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Classification: Indo-European, West Germanic. Afrikaans is closely related to Dutch. It is also related to German, English and Frisian.

Overview. Afrikaans is a language spoken in South Africa similar to Dutch. It is, nevertheless, a separate language which developed from the one spoken in the Dutch colony at Cape of Good Hope established in the 17th-century. It is the result of the confluence of Dutch with indigenous Nama (also called Khoekhoe) and the languages of the slaves, imported from other parts of Africa and Asia, like Malay and Portuguese Creole. Afrikaans was recognized as a distinct language only at the beginning of the 20th century. Having lost almost all of its inflectional morphology, it has a simpler grammar than that of Dutch.

Distribution. Afrikaans is spoken in South Africa where it is the third language after Zulu and Xhosa. It is also spoken by small minorities in neighboring Lesotho, Swaziland, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia, and by expatriates in Australia, New Zealand, Britain, USA and Canada.

Speakers. Close to 6 million in the following countries:


South Africa
















Status. Afrikaans is one of the official languages of South Africa but is declining progressively.

Varieties. Cape Afrikaans spoken in the western Cape (influenced by Malay and English), Orange River Afrikaans (influenced by Nama) prevalent in the northwestern Cape, and Eastern Cape Afrikaans spoken in the rest of the country which is the basis of the standard language.

Oldest Documents

  1. 1869.Bayānu ddīn (Exposition of the Religion). Translation of an Islamic text into Afrikaans written in Arabic script.

  1. 1875.The Association of True Afrikaners published the first newspaper, the first magazine, and the first literary texts in Afrikaans.

  1. 1933.Translation of the Bible.  


Vowels (15). All vowels, except ə, have long counterparts. Besides, in front vowels there is contrast between rounded and unrounded vowels.


Consonants (17). The consonant system of Afrikaans is simpler than that of Dutch. The main innovation is the loss of the voiced alveolar and velar fricatives of Dutch (z and ɣ). Another, is that the glottal fricative has become voiced, a unique feature among Germanic languages. Many Afrikaans words have lost  sounds compared to the same words in Dutch due to syncope or apocope.


Script and Orthography

In the 19th. century, the Arabic script was employed by Muslim communities to translate religious texts. Later, the Latin script was and still is widely used; it includes 26 letters (below each one its equivalent in the International Phonetic Alphabet is shown):


  1. [y] is written uu.

  2. [u] is written oe.

  3. [a:] is written aa.

  4. [ɛ:] and [ə:] are written ê.

  5. [i:] is written ie.

  6. [ɔ:] is written ô.

  7. [œ:] is written û.

  8. b an d are devoiced in final position (pronounced as [p] and[t]).

  9. [f] is represented by either f or v.

  10. [s] is written c before e, i or y.

  11. [ŋ] is written with the digraph ng.

  12. y and z are used only in loanwords.

  13. [g] is a foreign sound represented by gh.

Morphology. Afrikaans have lost virtually all nominal and verbal inflections. There is frequent reduplication of nouns and adjectives which function mainly as adverbs: gou-gou (quick-quick=quickly), liggies-liggies=lightly.

  1. Nominal

  2. case: only pronouns and, sometimes adjectives, are inflected. Personal pronouns have subject forms and object forms. Many adjectives when used attributively before a noun are inflected, taking the suffix -e, whether the noun is singular or plural, definite or indefinite. Monosyllabic adjectives are not usually inflected, except those ending in d, f, g, and s.

  1. gender: in contrast to Dutch, there are no grammatical genders in Afrikaans.

  1. number: singular and plural. Plurals are made by adding the ending -e (pronounced ə) or -s.

  1. articles: Afrikaans has an indefinite article ('n) and a definite article (die).

  1. pronouns: personal, possessive, demonstrative, reflexive, relative, interrogative, indefinite.

  1. Personal pronouns have subject and object forms. They distinguish gender in the third person singular. U is a polite form. The reflexive pronouns are identical to the object pronouns hom, haar, hulle.

  1. The demonstrative is the same as the definite article but stressed (dié). In contrast to other Germanic languages, it may indicate both, near or distant location. However, the compound forms hierdie and daardie correspond, respectively, to ‘this’ and ‘that’.

  1. The relative pronoun is the invariable wat, employed for all antecedents, singular, plural, personal and non-personal. When a preposition is required, wie is used for personal antecedents and waar for non-personal ones.

  1. The interrogatives are similar to those of Dutch: wie (‘who?’), wie se/s’n (‘whose?’), wat (‘what?’), and watter (‘which?’).

  1. Verbal. There are no verbal inflections i.e. verbs take the same form regardless of person and number.

  1. person and number: 1s, 2s, 3s; 1p, 2p, 3p. They are conveyed only by the personal pronouns because there are no personal endings.

  1. tense:  the present is the only tense formed without an auxiliary verb (the imperfect of Dutch has almost disappeared). For example, see the conjugation of werk (‘to work’):

  1. Other, compound, tenses require auxiliaries: the perfect uses het (to have), the future uses sal (to be/become), while the conditional employs sou (would). The pluperfect of Dutch no longer exists in Afrikaans.

  1. mood: indicative and imperative.

  2. The subjunctive of Dutch has disappeared. The imperative is identical to the stem.

  1. voice: active, passive.

  1. non-finite forms: infinitive, present active participle and past passive participle.

  2. The infinitive is identical to the the stem of the verb. Regular past participles are formed by adding the prefix ge to the stem (gewerk).


Afrikaans syntax is very similar to Dutch's. In main clauses the finite verb is the second constituent with all the subsequent verbs (past participles, infinitives, etc) standing at the end of the clause. The initial position is normally occupied by the sentence topic which may not be the subject. In subordinate clauses word order is Subject-Object-Verb.


Afrikaans has many loanwords from Nama, Malay, Creole, Portuguese and Bantu languages.

Basic Vocabulary

one: een

two: twee

three: drie

four: vier

five: vyf

six: ses

seven: sewe

eight: ag

nine: nege

ten: tien

hundred: honderd

father: vader

mother: moeder

brother: broer

sister: suster

son: seun

daughter: dogter

head: kop

face: gesig

eye: oog

hand: hand

foot: voet

heart: hart

tongue: tong

  1. © 2013 Alejandro Gutman and Beatriz Avanzati                                                                               

Key Literary Works (forthcoming)

Further Reading

-'Afrikaans'. B. Donaldson. In The Germanic Languages, 478-504. E. König & J. van der Auwera (eds). Routledge (1994).

-A Grammar of Afrikaans. B. Donaldson. Mouton de Gruyter (1993).

-Language in South Africa. R. Mesthrie (ed). Cambridge University Press (2002).

-The Development of Afrikaans. F. Ponelis. Peter Lang (1993).

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