Sweet, soet, Sotho, boet, 'n egg en ek

Parents and teachers have the ability to inspire young children and show them the beauty of words and language. (Madelene Cronjé, M&G)

Parents and teachers have the ability to inspire young children and show them the beauty of words and language. (Madelene Cronjé, M&G)

'Kan ek asseblief twee eiers en 'n kaasworsie kry?" my brother asked.

"You want two eggs and a cheese sausage?" the waitress – Sweetness according to her nametag – replied.

"Ja, ek wil twee eiers en 'n kaasworsie hê!"

In honour of Youth Day the M&G has published a series of takes on all our official languages. Read the rest here.

I'm sighing inwards. We're at the Wimpy in our hometown of Heidelberg – my brother farms outside the town. It is Saturday and I've come through from Jo'burg to collect some paintings, books and other sentimental things from my dear late mom's home before the people who bought it move in. My brother suggested we eat something before I go and do the not-so-easy task.

My brother and I love each other dearly. But we used to fight a lot about politics – my leftist politics and his conservative brand needed very little to turn a civilised discussion into a screaming match. I remember how, when I was a student in the 1980s, my mom used to call before I came for lunch, getting me to promise that my ouboet (older brother) and I would not argue over politics. Unfortunately, we disappointed her often.

Like my brother I love my mother tongue, Afrikaans. It is, after all, the tongue of my mother, a woman who inculcated in me a love for words and language from an early age. But unlike him I have a more pragmatic approach to Afrikaans – when I use it I use it well, but I won't fight over it. I try to read new important works in Afrikaans, but my home and work language is English.

My brother is about to prove how strongly he feels about Afrikaans here at the Wimpy. And this is all I need. But Sweetness and I were in for a surprise.

"E-e Mme," he says, shaking his head as he switches to Sesotho. How come you don't talk back to me in Afrikaans, he asks her, speaking Sesotho like a Mosotho, not a lekgoa (white man). Sweetness's eyes are wide, but a smile starts to spread across her face.

In a friendly tone, he tells her that we have 11 languages and they all deserve equal respect. "And why do you speak English to this one?" he smiles as he points at me. "You should speak Sesotho to him."

The rest of our orders are taken in Sesotho. He didn't need to say anything, but this round was his. One I was very happy to concede.

Charles Leonard


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