On Afrikaans

May 2, 2009 at 1:43 pm 8 comments

Taal Monument

There is, for me, something remarkable about well-crafted Afrikaans prose. Her words are fertile; a faithful translation into English will often demand of a translator three words for each pregnant Afrikaans word. She remains, for this writer, a language that at once embraces and estranges her readers, for she is essentially tribal.

Any engelsprekende that has ever ventured into a conversation in Afrikaans with Afrikaners might know what I’m trying to place my finger on: his toungue immediately betrays him as an outsider; there is an awkward moment of sheer horror when conversation halts — and resumes — in English. There is little to no middle ground for those who speak Afrikaans as a second, third or foreign language. Our battered vocabulary and slaughtered syntax betray us immediately for the buitelanders that we are. It is our shiboleth.

I well remember being shunted off to “special” Afrikaans classes. I even admit to altering the title on the front of my textbook – Vlot Afrikaans – with the sharp end of a compass. Changing the “L” to an “R” was easy enough. And it was far more than a childish prank. Afrikaans instruction for me was indeed a Vrot experience, for I loved the language but could never subjugate my Rhodesian “britishness” to my teacher’s liking.

About a year ago or so Clive Simpkins made the audacious suggestion that it’s high time Afrikaans is taken off of life support and allowed to die a timely death. He argues that Afrikaans instructions should be relegated to home-schooling where those who truly care about the taal can ensure its survival — much like Muslims sending their children to Madrassah and Jews car-pooling their kids to Cheder. (That really deserves fuller treatment, but not in this post.)

The response to his article was swift:

“Soos die ou afrikaanse gesegde gaan “as jy dom is gaan jy sukkel” Sterkte hoor, ek is bevrees jy het dit nodig. As jy nie my boodskap kan verstaan nie hoop ek tog jy kan iemand vind om dit vir jou te vertaal.”

“Dit is a.g.v. Rooinekke soos jy dat ek hoop dat Mandaryns so spoedig moontlik Engels ‘n genadedood toedien.”

“Ek is Afrikaans maar ek gaan nou in engels skryf omdat miskien sink dit ‘n bietjie meer in. . . .”

“Maak nie saak wat wie se nie, ek sal my Afrikaans praat… Ek dink dis tyd vir ons Afrikaans sprekendes om die wat nie Afrikaans kan praat nie te kan aanvaar en verdra as mede Suid Afrikaaners, en die wat nie Afrikaans WIL praat nie, vir hulle het ek een boodskap : “Praat Afrikaans of hou jou bek!”. T-shirts beskikbaar by http://www.boerseun.com.”

“Sit nou terug en besin oor jou woorde dat afrikaans moet uit, en laat weet ons afrikaans spreekendes of jy nou ‘n RASIS is en of jy nou net “browny point” wil kry by die regeering vir jou kommentaar oor Afrikaans en die mense wat dit praat. ”

Ens., ens.

Here I am writing this post and feeling a genuine nostalgia for the language — trying to reconnect, willing myself to find my way to discover the fluency that is Vlot enough.

“Afrikaans,” writes van Wyk Louw, is die taal wat vir Wes-Europa en Afrika verbind. . . . Dit vorm ‘n brug tussen die groot helder Weste en die magiese Afrika. . . . En wat daar groots aan hulle vereniging kan ontspruit – dit is miskien wat vir Afrikaans voorlê om te ontdek. Maar wat ons nooit moet vergeet nie, is dat hierdie verandering van land en landskap as’t ware aan die nuwe wordende taal geslyp, geknee, gebrei het. . . . En so het Afrikaans in staat geword om hierdie nuwe land uit te sê.” He concludes: “Ons taak lê in die gebruik wat ons maak en sal maak van hierdie glansende werktuig. . . .”

There is undoubtedly a nationalistic mystique surrounding Afrikaans. One cannot overlook the forge in which she was wrought and in the crucible she survives in. But I tell you, there is something about her that holds this writer in fascinated tension. I am a regular reader of Johan Swarts se Blog for his biting prose:

“Jy is nie 100% boer nie. ‘n Boer ploeg, beskik oor uitgebreide kennis van stropers en skape en hou weerpatrone dop. By tye saai hulle. Soms bid hulle vir reën en sukkel hulle met plaasmoorde.

“Die enigste saad wat jy ooit saai, kleef aan jou Billabong-broek vas.

“Sit neer jou bier, vergeet van die monumente wat jy nog nooit besigtig het nie, trek uit jou Crocs en gaan kry ‘n ander identiteit.”

