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The following article called "The Roots of Afrikaans" is a translation into English and then scanned. The original research was done by Die Afrikaanse Taalmonument. With their permission I post the article below. I had to do minor corrections, especially typos introduced by the scanning process.


European roots

The roots of Afrikaans can be traced to a wide variety of sources that are spread over three different continents, namely: Europe, Asia and Africa. In 1652 the Dutch East India Company started a refreshment post at the Cape for the benefit of their ships on their journeys to and from the East. Most of the Company's officials spoke the High Dutch of Holland and the Company's sailors and soldiers spoke a wide variety of 17th Century Dutch and Lower German dialects that all had more or less the same non-standard Germanic language base. Non-standard referring to the non-standardized or folk-character of the language where a lot of dialectic variations were possible. Standardized High Dutch would only be established later in the 17th Century and cannot be regarded as one of the roots of Afrikaans.

In 1657 the Company started to hand out farms to Freeburgers who had retired from their service. These people came from diverse European countries such as the German speaking territories, the Netherlands, the Scandinavian countries and France. Because officials of the East India Company felt very strongly about keeping the Dutch character of the Cape Colony, they had an extremely strict language policy and insisted upon all  of their citizens learning and using Dutch. The various Dutch and Lower German dialects being spoken at the Cape and the citizens' attempts to conform to the prescribed language resulted in a new dialect that was simpler and a lot more analytical than the high flown language of the officials. This development was strengthened by the language of the oriental slaves and the local Khoi people who were also obliged to learn Dutch in order to be able to communicate with the Dutch officials. The resulting dialect was a kind of interlanguage with Dutch as its target; some researchers refer to it as a Creole language. As early as 1671 travelers passing through the Cape remarked that the language spoken there did not sound like the Dutch of Europe, even though the people still used the European Dutch for writing. By the middle of the 18th Century spoken Afrikaans was established as a new language with an identity of its own. At that stage it was generally referred to as Cape Dutch, but it also had other names. One example is the Afrikaans that was spoken by the people around the Genadendal Missionary Station; the British authorities called it Genadendal Dutch.


Another policy of the Dutch East India Company was that all their officials who were in executive posts, had to be Dutch. As far as their sailors, soldiers and artisans were concerned, these people hailed from a number of European countries and especially the German speaking territories. By the time that Jan van Riebeeck came to the Cape in 1652, the Peace of Westfalen, that marked the end of the 30 years war (1618-1648), was only 4 years old. Many German people tried to escape the ruin and poverty that followed the war by looking for employment in their wealthy neighbor, the Netherlands. During the 17th Century this country had an economic boom that was known as the Golden Century. The Dutch East India Company was only too happy to use the German laborers flocking into their country. A lot of these Germans ended up by making a new beginning in the Cape, initially as soldiers and sailors in the service of the company and later as Freeburgers who retired onto farms at the Cape. By the second quarter of the 18th Century there were more people at the Cape of German descent than there were Dutch. With this in mind one would expect that the German dialect would have had a considerable influence upon the development on Afrikaans, but due to various factors the influence was not that strong. Some of the reasons for this: (i) the language policy of the Company that obliged its citizens to learn Dutch; (ii) most of these people were single men who could easily be assimilated into the society. Most of them also married Dutch women who upheld the Dutch character and culture in their households. It should also be stressed that most of these people did not speak High German, but the Lower German dialects that were similar to the Dutch dialects in many respects and came from the same non-standard Germanic base. In a lot of cases the roots of Afrikaans phenomena can be found in both 17th Century Lower German and Dutch dialects. Another factor that strengthened the Dutch character of the Cape was the fact that the Company only allowed the Dutch State church at the Cape. The Lutheran church with its strong German character was only allowed in 1779 and then only on the condition that they used a Dutch minister.


The first French Huguenots came to the Cape in 1688. In contrast to the German immigrants, this group was made up of entire families that would easily have been able to build a community with a strong French character at the Cape. This, however, would not have met with the approval of the Company and they prevented it by spreading the French families very thinly among the Dutch farms and denying them access to French schools and churches. By 1725 when the last Huguenots were allowed to immigrate to the Cape, French had all but died out in the Colony. As a result of this few French words came into the Afrikaans language in a direct manner. Indirectly it had a much stronger influence, because of its strong influence on the Dutch and other European languages of the Middle Ages. The 17th Century Dutch dialects that were used at the Cape were already riddled with borrowed French words and these also found their way into Afrikaans.

