Book examines Khoi-Khoi roots of Afrikaans
Over a period of three decades, the Dutch linguist, Hans den Besten (1948 – 2010), wrote a number of articles on the evolution of Afrikaans and the various influences on the language.
He was busy putting his most important writing on the structure and history of Afrikaans into order so that it could be published in book form. However, Parkinson’s disease prevented him from achieving this objective. The project eventually became too big for him and his friend and colleague, Pieter Muysken, took over the task as project manager after his death.
The book, Roots of Afrikaans – Selected Writings of Hans den Besten, was launched at STIAS (Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study) by the Department of General Linguistics in June. Among the guests was the editor of the book, Dr Ton van der Wouden, a Dutch academic linked to the Meertens Institute, and Muysken, from Radboud University.
“For a very long time there was a perception that Afrikaans arose thanks to Dutch. Where there were deviations, it was believed it was just a dialect of a type of watered down Dutch or that it came from a Flemish influence,” said Muysken in an interview with Letter. “Afrikaans was viewed as a European language. However, Hans noticed the influences on it of Khoi-Khoi, Malay and Portuguese at an early stage. He made contact with South African academics and linguists and realised that the non-European influences on the language were also being examined in South Africa.”
The Dutch colonial period led to close contact with the people of Malaysia and Suriname, as well as the Caribbean countries – these influences also precipitated in Afrikaans. Today the Netherlands also is a refuge for immigrants from these countries. Den Besten could closely observe the influences of these different languages on Dutch in the Netherlands – just as it influenced Afrikaans.
“It did not escape Hans’s notice that Afrikaans is a Creole language,” says Muysken. “The lexical influence of Dutch on Afrikaans is very big, but the language developed into a highly independent language, including one of academia and science. When Dutch people hear Afrikaans, they are astonished that it is so different from Dutch. Some Dutch people believe it is a simple form of Dutch, but they are surprised when they realise how complex the language actually is. They are also always surprised to hear that it is a relatively big language spoken by close on six million people.”
According to Muysken, Roots of Afrikaans – Selected Writings of Hans den Besten offers an argument for the mixed roots of origin. Besides Dutch, Khoi-Khoi had the biggest influence on Afrikaans, followed by Portuguese and Malay, with a dash of French.
In her comments on the book, Theresa Biberauer, who is an alumna of Stellenbosch University’s Department of General Linguistics and currently an academic at Cambridge University, writes: “Hans den Besten’s work on Afrikaans puts the language in an entirely different light to what one automatically thinks, given the political background.”
In addition to his writing, Den Besten also collected 150 recordings of conversational fragments of old “Cape Afrikaans” from a variety of sources. Muysken is planning to arrange these in a database soon. - STEPHANIE NIEUWOUDT