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Sunday, October 17, 2010

"Afrikaans versus Modern Society" by N Smith

Undoubtedly, one of the thoughts that has at some time crossed our minds as students is about the relevance of learning Afrikaans as a second language.

At school, every day, as a citizen of South Africa, this idea of Afrikaans being a relevant part of educating the younger generations is forced upon our society.

Second to English, Afrikaans always takes highest priority over other subjects. I ask you, is language not an art? Then for what reason does Afrikaans take preference over the cultural arts such as dramatic and visual art? For a student, failing cultural arts is seen as a non-event. The subjects are seen as irrelevant in schooling and supposedly these subjects 'get in the way of more important subjects' when in fact they provide creative stimulus, which inspires us and invigorates us.

When the Afrikaans grades start to drop extra lessons are quickly fitted into every free opening in the child's timetable -third language periods, prep time and even during sport practices, if all else fails, which robs the child of what little freedom they have. I can understand these measures being taken for a first language such as English. After all, it is the universal language. Without English, all other areas, such as history, where good vocabulary is needed for essay writing to sustain good grades, fails. It is even needed in mathematics in order to understand the language of numerals and decimals. How else could a problem sum be completed short of mathematics maturing and solving its own problems?

Overseas, Afrikaans is barefly recognised as a language of importance whatsoever, so why should it be learned here? The Chinese's growing economy will soon be dominating Europe, so should we not be learning Mandarin instead? Already, approximately eighty percent of our goods have "made in China" inscribed on them somewhere in small letters. All students with knowledge of Mandarin would have a higher chance of finding a job overseas in the future, and a fighting chance of being accepted as a successful individual in the work place. Even those who do not immigrate will lose interest in a minority language such as Afrikaans when pursuing a tertiary education in their home langauge, and their knowledge of the language will gradually fade to black, so why waste precious time teaching it to them now?

Out of the eleven official languages in our country, only one of them is instinctively assigned as a compulsory second language in the Western Cape and is seen as more important than all the others, and yet nobody wonders for what reason this is so.

I have nothing against those with an Afrikaans background but merely ask you why the language must be forced on those are not interested in it? To ensure that it does not die out? Is it part of a minority's culture that they feel others would gain value sharing in the experience of? If the public would rather learn Xhosa or Zulu or any of the other official langauges as a secondary langauge should they not be allowed to decide for themselves which they feel is a more advantageous avenue of language study?

I have no problem with Afrikaans speaking schools and universities who give classes solely in this language, specifically for the Afrikaans members of these institutions, but those who do not take naturally to Afrikaans, should be allowed to choose to be educated in one of the official languages that they feel is more representative of their own individual background. Langauge is a part of culture, and if we should be allowed to choose our own religions should the same not be allowed for langauge choice? Choosing a language that does not define us individually is trying to be someone we are not, and if we are allowed to choose our own languages it will impact positively on our ability to express ourselves freely.

Afrikaans is a completely different langauge to English and has its humorous sayings that tickle the nation's pride, but for the youth of South Africa who find Afrikaans does not come easily to them, it is difficult to access these contextual expressions when speakers are accustomed to other langauges that are humorous in completely different ways.

Some public figures really make a language come alive, but I am sorry to say that we are lacking in those figures in society, and the remaining, who do understand its authenticity are reducing the language's reputation in society. What our country needs is someone who excels in Afrikaans who will put this langauge "out there" and rekindle the desire to speak it. The rest of us, if asked to write a creative essay in Afrikaans, I assure you, will struggle to find inspirational ways to express ourselves as the difference between English and Afrikaans is so vast.

Do not get rid of Afrikaans as a secondary language in schools, but offer it alongside the other official languages of South Africa, with the added choice of internationally budding languages such as Mandarin, so that those who want to learn globally accepted languages are given the choice to pave the path to their future.


