17th century brought their language with them, which later evolved into Afrikaans.
The vast majority of Afrikaans is Dutch in nature, which is why the two languages are said to be mutually intelligible. There are, however, slight modifications in spelling and pronunciation when it comes to vocabulary.
Differences exist in grammar, too. Afrikaans grammar has been simplified over the years, making it easier to learn than its predecessor. You won’t, for example, find any grammatical genders in Afrikaans, as you do in Dutch.
English has been a major influence on Afrikaans since the early days of colonialism. This is because English was the language of the British colonists, who were in direct competition with the Dutch for control over South Africa. As a result, English words started appearing in Afrikaans as early as the 18th century.
Later on, during the 20th century, English started to have a bigger impact on Afrikaans as South Africa became more integrated into the global community.
This was especially true after the end of apartheid in 1994, when English started to be taught in schools as a second language, and was seen as a way to bridge the divide between different races and cultures.
These are just some of the Afrikaans words that are borrowed from English:
- ‘storie’ – story in English
- ‘joint’ – meaning marijuana
- ‘rugby’ – from the English sport of the same name
- kôs – ’cause (because)
- boelie – bully in English
- fliek – flick/movie/film
Afrikaans has also been influenced by French, largely due to the fact that the French natives were among the original group of colonists who arrived in South Africa in the 17th century.
Today, around 3% of Afrikaans words are of French origin. Some examples include:
- ‘trofee’ – trophée (trophy)
- ‘dans’ – danser (dance)
- ‘ateljee’ – atelier (studio)
- ‘marmotjie’ – marmotte (guinea pig)
- ‘chirurgie’ – chirurgie (surgery)
Believe it or not, the Portuguese were the first Europeans to explore the coastline of South Africa, and they were also among the first colonists. Their fight for control over the region was eventually won by the Dutch, but the Portuguese left their mark on Afrikaans nonetheless.
Today, several hundred thousand South Africans have Portuguese ancestry, and this is reflected in the Portuguese words that have been incorporated into Afrikaans.
The influences are mainly found in place names, plants and fish species, though can also be seen in other areas like military.
Some Portuguese words that have entered Afrikaans are:
- ‘flamink’ – flamingo
- ‘sambreel’ – sombreiro (hat), but meaning umbrella
- ‘papegaai’ – papagaio (parrot)
- ‘kaserne’ – casernas (barracks)
Some Malay vocabulary inevitably entered Afrikaans as a result of the Dutch East India Company bringing slaves from Indonesia to South Africa in the 17th century. These Malay-speaking slaves not only brought their language with them but their culture and religion as well.
You’ll also be able to see Malay food names in areas like Cape Town, where there is a small Malay population.
(Southafrica.net has a great article that talks about the Malaysian influence in South Africa.)
Some examples of Malay words found in Afrikaans are:
- ‘baadjie’ – baju (jacket)
- ‘piesang’ – pisang (banana)
- ‘baklei’ – berkelahi (fight)
Indigenous South African languages
Naturally, the indigenous South African languages have also had an impact on the development of Afrikaans. When the Dutch-speakers arrived to the land, there were already a number of Bantu and Khoisan languages being spoken there.
Over the years, words from languages like Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho and Tswana have found their way into Afrikaans, though the extent of their influence is difficult to quantify.
Some words from indigenous southern African languages that are used in Afrikaans are:
- “gogga” – from Khoisan languages, meaning beetle
- “kierie” – from Khoisan languages, meaning walking stick
- “babelaas” – from Zulu, meaning hungover
So, is Afrikaans an African language?
The name of the language may look like it, and there may be dozens of African words that have, over time, been adopted into the language, but Afrikaans is actually a West Germanic – European – language not much different from its Dutch progenitor.
That said, more and more words from indigenous African languages are likely to find their way into Afrikaans as the language evolves. This is simply a reflection of South Africa’s increasingly diverse population and intercultural interactions.
We do believe that Afrikaans is a product of its European, Asian and African roots, which makes it a unique and fascinating language to study.