I find Boer in Balingskap provocative, too:

“Sommiges het uit Afrikanerskap bedank, andere voel hulself nie tuis met die definisie van Afrikaner nie. Party praat van “Boere” en ander verafsku die term, party dra die ou vlag, andere omhels die nuwe vlag ens. ens. En so vergestalt die eeu-oue probleem van die Afrikaner – die gebrek aan eenheid. Ons is ‘n volk van dwarstrekkers, voortrekkers en hensoppers.”

I served my diensplig in the early eighties in the Caprivi. My commandant, Oom Dirk, would chide us, whenever he heard us murdering the language, in his protracted Capetonian brey : “Jislaaik manne! Wat se kak praat julle nou? Julle het mos g’n respek vir die taal nie!” (Even now my insecurities about getting the language wrong are surfacing.)

But here’s the difference for me: I welcome the correction — and the encouragement — to work at getting it right. Ek smag na Afrikaans in my woede, vreugde, hartseer en menswees. I am, after all, a van Pletzen.

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Entry filed under: Afrikaans, Afrikanerskap, Identity, Language, Nationalism, South Africa, van pletsen, van pletzen.

Leipoldt: The Universal Afrikaner Alice-aus-dem-Wunderland

8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. boerinballingskap  |  May 7, 2007 at 6:20 pm

    Blane-Van Pletzen,

    Congratulations on a very atmospheric and refreshingly balanced take on Afrikaans. It reminds me of the prose in the book, “Boerejood”, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading (just momentarily forgot the author).

    Reply
  • 2. idiwidi  |  May 7, 2007 at 7:17 pm

    Very nice post. Afrikaans is soos ‘n mooi lyf – mens kan dit eers werklik waardeer wanneer jy dit kaalstroop van alle politieke baadjies.

    I grew up in KZN, as part of a small Afrikaans minority. I always appreciated it when an English speaking person made a sincere effort to speak to me in Afrikaans, rather than ridiculing the taal as often happened. I later realised that it must be the same insecurities that you speak of that led to the ridicule.

    Reply
  • 3. Johan Swarts  |  May 8, 2007 at 10:39 pm

    Ek is verknog aan hierdie taal. En daar is vir my niks so mooi soos die buitelende klanknabootsing van isiXhosa nie. Ek gaan dit volgende semester probeer aanleer sodra die universiteit se blitskursus (6 weke, as ek dit nou reg het) weer aangebied word.

    Dankie dat jy my blog lees :) Ek sit joune sommer nou by my feedlist.

    (…ek kon die versoeking nie weerstaan om op Simpkins se inskrywing kommentaar te lewer nie ;) )

    Reply
  • 4. Blane van Pletzen-Rands  |  May 11, 2007 at 1:18 am

    Thanks, Johan. Really. Your unconventional brand of Afrikaans keeps this reader coming back for more. You have a command of the idiom – a finger-on-the-pulse immediacy. And your cheeky inventions remind me that the language is greater than its dictionary, its conventions.

    That crash course in Xhosa sounds like an adventure. Just do it and soak it up. I have a feeling that it will come to you naturally. Dankie dat jy my vertalinge lees. It’s not often that one can get the author to revisit his work. There really is much lost in translation. Lek jou kiestand. As if!

    Reply
  • 5. Johan Swarts  |  May 18, 2007 at 3:55 am

    :)

    Reply
  • 6. Otovele  |  August 8, 2007 at 5:55 pm

    Ek is n swartman maar hou baie om afrikaans tepraat. Kortliks kan ek maar ne se dit is n erwe van on vadre. Nie all die swart mense het haat vir die afrkaanse taal

    Reply
  • 7. Charl Le Roux Jacobs  |  June 4, 2009 at 11:54 pm

    Afrikaans en Trots daarop. Dubbel familie naam en al !!!

    Reply
  • 8. Nikita  |  January 13, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    Nice entry, first time reading here. I’ve had people on my blog – and on FB – from different countries learning the language all by themselves. You will find an American’s link on my blog…he’s in San Francisco – teaching himself the language and he’s creating Youtube videos about his topics. I’m in contact via email with a guy in Russia…he sends me emails and asks me now and then about the structure of the language, grammar etc. He says there is an growing interest in Russia to study the language. This Italian guy on FB – also teaching himself the language. Afrikaans is the most beautiful language…you can argue with me about it, you will lose! :)

    Reply

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