The Afrikaans Crow's Nest - a jolly tangle of Afrikaans links, South African edu links and media links. E-mail

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(c) Samuel Murray-Smit
(c) 1998 - 2001

site created 1999-02-01
redesign 1 1999-02-24
redesign 2 1999-04-23
redesign 3 2001-03-01
last updated 2001-04-23
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Afrikaans Crow's Nest
what is afrikaans?

Have you ever tried to find information about Afrikaans on the internet? If you have, you'll know that resources are few and far between. And most of the stuff is in Afrikaans itself! Not much use to non-speakers, is it?

Well, on this site we'll offer two introductions to Afrikaans. The one was written specifically for the Crow's Nest, and the other was originally written for use on the Afrikaans Foundation's former web site. Since we own the copyright on both versions, we thought we'd publish both here!


The Crow's Nest's Afrikaans intro is somewhat outdated, and contains a bit of guesswork about the figures, but it tells quite a bit about grammar, spelling etc. The Afrikaans Foundation's intro speaks less about the grammar and spelling, and focuses on demographics and history. The latter intro has been translated into several languages.

Help us translate the intro? Join our volunteer project. Translate the Afrikaans Foundation's intro into your own language, and we'll host it here! Check out the completed languages (click on the flag):

en nl de fr es ru ru no esp esp fi se pt af hu ca

  1. What is Afrikaans? (very briefly)
  2. Where did it come from?
  3. Where is it spoken?
  4. By whom is it spoken?
  5. How does it compare with English, Dutch, German etc?
  6. Tell us a bit about the grammar.
  7. Tell us a bit about the vocabulary.
  8. Is it a viable language internationally?
  9. Can you teach me Afrikaans?
1. What is Afrikaans? (very briefly)

Afrikaans is one of the youngest germanic languages. Other germanic languages include English, German, Dutch, and the Scandanavian languages. Afrikaans originated in South Africa about 200 years ago. It's a language very similar to Dutch, and contains many words, phrases and grammatical constructs of Dutch. Currently about 10 million people world wide speak Afrikaans as a first language. Most Afrikaans speakers live in Southern Africa, and most of them are white (including the so-called coloureds) or asian. Afrikaans has been one of South Africa's official languages for over 50 years. Afrikaans contains literature much the same as other Western cultures, and Afrikaans can handle both commerce and technology communication very well. Recently attitudes towards Afrikaans as an untouchable heritage has diminished, and the language is experiencing a cultural, literary and musical bloom.

2. Where did it come from?

Afrikaans "began" when Dutch settlers settled at the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa over 300 years ago. At that time the official language of the Cape was a form of Dutch. Slaves from the East and traders from the rest of Europe settled in the small colony. Dutch and French farmers began moving inland. Still the official language was Dutch. This "Dutch" became mixed with sailor's language, slave language, inland tribe language, and other European languages.

Eventually a different language came into being. This new language was officially viewed as "slang Dutch", and even early in this century Afrikaans people referred to their language as "Cape Dutch". For much of the nineteenth century most of the non-English white population spoke Afrikaans, but they called it "Dutch". They wrote in Dutch and read in Dutch. But their spoken language was different from true Dutch.

Eventually only Dutchisms remained in the written language. A classic example is a journal entry by an inland settler who wrote "... as we say in good Dutch... " and then follows up with a perfectly non-Dutch but Dutch-looking sentence. When did Dutch became Afrikaans? Historic documents suggests that as early as the late eighteenth century settlers where speaking a language very similar to Afrikaans and very unlike proper Dutch.

Although Afrikaans was used in print such as newspapers and political and religious pamphlets as early as 1850, the real boost came in 1875 when a patriotic group of Afrikaans speakers from the Cape formed the Genootskap vir Regte Afrikaanders (Society for real Afrikaners), who published several Afrikaans books, including grammars, dictionaries, religious material and histories. They also published a journal called the Patriot.

