To this day South Africa is dominated commercially by two languages, namely English and Afrikaans. That is, if you are going to shop and buy a product, the label on it is most likely in one of those two languages. Why is that?
Well, the reason for that is because of our past. South Africa was always about English, Dutch initially and later Afrikaans and then the rest. You would be forgiven for thinking that the opposite of English is Afrikaans. Manufacturers to this day recognise the financial muscle of those two languages. English is understandable as it is the lingua franca or the point where South Africans find the bridge to communicate with each other.
Afrikaans (my mother tongue by the way) was first known as Cape Dutch or differently stated, the Dutch spoken in the Cape. The Cape of Good Hope was a strategic point for trading nations as they could use it as a place of rest and replenishment. Naturally it was then a key location for those nations with the sea-faring capabilities. And so that brought English and Dutch here and the Portuguese and the list goes on and on.
But what are most neglected are the languages that were spoken by the local people who were already here. Surely there was a body of ‘sounds’ that constituted a recognised language. How else would the local people trade or communicate with each other? So, yes these Europeans languages were not the first here, I think we have established that…
Afrikaans then evolved from the usage by its speakers. And so it is indeed a little bit of this and a little bit of that. It was only later when the National Party came to power that they allocated vast resources to develop Afrikaans and to put on the map, so to speak. Everything had to be in Afrikaans. English was actively discouraged. Even to this day you will hear someone say in Afrikaans: ‘soos die Engelsman sê’ and by that he basically apologises for using an English phrase. Admittedly then when its rules for grammar and spelling were established it was borrowed heavily from Dutch. And so what we found after this project was what we were taught at school ‘Algemene Beskaafde uitspraak’ translated ‘general civilised pronunciation.’ In other words, if you want to sound civilised, educated or decent you had to pronounce words in a certain way. Not sure how these same language experts handle the evolution of ‘pa’ to ‘paw’ or ‘daar’ to ‘daw’; do they just look the other way?
It is for this reason that the Afrikaans spoken by the people of colour from Cape Town has been marginalised and even ridiculed to this day. The logic behind appears to be that since the speaker is not pronouncing the words as described in the language textbooks, he is not really civilised. For example: he would say ‘djy’ as opposed to ‘jy’ and the ‘j’ must be a soft ‘j’ if you get what I’m saying. And so this worked its way to our education structures and everyone had to speak decent Afrikaans. Need I remind you about the uprising in Soweto in the 1970s when the African speaking scholars simply said: no way! Pictures of the resultant brutality are still on the walls of our museums and in our History textbooks.
Has anyone noticed that we have an odd number of official languages? Would it not sound more legitimate if we could say that we have 12 official languages? Almost like the 12 tribes of Israel?! The missing language is Cape Afrikaans as spoken by the Coloured (I have permission from the SA Language Board to use this term) folk of the Cape. The only reason it is not recognised by both the National Party and the non-racial African National Congress is that it does not meet the requirements of Dutch or similar grammar and spelling. But Afrikaans intellectuals will tell you that Afrikaans is not Dutch, similar but certainly not it; so why then yoke it with those rules?
Is it not a form of discrimination? Look I am not proposing that we make it part of the formal Education curriculum but what’s fair is fair. So what are we saying then? We are saying that as long as you can understand someone it’s fine. The purpose of a language is to understand the other person, not to insist on a particular form of pronunciation. If someone wants to greet you with ‘aweh’ let him do it; he need not say ‘more sê’ - it’s okay, as long as you understand him.
If you feel this request is too cumbersome, then I will have to rethink my support for Afrikaans as the 11th official language; it would be better to have only ten, ha-ha!
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