The formation of Afrikaans

  • Paul T. Roberge Department of Germanic Lanauages University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill


'If we go back in time, the problem of what Afrikaans is becomes more and more difficult', wrote Valkhoff more than two decades ago (1972:2), and notwithstanding a far better understanding of the material facts, his words remain true today. In what follows I shall elucidate the sociolinguistic nature of the formation of Afrikaans at the Cape of Good Hope. In section 2 I explore the social bases of glottogenesis within a pantheoretical framework in the sense that the parameters I identify will hold for any theory or model of glottogenesis at the Cape. To paraphrase Woolford (1983:2): Although there are internal principles that govern the theoretically possible linguistic paths along which .. language may evolve in an extraterritorial setting, it is the external factors that determine how radically its linguistic structure will diverge from metropolitan norms. Section 3 is devoted to a critical overview of both current and selected older writings on how Afrikaans came into being. No one who has investigated its history would seriously dispute that the emergence of the new code was as much a social fact as it was a purely linguistic one. But not everyone has put equal emphasis on this truism. In numerous writings on our subject we find widely varying degrees of concern with sociolinguistic relations underlying the formation of Afrikaans. Section 4 explores the implications entailed by adoption of the view that periods of marked shifts in linguistic patterns are largely congruent with significant changes in culture. An eminent linguist/anthropologist of another generation, Harry Hoijer, was of the opinion that in order to understand linguistic change, one must see it as a part of a wider process of cultural change. Naturally, this is not to suggest a causal connection between sociocultural trends and specific linguistic changes. Rather, changes within the various aspects of culture cannot be regarded as distinct and unrelated but must be seen as different realizations of a single process (Hoijer 1948:335). In section 5 I discuss the directional gradience of linguistic items across social class by the end of the Dutch India Company (VOC) era in 1795, with a view toward elaborating on my claim (Roberge 1994) that the Cape Colony was a continuum ~peech community. More precisely, the Netherlandic speech community at the Cape consisted of a spectrum of lects ranging from the 'High' Dutch of the expatriot power elite to a Cape Dutch Creole. Rather than concern myself narrowly with the origins of these linguistic items, I focus on their social transmission and development in a context of interacting social groups alternating among variants in their linguistic ,repertoires. As such, this essay departs somewhat from the usual method of historical disquisition in Afrikaans linguistics, which concentrates on single-feature etymologies and takes for granted the formation of a socially accepted grammar.