After the Great South African war in 1899 - 1902, a second and a third language movement started in two different places in South Africa. Academic interest in Afrikaans increased. In 1925 Afrikaans was recognised by the government as a real langauge, instead of a slang version of Dutch. The form and shape of Afrikaans has remained much the same since 1925.

3. Where is it spoken?

Afrikaans is spoken mainly in South Africa. At the turn of the last century a group of Afrikaans speakers emmigrated to Argentina, and a small number of them still speak the language. Owing to political changes during the last 40 years many Afrikaans speakers also went to Australia and New Zealand.

Today pockets of Afrikaans speakers can be found in most of the world's larger cities, especially in Western Commonwealth countries such as Canada, Britian, Australia and New Zealand, as well as in the USA and in Lowland countries such as Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. Official numbers vary, but urban legend estimates over 100 000 Afrikaans speakers in London alone, and over 40 000 each in Toronto and Vancouver.

In Southern Africa most Afrikaans speakers live in South Africa and in Namibia. Swaziland, Lesotho, and Zimbabwe also sports Afrikaans communities, and the other Southern African states as far north as Malawi has mentionable Afrikaans pockets of speakers.

4. By whom is it spoken?

Afrikaans is mainly a white language (by "white" we include the so-called coloureds). It is also spoken by many South African Indians, and by a small number of black Africans. Afrikaans is not a class biased language. Upper class Afrikaans speakers may use a more polished Afrikaans, but the language is not restricted to a specific class.

Strict views by the academic community on Standard language has led to the fact that an educated person's Afrikaans and an uneducated person's Afrikaans differs not in the quality or form of the language itself, but rather in the amount of non-Afrikaansisms. Only recently has it been more acceptible to use non-Standard Afrikaans, and many culturally conscious people are capitalising on this new freedom.

Most Afrikaans speakers also speak English at either first or second language level. Many black Africans can speak second or third language level Afrikaans, and many can understand first of second language level Afrikaans. Sadly many white English speakers can speak only third or foreign language level Afrikaans, though most of them understand it at second or third language level. Far greater numbers of black people in South Africa can speak white languages than the number of white people who can speak or even understand black languages.

5. How does it compare to English, Dutch, German, etc?

Since English has been much influenced by the Roman languages, the language may look radically different from Afrikaans. There are many similarities, however. The sentence construction is similar, and many of the Saxon words are very similar. To illustrate: "This long sentence is in Afrikaans." ... "Hierdie lang sin is in Afrikaans.", and "We sit at the table to eat." ... "Ons sit aan tafel om te eet." (long, lang, is, is, in, in, sit, sit, table, tafel, to, te, eat, eet).

Dutch sentence construction is not as similar to Afrikaans as its vocabulary. For many terminological and spelling related issues Afrikaans still looks to Dutch. An excellent page on the similarities and differences between Afrikaans and Dutch is 101 Faux Amis.

From own experience we can tell that Afrikaans and German words are different enough to be strangers to each other, and similar enough for speakers of the one to make learning the other easy. The sentence construction of German is very similar to Afrikaans, in particular regarding the so-called "flavouring particles" (words with no meaning but to increase the rhythm and mood of a sentence). When we were at college we wrote our German exams by translating the German sentences word for word directly into Afrikaans, so similar is the construction.

Regarding Scandanavian languages, to my great surprise I was able to read Morten Svendsen's article about Afrikaans with fair ease. Again, many words and base sentence constructions are vaguely similar, and once one learns how to cheat the Norwegian words into Afrikaans ones, each reading the other becomes more bearable.

6. Tell us a bit about the grammar.

Hmmm, let's see. Okay, here goes: Afrikaans has one definite article (die) and one indefinite article ('n) for all words, whether singular or plural, whether male or female or neuter. With a few exceptions plurals are formed by adding an "s" or an "e" to the end of a word. Diminutives are formed by adding "ie" or "kie" or "tjie" to the end of a word. The future tense is obtained by adding the word "sal" before a present tense verb, and the past tense is obtained by adding "het ge-" to the beginning of a present tense verb. Accusative and genetive forms are obtained not by changing the verb but by adding words to the sentence, much like in English, much unlike German. The noun has only one gender, namely neuter.