  1. N Smith is way too unambitious. Once Coenie de Villiers had an interview on Pasella, an Afrikaans magazine show on television, with a man who is a specialist about angels. The further the interview progressed, the more the specialist spoke English. This he explained by saying that when he is speaking English, he is actually channelling angels. This proves that English is not only the universal language that N Smith professes, but truly a cosmic language. In that light I would support the move to make the entire cosmos monolingual - no more squiggly Babelfish in your ear. The sooner that happens, the sooner I can retire and read all the Afrikaans books I don't have time to read because I have to read and mark Afrikaans essays and exams. Think how unusual my tomb will be one day... all those unreadable books...


    Afrikaans is not (technically) compulsory. By educational law, only a _2ND language_ is. If you're willing to do Xhosa as a second language - you may. Jess Coxon (grade 11) does; but separately from the 3rd language students.

    Also - Afrikaans is not "completely different to English." Syntactically, semanitically and morphologically Afrikaans and English are _almost identical_.
    The Nguni languages (like Xhosa and Zulu...) are nothing like English and Afrikaans, even at a lexical level. and theyre agglutinating and have killer phonologies.

    BTW : Afrikaans is highly respected internationally - amoung Diets, Frankish and Scandanavian linguists especially.

    As a cosmic language, cf: Sanskrit, used in especially pagan chanelling. (et cf: glossolalía)

    I'M PRO CHOICE TOO, but you obviously have done nothing to construct a sound agrument.

  3. Thank you both for taking your time to comment on my essay.

    The fact that I do not know that Afrikaans is compulsory as a second language choice, is evidence of an established mindset on the default to Afrikaans. The issue is not with the language per say, but the rut we are in. Why I asked, is Mandarin not offered at a school like Somerset College? The technical similarities between English and Afrikaans, seem to fade when either first language users attempt the other. I have Afrikaans family who do not speak English at all.

  4. A Official language of South Africa is compulsory at _2nd language_ level. Why College doesn't offer the other languages is a matter of teacher availability and student interest.

    It's been asked why Spanish and Latin aren't offered at College - (as 3rd lang)the answer would also apply to Mandarin:
    Not enough students have asked for it, to oughtweigh the difficulty of finding a teacher, expenses involved and timetabling.

  5. The fact that people are seemingly more interested in Afrikaans, therefore there not being a demand for other second language teachers is purely due to the fact that students are not introduced to these choices from a young enough age. From the beginning of my schooling I was introduced to Afrikaans as a secondary language. Many of the prep school students have learnt Xhosa as a third language since primary school and I am certain there are those that would be interested in being given the choice to learn Xhosa as a second language.

    As for Spanish and Latin I know many of my fellow peers are very interested in the language and would in fact prefer to learn those languages as a third language.The fact is, people just couldn't be bothered enough to go to the trouble of finding a Mandarin teacher and inquiring about the best interest of the students as tradition has become a comfort.

  6. "Even those who do not immigrate will lose interest in a minority language such as Afrikaans when pursuing a tertiary education in their home language, and their knowledge of the language will gradually fade to black, so why waste precious time teaching it to them now?"

    I'm sorry to say, that is a complete generalisation. I, for one, will not "lose interest" in Afrikaans.

    "Do not get rid of Afrikaans as a secondary language in schools, but offer it alongside the other official languages of South Africa"

    It would obviously be nice if all our 11 official languages could be offered at our school, but logistically it is impossible.
    A more realistic option is to offer the Western Cape's official languages, which are English, Afrikaans and Xhosa. Oh that's funny, they are offered already.

    The matter of a other languages such as Latin, Mandarin and Spanish being available at our school is interesting. Ideally, we should be able to choose from these languages, but it is impossible to offer German, French, Spanish, Latin and Mandarin. Demand is too low to offer all of these. What should be determined though, is which of these languages are under the most demand to be taught. If Mandarin is more in demand than, say, German, I think it should replace it. I doubt this is the case. Of course it would be nice to be able to choose any language you want, but just think of it practically and you'll realise that it is unfortunately not possible.