Afrikaans one of the largest languages

Christi Cloete -- Fri, 08/16/2013 - 00:00

Afrikaans one of the largest languages

Afrikaans may have started out as a “kitchen language”, but today it is a presence to be reckoned with: from the estimated 7 105 languages that exist worldwide, Afrikaans is the 126th largest language.

This was certainly cause for celebration on Afrikaans Language Day, on 14 August. According to Prof. Wannie Carstens, Director of the School of Languages on the North-West University's Potchefstroom Campus, there are 6,8 million Afrikaans mother tongue speakers in South Africa today, of whom approximately 55% are Coloured. After Zulu and Xhosa, Afrikaans is the most-spoken language in South Africa.

Carstens is currently on a sabbatical to work on the biggest project ever to record the history of Afrikaans. He is doing research here and in Europe for the book in which Afrikaans's European and African history is meticulously recorded in a single book for the first time. It will hit shelves next year.

“My students often ask me if there is one particular book that they can use instead of all the different prescribed sources. This will be the first book to tell the full story of Afrikaans.”

The whole book entitled Die Storie van Afrikaans: van Europa tot Afrika, is also an attempt to build bridges and to do away with the image of Afrikaans as a dividing language, says Carstens. “The book traces the history of Afrikaans as the totality of everything that has happened to (all) Afrikaans-speaking people. The role of white, Coloured and black Afrikaners is discussed and placed in the context of history. The Afrikaner is everybody who speaks Afrikaans. My generation blindly supported apartheid; now it is our job to restore the image of Afrikaans and to tell the whole story.”

The motivating factor behind the 1933 translation of the Bible by the poet Totius was the upshot of an earlier attempt to translate the Bible to make it more accessible for slaves who did not understand Dutch. Eight members of the Genootskap vir Regte Afrikaners (GRA) held a meeting on 14 August 1875 and decided that the Bible had to be translated into Afrikaans for slaves.

“We still commemorate this date because that is where the idea originated to put the Afrikaans language into writing.” According to Carstens, a lot of water still had to flow into the sea and draft translations were done before the 1933 translation was taken on.