Old forms, like genetives and accusatives, or old forms of plurals, are still encountered as exceptions in the language. Most multiword exceptions exist as fixed expressions. Examples are "kind <: kinders" (double plural by altering the noun), "dink < dog" (past tense by alterning the verb), "in die waarheid < in der waarheid" (old gender reference).

One final word about tenses. Non-academic Afrikaans people will tell you that there are three tenses in Afrikaans, namely a simple past, present and future tense. Academics will tell you there are as many as nine different tenses, and non-academic speakers use them every day without realising that they are using hybrid forms of tenses. For example, the narrative in Afrikaans is written in "present-in-the-past" tense, that looks deceptively like a present tense, but is actually a past tense.

7. Tell us a bit about the vocabulary.

Most Afrikaans words seem to come from the Dutch. Other words are international words (i.e. of Classical origin) and may seem borrowed from English. There are a few German and French words in the language, a few inland black African words, as well as quite a few Malay words (especially some most common words). Some words are typically Afrikaans. For new inventions old words are often borrowed and bent for the new purpose, and sometimes new words are formed.

Some examples of words in Afrikaans, and their origins: volstruis (from Middle Dutch, ostrich), bagasie (from French, luggage), kombuis (from sailor's argot, kitchen), spog (from Frisian, gloat), gesels (from Western Frankish, chat), luiters (from Low Saxon, unaware), baie (from Malay, many), jas (from German, coat), indaba (from Nguni, news), and gogga (from Nama, bug).

The Afrikaans spelling rules are set by the Language Commission of the Academy for Science and Art. The "AWS" (Afrikaans words list and spelling rules) is the definitive rules book for spelling in Standard Afrikaans (and much of non-Standard Afrikaans too). Although the AWS does not tell us how to speak, it does tell us how to spell. The "WAT" (Dictionary of the Afrikaans Language) attempts to collect all words ever used in Afrikaans, and every new volume is considered to be less than 6 months out of date at the time of printing. Words beginning with the letters O to Z still has to be published.

8. Is it a viable language internationally?

It depends on what you mean. Most Afrikaans speakers also understand English, so there is little point in thinking that Afrikaans will replace English in any international situation. Afrikaans can be used in Southern Africa and in Lowland cultures as a language of mediation, but only in Southern Africa can it be expected that not all participants can also speak English.

Technologically and literarily Afrikaans is well capable of handling human communication. For most fields in science and culture Afrikaans has a large set of words which matches English, German or French sets. In the computer field, where things are progressing fastest, there seem to be a slight lack of Afrikaans terminology, but many universities in South Africa still teach Information Technological sciences entirely in Afrikaans. Medicine and commerce is also well handled in Afrikaans.

9. Can you teach me Afrikaans?

No. Any large bookshop will have resources to Afrikaans tutoring material. Many "Teach yourself Afrikaans" type of manuals exist, though not many on the Internet. Die Knoop and Lowlands-L have lists of a few resources for learning Afrikaans, but mostly you may have to look at books rather than web sites.

Visit an online bookseller like Amazon, Barnes & Noble or and do a search for "afrikaans" or "learn+afrikaans". Try Helena van Schalkwyk's Teach Yourself Afrikaans, or Bruce Donaldson's Colloquial Afrikaans.

We also got a mail from a company called Pill Languages who distributes Afrikaans courses. "We have a range of high-quality Afrikaans tape courses with accompanying handbooks. These can be shipped worldwide. Useful for all types of learners: tourists, academics and general enthusiasts..." they wrote. They can e-mailed them at If you've tried them, tell us about it!

We are not in the language training business, but we welcome any questions or comments regarding Afrikaans. You can send us e-mail at