Khoi Influences

The Dutch mariners made contact with the Khoi groups at the Cape as early as 1595. This contact only became more intensive after the establishment of the refreshment station at the Cape in 1652. The Dutch were dependent on the Khoi for the provision of cattle for meat and did a lot of bartering with them. Initially the Khoi did not work for the Dutch colonists. That only started to happen after they were decimated by the Smallpox epidemics of 1713 and 1755-1756. In exceptional cases some of them performed tasks for the Freeburgers. Because the Dutch colonists found it impossible to learn the Khoi language, the Khoi people were obliged to learn Dutch in order to communicate with them. The former were completely daunted by the prospect of learning a language that differed so much from their own, and especially by the many click-sounds that abounded in it. The Company's strict language policy also all but forbade the colonists to learn the Khoi languages. They were very anxious to maintain Dutch as the mother tongue of their subjects.

Soon after 1652 large numbers of Khoi people started learning Dutch and they spoke a simplified variant of it. By the 18th Century this process had gone so far that some of the Khoi groups started to forget their own language. Before this happened however, the Khoi language had a big influence on the development of Afrikaans and especially the early variant known as Orange River Afrikaans. The few Khoi people that were left after the Smallpox epidemics. removed themselves from the Cape and established themselves next to the Orange River. There the Orange River variant of Afrikaans developed separately from the Cape variant and established itself as an Afrikaans dialect. It is still spoken today as Griekwa Afrikaans and Namaqualand Afrikaans. After the Smallpox epidemics. the detribalized Hottentots also settled close to European communities and hired themselves out as laborers, especially as shepherds. The free Hottentots were protected by the government and were declared Subjects of the Company. By 1798 about 14,000 of the 15,000 Free Hottentots in the Colony were settled in the districts of Swellendam and Graaff-Reinet. Most of them were working for the cattle farmers of these districts.

Influence of the slaves

In 1654 the first slaves were brought from Madagascar to the Cape to provide the labor needed to run the Company's refreshment station. After 1658 the groups became larger so that by 1808 about 63,000 slaves had been imported to the Cape from various regions. They came from countries like Angola, Guinea, Madagascar, the Indian coastal regions like Malabar, Coromandel and Bengal, the East Indian Islands and the Indian Archipelago. Most of them could speak a variant of the Portuguese language called Malay-Portuguese. This language developed in the Portuguese colonies of the East during the 15th and 16th Centuries. It was used by the Oriental people to communicate with mariners, merchants, soldiers and sailors. Dutch sailors also learned the language so that they could communicate with the people after they took over certain colonies from the Portuguese.

The slaves had a variety of different mother languages and all had to learn Dutch in order to understand their new masters. During the 17th and 18th Centuries most of these slaves spoke the Malay dialects, Balinese and Malay-Portuguese. Malay was the language of Indonesia and today it is known as Bahasa Indonesian. It did not only influence the development of Afrikaans, but also Dutch and to such a degree that words of Malay origin are still found in the Dutch language today. The East India Company gave the order that slaves had to be compelled to learn the Dutch language and that it was not allowed to communicable with them in Portuguese. The Dutch that they attempted to learn was not the formal language of the officials, but the simpler Dutch dialects of the sailors and soldiers. For them it was very important to be able to speak Dutch, because only slaves that could speak the language were allowed to buy back their freedom. In 1658 a school was started where the children of the slaves could learn Dutch. It was the first school at the Cape; a school for the European children would only be started in 1663. Part of the slaves' duties was to look after the children of their masters and the early Afrikaans that they spoke also had an influence on the next generation of Dutch people at the Cape. Some of the first written evidence of the language spoken by the slaves was in the old court reports of the Cape, where the officials very carefully quoted the words of the testifying slaves and wrote the language down phonetically.

After 1780 most of the slaves at the Cape, were people that were born locally and no longer imported from the East. Many of them ended up on the farms of the free burgers. The language of the slaves had a strong influence on the development of Afrikaans. Because they were able to buy back their freedom, there was quite a large community of "free slaves" at the Cape by the end of the 181h Century. Most of these people established themselves as artisans, becoming tailors, bakers, masons, joiners, cooks etc. Unlike their European ancestors, the Capetonians had come to regard these trades as slave work and the trade world became the dominion of the Malay community. Many of these trades were passed down from generation to generation in certain families. Slavery was abolished in 1834.

