By Camiel Hamans, Associate Secretary-General
“This year we also celebrate a major milestone with the publication of the first dictionary of Afrikaaps. This is a language synonymous with Cape Town and draws on the languages of the Khoi and San, Dutch, Portuguese, English, Arabic and South-East Asian languages. We congratulate the team who were involved in this project. This important resource will not only contribute to our heritage and to the historical record. It is also a beacon of pride for the many residents of Cape Town who speak Afrikaaps.”
This is what South African president Cyril Ramaphosa said in his official address to the nation on this year Heritage Day, 24 September. On Heritage Day post-apartheid South Africa celebrates the diversity of the different cultures that make up the country. The president’s comments are not only a credit to the project and its leader, prof. Quentin Williams, but is above all an acknowledgment of the linguistic, cultural and emotional legacy of the Khoi and San, the aboriginal inhabitants of the Cape. South Africa’s constitution, one of the most progressive constitutional programs in the world, emphasizes the country’s diversity. Therefore, eleven national languages are recognised, including Afrikaans. The linguistic legacy of the Khoi and the San is not among them. It is only said that it must be protected and supported.
The President’s words now make it clear that the language that those original inhabitants developed in and after their first encounters with Western seamen-traders and their Eastern contacts – Kaaps or Afrikaaps – should also be given a rightful place in South African society.
Traditionally Kaaps is wrongly seen as a sort of dialect or substandard variety of Afrikaans, according to prof. Williams. Kaaps is a sister language of Afrikaans. The origin of Afrikaans is usually traced back to the foundation by Jan van Riebeeck of a refreshment station at the Cape in 1652. The history of Kaaps is much older. Before the Dutch landed in Table Bay, Portuguese and British ships bound for or on the retreat from the East Indies and India had already docked at the Cape, where they took fresh water and bought sustenance from the local population, the Khoi and San.
For doing business the Khoi and San developed a trade language that evolved into Kaaps in the course of history. The Brits were so happy with the help of the local Khoi and their interpreting that they took one of their leaders, Autshumato, or Harry die Strandloper, ‘the Sandpiper’, for a year to Bantam, present-day Banten in Indonesia, in 1630. After the settlement of the Dutch, this trade language also included a large component of Dutch.
In the second half of the 19th century, when South Africa was under British rule, the descendants of the Dutch settlers started their emancipation struggle and founded the Genootschap van Regte Afrikaners ‘Society of True Afrikaners’ (1875). These activists concentrated on the white Afrikaner population and the Dutch part of the language. When standardizing Afrikaans, the focus was mainly on Dutch, creating an essential distance between Afrikaans and Kaaps. In this whole process the so-called Coloured speakers of Kaaps were left out, which was reinforced during the years of Apartheid. That is why nobody thought of Kaaps as an independent language when drafting the Constitution in the first half of the 1990s.
The initiative to compile a Trilingual Dictionary of Kaaps (Kaaps, English and Afrikaans), launched this summer by the Centre for Multilingualism and Diversities Research (CMDR) at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), now lead by prof. Quentin Williams, aims at the recognition of Kaaps as a language in its own right. The University of the Western Cape in Bellville, a suburb of Cape Town, was founded during Apartheid in 1960 as a special university for so-called Coloured people. The main brief of the Centre for Multilingualism, a small research unit founded in 2013 by prof. Christopher Stroud, is “to embark on a project of intellectual reorientation, namely a significant rethinking of multilingualism and the development of a new discourse with which to approach interdisciplinary work in the humanities and the education sciences. The brief involves interrogating contemporary and historical African intellectual heritage through a critical review of the role of language and multilingualism in the colonial archive and in the light of critical framings of multilingualism and diversity.”
This project focused on the recognition and emancipation of Kaaps is a perfect example of such rethinking and Quentin Williams (1981) is the right person to lead this project. Quentin is not only director of the centre but also associate professor of sociolinguistics at UWC and the youngest holder of the chair for Afrikaans and the study of South Africa at Ghent University. He grew up in a township near Cape Town, where his parents and grandparents had been forcibly relocated during the years of ethnic cleansing of South African inner cities. In this township several languages were used. First of all Kaaps, then Sabela, the language of the Numbers Gang, a street language that originally was spoken in prisons; gay varieties were also heard, and English. However, when he went to school he had to learn a new, foreign language: Afrikaans. In this language he was taught how to pray, how do math and how to understand economics. It was only when he was at university and when he came in contact with hip hop that his love for language started. At university he studied English, Afrikaans and Dutch, but he realized that the language of hip hop was Kaaps, not English or Afrikaans. And that is why he now cooperates for the dictionary with the hip hop-driven community NGO Heal the Hood Project.
There are at least 3 or 4 million speakers of Kaaps. Nobody knows exactly how many, since the census does not include Kaaps. All speakers of Kaaps are considered speakers of Afrikaans. However, the hip hop culture, which is not restricted to the Western Cape but is vibrant all over South Africa, shows how widespread Kaaps or, as it is often called in this world, Afrikaaps, is.
“The words of recognition spoken by the president are very important to us and are the first step in our emancipation process, but also the support our centre and the dictionary project receive from internationally recognised scholars and well-known poets, such as Theresa Biberauer, the late Jan Blommaert, Wannie Carstens, Michael le Cordeur, Ana Deumert, Frank Hendricks, Hein Willemse, Olivia Coetzee, Ronelda Kamfer and Antjie Krog, contributes to this”.
Five Kaaps verbs and their Afrikaans and English equivalents from the dictionary
koppel ww (cop-pill) (style marker) 1. mien om iets by te sit koppel ‘n ran’ ha/daa ~ byvoeg om iets by te voeg voeg een rand hier by ~ add to add/contribute something add a one rand here 2. om te las koppel gourie/gou hie kragdrade kanalla ~ verbind om te konnekteer/verbind verbind gou die krag drade asseblief ~ connect/bind to bind or connect please connect the electric wires.
skool ww (squill) mien om ieman te leer ekke sul vi djou skool ~ opvoed om iemand meer te leer oor ˈn onderwerp ek sal jou opvoed ~ educate to teach I will/shall educate you.
verinne(n)wee(r) ww (phirren-ne(n)-vere) mien om totally te destroy djou hât sul verinne(n)wee(r) wôd ~ verwoes om heeltemal te vernietig jou hart sal verwoes word ~ devastate to totally destroy your heart shall be devasted.
char ww (phonemic translation) (style marker) 1 … Ons voorkamer is leeg, daar’s net vier lendelam stoele wat my ma gekry het by n vrou by wie sy char (Brian Fredericks, As die Cape Flats kon Praat) – So, dit was juis met hierdie hielige, politieke skoene wat ek eendag in Desember 1972 saam met Ouma in Seepunt by die Williamson-familie gaan char het (Jeremy Veary, Jeremy vannie Elsies). St. Afr. – om n fisiese taak te voltooi vir n wins: Jan moet sy werk voltooi deur al die spykers in te hammer. St. Eng – a physical task that one completes to earn money, a job: Susan typed the last words of her column before her writing could be finished.
doep ww (phonemic translation) (style marker) 1 om iemand of kos innie wate te stiek: Die dag vannie doep, oppie beach toe hope ek ôs lyk soes mense inne Bresson photo (Trantraal, Alles het nie kom wôd). St. Afri: om iets in n vloeistof te plaas: Johnny plaas sy brood in die water om dit te kou. St. Eng: to place a person or an object in water: On a warm Sunday, the minister decided to baptise John.