Afrikaans History and Development
The Unique Language of South Africa

Afrikaans History and Development - the language unique to South Africa

Afrikaans - the unique language of South Africa

On this page: Afrikaans History and Development
  Some Afrikaans Words
  South African Vernacular
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Afrikaans History and Development - A Brief Background:

Afrikaans:- the modern version of the language is much more than merely a Dutch derivative as some would suggest. Inextricably linked for the last century with the development and application of apartheid within South Africa, the immense reach and value of this language has often been overlooked within the wider political climate.

While the Dutch, who arrived in South Africa in 1652 and established a colony in Cape Town, are largely credited with the birth of the language, the version spoken today is an accumulation of many other influences. The Dutch dialect established after 1652 incorporated terms and phrases handed down from sailors who had been shipwrecked off the Cape coast after it became clear that the horn of Africa presented another viable trade route. The arrival of the French Huguenots in 1688 almost doubled the European population of the cape, and also naturally had an immense impact on the spoken language of the day. These phrases, of English, French and Portuguese origin, soon found their way into the Dutch dialect.

In addition, the language took on a more oriental flavour with the arrival of a slaves in the Cape, primarily of Malay extraction, but also from other eastern regions and nearby African islands including Madagascar.

This spiced the language considerably, and when the accents, dialects and phrases of the original inhabitants of the land were added to the mix, it became evident that Afrikaans was a completely different language to its Dutch parent.

The Hottentots, the original Khoi inhabitants, as well as the Xhosa and the Zulu people all contributed in their fashion to the language as it spoken today.

The struggle to gain recognition for Afrikaans as a written language was directed and carried out from the town of Paarl. The Guild of True Afrikaners (Genootskap van Regte Afrikaners) had its inaugural meeting here in 1875 with the aim to establish the new language of Afrikaans in a written form. The Afrikaans Language Monument was erected in 1975 in Paarl to honour the Afrikaans Language.

From this, three main dialects emerged, Cape Afrikaans, Orange River Afrikaans and Eastern Border Afrikaans. The Cape dialect is mostly enfused with the language spoken by the Malay slaves who worked in the Cape and spoke a form of broken Portuguese, the Orange River dialect developed with the influence of Khoi languages and dialects developed in the Namakwaland and Griqualand West regions and the Eastern Border Afrikaans evolved from the settlers who moved East towards Natal from the Cape.

As the language evolved, the white Afrikaans speakers distanced themselves from the predominantly English-speaking community. Believing themselves to be the true white owners of the land and rejecting any claims of the indigenous people, the Afrikaners pitted themselves against the English, culminating in the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902.

The Afrikaners lost this war but embarked upon a 'Kultuur' campaign (Culture campaign) to promote the language.

When the Afrikaans-oriented National Party won the South African elections of 1948, the party introduced measures designed to leapfrog Afrikaans speakers over others in the country in the employment and business sector.

The National Party's institution of Apartheid and decision to teach black children in Afrikaans only was an unpopular one and was the main reason for the Soweto uprising of 1976.

Unfortunately, the National Party's ruthless Apartheid regime and simultaneous promotion of the language forged a link between the language and the political system that remains to this day.

Despite attempts to keep the language as one of only two official languages after 1994, the Constitutional Assembly in the newly-democratised South African republic chose to downgrade Afrikaans to only one of eleven official languages, its protected status a thing of the past.

Some Afrikaans Words

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Afrikaans: From: Meaning:   Afrikaans: From: Meaning:
assegaai Khoisan spear   chana / china Zulu - "umtshana" (nephew) friend
karos Khoisan blanket of hides   fundi Zulu - "umfundisa" (teacher) expert on subject
kombuis Seafaring Dutch galley = kitchen   gogga Khoisan - "xo-xon" insect
piesang Malay banana   kraal Portuguese - "curral" cattle enclosure

South African Local Lingo

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While you are visiting in South Africa you will meet a lot of people who seem to speak something very much like English - but not quite!!
Some words to help you understand our language:
Afrikaans South African vernacular – mainly of Dutch origin, but has elements of French, German, Malaysian and several African languages.
Afrikaans history and development is linked to the indigenous languages of South Africa
South Africa - Wildlife
South Africa - Wildlife
Adventure Travel - Tuli Wilderness Walking Safaris
South Africa - Wildlife
South Africa - Adventure Travel - Sani Pass
South Africa - Culture
South Africa - Culture
South Africa - Wildlife
South Africa - Culture
Afrikaans history and development is linked to the Malay
South Africa - Pilanesberg Game Reserve
South Africa - Adventure Travel - Dive Boat Launch - Sodwana Bay







