/ 27 September 2019

Let’s reinvent Afrikaans (and ourselves) together

(John McCann/M&G)
(John McCann/M&G)




A couple of weeks past, I chaired a panel discussion on AfriKaaps, an emergent speech variety of Kaaps (a variety of Afrikaans) in conversation with hip-hop artists Blaq Pearl, Jitsvinger and Emile YX? at the Open Book Festival in Cape Town. The discussion was on what we can learn from AfriKaaps in terms of reinventing Afrikaans for South Africans.

I last wrote of AfriKaaps in the Mail & Guardian (“AfriKaaps is an act of reclamation”, December 15 2016) that it is a variety that would define the future of Afrikaans, over and above that it is an act of reclamation. Based on some research we have come to learn that, first, AfriKaaps may be a variety used by the generation of first-language Kaaps speakers born after the 1980s in South Africa.

Second, AfriKaaps speakers typically mix in their speech the phonological, lexical and grammatical variations we would typically associate with a local way of speaking English, Sabela/Tsotsitaal (prison varieties, once incubated in prisons but as part of the linguistic landscape today) and other languages brought about through the influence of popular culture and the use of social media technology (such as textspeak).

Thus it is time we start talking about how we can reinvent Afrikaans through the formation of AfriKaaps.

The panel discussion at the Open Book Festival revealed an enduring language fact: that in our not-so-new democracy, AfriKaaps allows speakers (in online or offline environments) to refashion themselves and their futures in our country. AfriKaaps allow its speakers to cultivate not just new relationships, but allows them to say that the way we speak has power. It helps to represent who we are in this world, and that the way we speak matters. So reinvention concerns the reformation of new identities and selves, and the reallocation of power in language.

One big takeaway from the panel discussion is that AfriKaaps language activists are campaigning for its documentation and elaboration, and asked that we focus on advancing the following actionable points:

• We need to donate and invest funding in human resources and technological resources (at school and university level) in a linguistic project to describe varieties such as AfriKaaps (at both the phonological, lexical, grammatical, pragmatic and discourse levels) across South Africa.

• We need to establish media platforms (radio, news, social media) over and above what is available to advance popular cultural discourses of AfriKaaps and the varied implications the variety has for identity.

• We need to produce literacy campaigns, through pamphlets, describing the social and economic benefits of AfriKaaps to all Afrikaans speakers.

• We need to transform the linguistic landscape to reflect the voices of AfriKaaps speakers, not as a gimmick but as an indictment on the change that has occurred in Afrikaans speakers more generally.

• As a matter of linguistic principle, we need to capture more space for AfriKaaps speakers.

If we succeed with the above, reinventing Afrikaans becomes a reality.

Quentin Williams is a senior lecturer in the linguistics department and a research fellow at the Centre for Multilingualism and Diversities Research at the University of the Western Cape