Muslim-Afrikaans is one of the oldest varieties of Afrikaans at the Cape. A large number of slaves were converted to the Islamic faith and they learned to understand the Koran by copying out texts and religious traditions as writing exercises. During the Dutch period there was a higher percentage of literacy amongst the slaves than amongst the European soldiers and sailors, because their religion required their being able to read the Koran and other religious texts. By 1842 one in every three Capetonians practiced the Islamic religion. The writing exercises were done in Cape Afrikaans, the language they spoke every day, but using the Arabic alphabet. They called their exercise books Koplesboeke (head lesson books) and today these books are a valuable testament to the character of this early form of Afrikaans. From the writing down of religious exercises it was but a small step to use the same alphabet for their everyday language. Round about 1800 people started writing Afrikaans using the Arabic alphabet. At first only certain words and names were written down using the Arabic alphabet, but soon it was used in everyday correspondence. Initially the Malay Arabic alphabet was used, but during the 19th Century it was replaced by the modified Arabic alphabet of Abu Bakr Effendi. He visited the Cape in 1860 and during that time he modified the Arabic alphabet to accommodate the Afrikaans sounds. This modified alphabet was used to represent Afrikaans phonetically. In 1871 Abu Bakr Effendi's Bayaan-ud-din (an explication of the religion) was printed in Constantinople in Arabic Afrikaans (Afrikaans in the Arabic alphabet). Between 1870 and 1950 at least 78 books were published in Arabic Afrikaans. Today there are still people in the Muslim-community that use the Arabic Afrikaans in their everyday correspondence.

Early variants of Afrikaans

Because the above mentioned groups lived apart from one another to a certain extent, three different variants of early Afrikaans developed during the 18th Century. They were Cape Afrikaans, Orange River Afrikaans and Eastern Border Afrikaans. Cape Afrikaans was spoken mainly by the slave community and their descendants and it contained a number of Malay and Arabic influences. Today it can still be heard in the Western Cape and especially in the Bo-Kaap. Orange River Afrikaans was spoken by the Khoi-community and their descendants and was strongly colored by the Khoi languages. This variant was found mainly in the Northern Cape and can be regarded as the base of Namaqualand Afrikaans and Griekwa Afrikaans. Eastern Border Afrikaans was spoken by the European cattle farmers who first migrated to the Eastern Borders of the Cape Colony and later moved inland to form the Boer Republics. This variant is regarded as the base of the so-called Standardized Afrikaans.

Influence of English

The first contact between Afrikaans and English came about just after the first British invasion of the Cape in 1795, but the English influence would only become stranger after the second British invasion in 1806. The strict Anglicization policies of Somerset and his Language Proclamation of 1822 and the arrival of the British Settlers in 1820 did a lot to speed up this process. Although people fought against the use of English words in Afrikaans, the latter was also influenced by phenomena such as direct translations, Anglicisms and English sentence construction. In the modern context this is really a natural outcome of the bilingual nature of the South-African culture and the higher the level of upbringing the higher the tendency towards bilingualism. Already in 1935 Langenhoven had the following to say about it: "Because English is so familiar to us that we do not experience it as a foreign language anymore, same of its idioms have lost their peculiar English character to us and become apart of our own idiom to such an extent that we transfer them to Afrikaans without realizing what we are doing. This is not a sin of ignorance, but really one of too much knowledge." This bilingualism is very noticeable in the language of young Afrikaans speaking people today and it is more marked in the language of certain groups, for example students who use a lot of English words and direct translations in their conversation.

Influence of the African languages

The indigenous African languages only came into contact with Afrikaans du ring the 19th Century when the trek farmers started to came in contact with the people indigenous to the interior of South Africa. These influences on the language were mainly restricted to certain regions and depended upon the groups living there. The cultural contact was not as intensive as was the case with the Khoi and the slaves and for this reason the influence of the African languages on Afrikaans was a lot less than with the former groups. It mainly consisted of vocabulary taken from the Nguni languages, Zulu and Xhosa. In the modern context, however, these influences are still felt and more and more loanwords from the African languages are finding their way into Afrikaans. In fact, in a multi-cultural situation like South Africa it is almost inevitable that the languages of the different cultural groups should influence each other. This is proven daily by the language of the younger generation where its members, will express themselves with up to four languages in one sentence almost without thinking!