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The Afrikaans Language – Sister of Dutch

If, say, you lived in the United States or Great Britain where English is the common or official language, and you visited Australia, where they also speak English, on occasions you could have little trouble understanding the language, perhaps missing a nuance here or there, or a bit of trouble due to accent, and probably no difficulty at all when reading a newspaper. If you were from the Netherlands, you’d have a similar experience should you visit South Africa or Namibia, two countries where the Afrikaans language is widely spoken.

Afrikaans is considered a sister language to Dutch. It derives approximately 90 percent of its vocabulary from its Dutch sibling, and diverges in the way that many cultural effects do when they develop in a different environment. You might think it unusual for Afrikaans, a basically Western European language of German derivation, to be spoken by millions of people in lands so far removed from the Netherlands, but as usual, one must consider the history.

In 1488, when the Portuguese explorer, Bartholomew Diaz, navigated what became known as the Cape of Good Hope, a trade route from Europe to the East Indies was established, and the seafaring nations of Western Europe quickly took advantage. During the 1600s, some natives of South Africa, like many indigenous peoples along the trade routes of the Europeans, were pressed into servitude by the Dutch, who had developed the Cape into a way station for those en route to the East Indies (to the Dutch, this referred primarily to the land now known to us as Indonesia). They also imported slaves from some neighbouring African countries. Over time, these groups -- the Dutch, the South Africans, the imported slavery -- mingled and intermarried, and Dutch, the language of the colonists, morphed into Afrikaans. The Dutch held sway over the Cape for more than 150 years, certainly long enough for their influence to persist and resonate into the present.

Today, the Afrikaans language is spoken by upwards of 20 or so million people, mostly in South Africa, and its neighbouring countries, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, along with some pockets of usage scattered throughout the world. It is one of the official languages of South Africa (the third most common), the language of Afrikaners (Dutch/Afrikaans for Africans), including Boers (Dutch/Afrikaans for farmers). In South Africa, the language is systematized by Die Taalkommissie, or language commission, which ensures uniformity of spelling and grammar, and tracks new terminology as it develops.

Contact Axis Translations for assistance with Afrikaans translation, transcription and interpreting.