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Afrikaner Person mostly of Dutch descent, who can trace their heritage in this country back several generations, and speaking Afrikaans as a home language.
Bakkie A small pick-up truck / utility vehicle.
Berg Mountain. In place names it refers to a mountain range - Drakensberg - "Dragon Mountains".
Not to be confused with "burg" in town and city names - from the Dutch meaning an administrative area - hence Burgemeester - Master of the Burg or Mayor. Also see "koppie"
Biltong Strips of sun-dried meat. Meat is salted, sun dried for a day, then dried in a shaded area. Originally a means of preserving meat - now Biltong is a local delicacy - to be eaten while watching rugby and drinking Zamalek.
Bliksem Literally "lightning" - but can be used as in "I am going to bliksem you" meaning that someone is in immediate danger of being hit. Can also be used as in "You are a bliksem" meaning that the person is a scoundrel.
Boer Literally - farmer, but has now taken on the meaning of a person of European descent who can trace their family back many generations. Almost the same as Afrikaner but a boer is probably an Afrikaner, but an Afrikaner is not necessarily a boer.
Boerboel A recognised breed of South African dog.


"Farmers sausage" - an almost obligatory part of a braai. Also called "Boeries".
Bokkie Term of endearment for a lady. The word actually means "little antelope". not to be confused with "The Bokke" or Springboks - our national rugby team.
Bokke The Springboks - our National Rugby Team
Braai A barbeque. Usually a very social event used extensively for entertaining at home. Not unusual to have four or five different cuts of meat per person on the braai-grid. A "must-have" is Boerewors, as well as "Pap en Sous"
Brak A dog of uncertain ancestry
Bushveld A generic South African word used to describe areas of Acacia Savannah.
Cheers Goodbye. Also used when raising glasses with a drink.
Cherrie Girlfriend.
Cozzie Swimsuit / Swimming costume
Dagga The local name for marijuana. It is often smoked for ritual purposes by a Sangoma or Shaman
Doff Stupid - also use to describe a person who is "not with it" - as in "I am a bit doff this morning" - i.e. I have not yet woken up properly


