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Afrikaans is 'n hartseer taal

Edward-John Bottomley *

It is significant that I had to think long and hard about my feelings towards the University of Stellenbosch's implementation of the T option. I am equally competent in Afrikaans and English and felt equally unconcerned about the direction the renewed language debate would take. When I looked deeper, though, my initially clear feelings became clouded. The fact that I was raised fully bilingual by a Rhodesian father and a Transvaal mother provides no excuse for not taking a stand.

I now feel strongly that with the multitude of universities in this country, there can, and should, be one devoted to Afrikaans. And to Xhosa or Sotho or any of the other official languages. Idealism, yes, and unworkable idealism at that. The University of Stellenbosch has committed itself to training professionals geared to the current state of the global market. And as English is the dominant language of commerce, it is English that will be used to train a new generation of market-geared graduates.

Well, that sucks. Thanks for giving us a choice. I sympathise with the administration's problem, yet I cannot condone their actions. I sympathise with those students for whom Afrikaans is a third language and who received bursaries. I'm sorry, but UCT is just around the corner and English is spoken in every other university in this country. Reducing the role of Afrikaans to merely an option reduces the number of devoted Afrikaans-speaking graduates in the country. In essence: "Toe ek 'n kind was, het ek in Afrikaans gepraat, in Afrikaans gedink en in Afrikaans geredeneer. Maar noudat ek 'n graad het, is ek klaar met die dinge van Afrikaans."

I disagree with Ms Scott's assertion that language is neutral and is merely an empty vessel to be filled with meaning. Both Popper and Wittgenstein have convincingly demonstrated that a language is never just a language. Language is the primary means by which we make sense of our environment. We think using language. The famous sense-making dictum of "How can I know what I think until I see what I say?" has never proved more true. Culture is embodied in a language - not in the current sense used by the petitioners at the US, that reducing the role of Afrikaans destroys a vital means of expressing the Afrikaans culture, but in the sense that the language Afrikaans is the Afrikaans culture. The inherent assumptions of the Afrikaans culture can be articulated only in Afrikaans. This is especially true of fully bilingual speakers: when one speaks and thinks in English, one is English. When one speaks and thinks in Afrikaans, one is Afrikaans. The patterns of thought change - you become more liberal or conservative, rational or emotional. English is rational, concise, adaptive. The language of prose. And beautiful prose at that.

Afrikaans is die taal van poŽsie. Die taal van Antjie Krog se Ma, Ingrid Jonker se Kind, Gert Vlok Nel se Beaufort-Wes, Koos du Plessis se sterre, skimme and konkavure. Van die antie wat koek bak vir die tuisnywerheid. Dis die taal van die veld, en stof, en witblou lug. Die taal van snoek, Distrik Ses, vissermanne en 'n grysblou see. Afrikaans is die taal van heimwee en weemoed.

Afrikaans is 'n hartseer taal:

"Dankie, my niggie; dis dan die poskantoor daardie, oorkant die kerkgebou. Ek sal hom kry, dankie. Dis baie vriendelik van jou om so ver met 'n vreemde ou oom te stap. Goeiendag, my kind. Maar wat is jou naam as ek mag vra? Theron? En werk my dogter ook hier by die winkels? O, nie? En wat se werk doen jy as ek mag vra?"

"Ek droom sommer, Oom; en ek het lief, Oom. Ja, droom en liefhÍ het ek gesÍ, Oom. Partymaal hou ek ook skool, Oom. Vyf uur op 'n dag. Maar as die vyf uur verby is, dan het ek lief en droom maar sommer. Ja, Oom. Ja nee, dit was glad nie moeite nie. Middag, Oom."
Afrikaans will not die out if a university stops offering solely Afrikaans education. Yet the role of Afrikaans in the corporate world, the role of Afrikaans in the outside world, will suffer. English universities churn out thousands of graduates every year who have every intention of conducting their everyday business in English. It would not offend me in the least if certain universities catered only to certain languages (as unworkable as that may be), such as Zulu or Xhosa. Cannot Afrikaans be afforded that luxury? Are we as students not intelligent enough to be able to make our own choices about the university we attend and the language we will live in?


Edward-John Bottomley* grew up in Mmabatho as well as the former Transvaal. He is currently studying journalism and thinks that writing about himself in the third person is great.



LitNet: 22 November 2005

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