Faith Daniels

Afrikaans is my language too

2016-05-26 09:56

Faith Daniels

I have a love-hate relationship with Afrikaans. I really do. But language has always been an emotive issue. Understandably so. It’s called your mother tongue with good reason. And who wouldn’t feel offended if someone said anything remotely offensive or hurtful about your mother, or any family member, for that matter?

But I’ve managed over many years – with great restraint and lip-biting – not to get angry over comments made in ignorance or plain stupidity. “You speak the language so well,” I would often hear. Or, “Wow, you prounounced that word so beautifully.” But I let it slide.  In fact, I once just rolled my eyes at, “Where did you learn to speak Afrikaans so beautifully?”

Because, you see, Afrikaans is my mother tongue. Not that English was never spoken when I was growing up, it was, and probably with the same vigour. Afrikaans though was the dominant language in our household. And, when you’re on the playground, it really doesn’t matter which language comes first, as long as you are understood.

A different ball game altogether when you grow up and leave that playground. You soon realise that some feel it’s their duty to make you aware that their knowledge of the language is quite superior to yours actually.

Great on you for wanting people to respect the rules of grammar and punctuation, language police – whatever that means to you – but here’s the thing: Afrikaans is not spoken only one way. It is a constantly evolving, rich form of communication with a diverse range of metaphors and expression.

I had a debate that lasted several days with someone I regard highly as a linguist. He held the view that there’s a right and wrong way of speaking any language and that I must just conform to it and stop complaining. I begged to differ because, as with everything else, there must be room for change.

We are influenced by so many things that even a language cannot remain static. How many words have now been added to the Oxford dictionary in order to move with the times? Besides, was Afrikaans not majorly influenced by my forefathers? Is my history not so steeped in slavery and the language itself that I can have an opinion on the way it has evolved and taken shape over the decades?

Despite my feelings, my professional relationship with Afrikaans didn’t last as long as it should have. And here’s why – I simply got fed up with constantly being corrected and told where the emphasis of a word really is. But you understood what I was saying, right? So why do I need an email about it? Once the doubt about my ability to speak the language crept in, I just stopped. Who needs the drama?

Imagine my surprise when I found that my experience was by no means unique. It is repeated in so many environments and many a time leads people to the same conclusion. Let me be spared this exhausting exercise.

I’ve realised that people sometimes act the way they do out of fear – the fear of change and perhaps of losing something. So they cling on for dear life. All of a sudden the language you grew up speaking is not good enough coming from your mouth. The explanation is that it has nothing to do with accent but pronunciation. People get away with so much when saying that.  It’s not about any of these things. It’s about race. It’s about power.

Language debates and language itself will of course outlive us all. So why can’t we just make this a pleasant experience while we are at it? In the end, none of us will really own it – it will be passed on.

My son and generations after him will let it live. They will breathe new life into it. And that is why I will speak Afrikaans with renewed vigour – and embrace all the quirks and imperfections. And the next time I’m corrected I will just smile and wave. I now know better.

- Faith Daniels is a seasoned radio and TV journalist, and is currently head of news at Kagiso Media’s Jacaranda FM and East Coast Radio.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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