A dry watercourse. Can also refer to an erosion gulley.
Donner Literally "thunder" - same as bliksem.
Dop A drink - as in "Gooi me nog a dop please" - Give me another drink
Dorp Small town
Eish An exclamation of surprise.
Flip Used as in "oh flip" instead of "oh F@*!*'" - also used "let's go for a flip" meaning a trip especially in an aeroplane.
Fontein Literally "fountain" or "spring" - often seen in place names. e.g. Bloemfontein - capital of the Free State - literally tranlates as "Flower Spring"
Fundi An expert
Fynbos A unique type of plant community found only in the Western Cape. Literally translated it means "fine bush" -  a reference to very small leaf structure of most of the plants. The Cape Floral Kingdom has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Game Can be a game as is normally understood - tennis or a board game - but is also used to refer to wild animals - as in "game viewing" or "game drive". You go on a game drive to go game viewing to look at "big game!"
Gogga Any insect - but mostly of the crawling kind - not the same as "miggie"
Gooi Literally "throw". Now also used as in "give" - "We will gooi a braai on Saturday", or "Please gooi me some more boerewors and a dop". Pronounced with a very gutteral "g" and said goy as in boy.
Gif Literally "poison" - but can be used as in "you look very gif today" - you are very smart. Pronounced with a very guttural "g".
Highveld The high plateau region of central South Africa, mostly above 1000m and centered around Johannesburg. A region characterized by rolling grasslands.
Howzit As in "hello howzit" - a greeting - from "how goes it". And the answer would be "Lekker, and you?"
Inyanga A traditional herbal healer - not to be confused with a Sangoma who is a spiritual healer and diviner.
lskorokoro Zulu term for a very battered old car.
Izzit? Is that so?
Ja Yes. Also often heard in Ja-nee - Literally Yes-no. The expression of imminent agreement, but some thought must still be given to the matter
Jalopie An old broken down car. Same as lskorokoro
Jislaaik Another exclamation of surprise.
Jol / Jolling A party, a get-together, having fun. "Let's go and have a jol" - Let's have some fun.
Just now Soon - but not as soon as "now now"
Kalahari The Kalahari is the very dry desert area of the North-Western region of South Africa. It has a very red underlying sand structure, but the area is covered in vegetation - mostly Acacia tree species and grass. It is classified as desert because of the very low yearly rainfall.
Karoo Approximately 25% of the surface area of South Africa is a very dry semi-desert area. It is divided into the Little Karoo, in the rain shadow of the Outeniqua Mountains, and the Great Karoo - North of the Swartberge. It is the main sheep farming region of South Africa.
Kak "I am in kak" - meaning that I am in serious trouble. (Sh1t). you can also speak "kak".
Kloof A wooded ravine.
Koppie Literally "a small head" - but used to describe a small hillock or mountain.
Laduma A goal scored in the game of football by Bafana Bafana - our national football (soccer) team.
Lekker Literally "nice", "good" or "a sweet". Also used as a term of approval - "You are wearing lekker velskoene".
Can also be used as part of a greeting - "Howzit?" - "Lekker and you?" (Good and you?)
Lowveld The low lying region East of the escarpment encompassing most of the Kruger National Park and surrounds.
Mampoer Alcoholic drink distilled from whatever you can find - usually from fruit. The very potent, high alcohol content version is called "witblits".
Miggie Small flying bug - not the same as "gogga"
Mozzie Mosquito
Muti Medicine - from the Zulu "uMuthi"
Now now Very soon - but sooner than "just now"
Pan A cooking vessel. Also a seasonal water feature / shallow lake in a shallow depression - e.g. salt pan
Pap A type of stiff porridge made from ground maize - essential part of a "braai".
Reckon Think - as in "I reckon that's a sharp idea".
Rondawel A circular house with a thatched (grass) roof. This style has been adapted from the indigenous peoples of South Africa and is now a common feature at Game Lodges and in Game Reserves. A known landmark on the "Panorama Route" is the Three Rondawels - 3 hills resembling three houses situated in the Blyde River Canyon
Roer Lierally - "to stir". Also used as in "Ek gaan hom roer" - "I'm going to stir him" meaning I'm going get him to do something or get into action. Also a slang Afrikaans word for a rifle.
Rooinek Literally "Red Neck" - a term originally from the Second Boer War (1899 - 1902) when the Afrikaners were fighting Great Britain for their independence. It was a derogatory term for a British soldier (Tommy) who got sunburned easily. Still used as a term to describe someone who is not Afrikaans speaking.
Rusk A type of hard biscuit, quite chunky, used to dip into coffee or tea. Used as a start to the day.
Sangoma Shaman or traditional healer and diviner. Not to be confused with an Inyanga, who is a herbal healer
Sharp Exclamation of agreement, or also as in "Hey, that looks sharp" as a description of something that looks good - e.g. "That's a sharp cherrie". "Sharp-sharp" - I agree with you and will do everything as arranged.
Shebeen Local watering hole in a township.
Spruit Rivulet or stream - again often in town names.
Stroom Stream - again often in town names.
Skraal Hungry - a condition rectified by going to a braai and eating boerewors, pap and sous.
Smaak Like. As in "I'd smaak to gooi a braai today" - I would like have / give a barbecue today
Sous Sauce - essential ingredient to go with pap at a braai. You will be offered "pap en sous". Can be a normal gravy, but more often made from Tomatoes and Onions cooked together.
Stukkie A vulgar term for a good looking young lady. Literally translated means "piece".
Township A suburban area of a town or city, which because of historical reasons, is populated mainly by people of colour.
Trek A journey. From the Voortrekkers - the European Pioneers who settled in the interior of the country. "It is going to be long trek" - i.e. expect a long journey. Also used to mean "move house" - I am going to trek - I am going to move house
Tune As in "tune me what you're doing" - tell me what you are doing - "I'm going to tune him" - I am going to tell him something.
Veld A region of a particular vegetation type - e.g. Highveld - the high plateau area, The Lowveld - the low altitude region East of the escarpment encompassing the Kruger National Park
Velskoen "Skin shoes"- an all purpose type of footwear, traditionally made with the leather of wild animals - Kudu leather was considered the best. Almost a trade mark of being a boer.
Vetkoek A traditional type of pastry made by deep-frying dough in boiling oil, and can be filled with savoury mince, or even a sweet jam.
Voetsak Get lost in a not so polite manner. (B*gg*r off!)
Voortrekker The name given to the European Pioneers who in the years between 1834 and 1838 moved from the Cape Colony with their ox-wagons and travelled into the interior regions of what is now South Africa, and established several independent republics.
Wildebees Wildebeest or Gnu - an antelope of Africa - 2 species occur in South Africa
Witblits Literally "white flash or white lightning". A type of very strong mampoer - equivalent to "moonshine"

Name for one of our local brands of beer.


The Unique Language of South Africa
Afrikaans History and Development