• Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Saterfrisian
  • Afrikaans
Show all
A general introduction to Afrikaans

Afrikaans is typologically categorised as an Indo-European, West Germanic, Low Franconian language (also see Carstens and Raidt 2017; Kotzé 2018). Afrikaans has roundabout 7 million native speakers (anno 2016), of which circa 95% live in South Africa; another estimated 10 million second-language speakers live in Southern Africa. It is an official language in South Africa, and an officially recognised minority language in Namibia. Other communities of Afrikaans native speakers can be found in, among other countries, Namibia, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, England, and even Argentina.

From a genetic perspective, the grammar (including the lexicon) of Afrikaans can be divided into two primary strata (i.e. diachronic layers or etymological tiers):

In addition, other languages also had an influence on the genesis of Afrikaans. The following secondary strata can be identified (see Coetzee 1987; Combrink 1990:365):

  • secondary native stratum, namely an English stratum;
  • secondary non-native strata, including:
Lexical items from languages like French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Japanese, Mandarin, Hindi, etc. normally entered the Afrikaans lexicon either via Dutch or English.


  • The term stratum is used here loosely to refer to diachronic layers/tiers of the lexicon and grammar ( i.e. etymological and grammatical "growth rings", so to speak), rather than in the strict sense of 'contact language' as it used traditionally in historical linguistics, and language politics.
  • These different strata are to more or lesser degrees of importance to different levels of the grammar. For instance, in morphology the distinction between the two primary strata (Germanic vs. Classic) is of utmost importance to understand competition between morphemes, while the influence of secondary strata is important in understanding specific constructions (e.g. the Khoe stratum to understand the associative plural construction, the Malay stratum for the productivity of reduplicative compounds, etc.).

[+]Historic varieties of Afrikaans

Afrikaans has a complex history, resulting in a varied and colourful language. Traditionally, three historic varieties are distinguished:

  • Gariep Afrikaans (GAfr.; also known as Khoe Afrikaans, or more traditionally as Orange River Afrikaans) is the oldest variety of Afrikaans, dating back to the end of the sixteenth century when the first contact between local people and seafarers occurred. This variety became strongly associated with the territories north of Cape Town and into Namibia, and as the language of the Khoekhoe, Nama, San, Rehoboth Basters, and Griqua, among others.
  • Cape Afrikaans (K-Afr.) was strongly associated with Cape Town and the area around Cape Town as the language of the slaves imported mainly from Malaysia. This variety also became closely associated with the Muslim community in the region, with some of the oldest Afrikaans texts been written in Arabic script.
  • Eastern Frontier Afrikaans (EFAfr.; from a social rather than geographic perspective also known as Veeboer Afrikaans, literally Stock Farmer Afrikaans, or rarely Burgher Afrikaans) was the variety of Afrikaans spoken on the frontier east of Cape Town as the language of mainly the Dutch cattle farmers (the so-called veeboere). Often also included under Eastern Frontier Afrikaans is so-called Trekboer Afrikaans (literally Trek Farmer Afrikaans). Eastern Frontier Afrikaans is the historical variety that would later spread into the north-eastern regions of Southern Africa to where gold and diamonds were discovered, and so became over time the dominant geographical and socio-political variety of Afrikaans.


  • It is argued by Du Plessis (2018) that the term Frontier Afrikaans should be used as a superordinate term for all the varieties spoken on the inland frontier, with the two main subvarieties being Khoe Afrikaans, and Veeboer Afrikaans. The main distinction between Frontier Afrikaans and Cape Afrikaans is the influence of the languages of slaves on the latter.
  • Also consider the concise overview of Conradie and Groenewald (2014), or the comprehensive history of Carstens and Raidt (2017; 2019). For a comprehensive history written in English, consider Ponelis (1993).

[+]User varieties of Afrikaans

From a synchronic perspective, Afrikaans has many geographical and social varieties, all of which are by and large mutually intelligible. These user varieties (i.e. associated with groups of users) include, among others:

Names of varieties are presented in Afrikaans, since these names are often untranslatable (e.g. Tronsvôls the variety of Afrikaans spoken in the northern parts of the country, specifically in what was formerly known as the Transvaal Province, and which is stereotypically characterised by the rounding of lang /a/.

  • Afrikaans as a second language
  • Afrikaans as a third and foreign language
  • North-Eastern Afrikaans (NEAfr.):
    • Bosveldafrikaans
    • Johannesburgafrikaans (eastern suburbs)
    • Johannesburgafrikaans (western suburbs)
    • KwaZulu-Natalse Afrikaans
    • Laeveldafrikaans
    • Tronsvôls (eastern suburbs of Pretoria)
    • Vrystaatafrikaans
  • North-Western Afrikaans (NWAfr.):
    • Boesmanlands
    • Griekwa-Afrikaans (GRAfr.)
    • Kharkamsafrikaans
    • Namakwalands
    • Namibiese Afrikaans
    • Oorlams
    • Rehobothafrikaans
    • Richterveldafrikaans
    • Riemvasmaakafrikaans
  • South-Western Afrikaans (SWAfr.):
    • Boelands/Bolands
    • Boereworsgordynafrikaans (suburbans of Cape Town)
    • Kaaps
    • Kaapse Moslem-/Moesliemafrikaans
    • Klein-Karooafrikaans
    • Krooafrikaans
    • Oos-Kaapafrikaans
    • Overbergafrikaans
    • Sandveldafrikaans (between Hopefield and Lutzville) (also sometimes called Weskusafrikaans)
    • Strandveldafrikaans (between Napier and Cape Agulhas)
    • Swartlands
    • Weskusafrikaans (also sometimes called Sandveldafrikaans)


  • For more details, consider the overview of Conradie (2013).

[+]Usage varieties of Afrikaans

Next to user varieties, we could also identify numerous usage varieties (a.k.a. utility varieties), for instance:

  • Kanselafrikaans (literally: Pulpit Afrikaans; referring to a very formal variety associated with religious contexts)
  • Koerantafrikaans (literally: Newspaper Afrikaans; the Afrikaans of written journalism)
  • Radioafrikaans (traditionally associated with the national Afrikaans radio service)
  • Regsafrikaans (literally: Legal Afrikaans, used in laws, contracts, and courts)
  • Standaardafrikaans (SAfr.; the standardised variety of Afrikaans, of which the orthography has been described since 1917 in different editions of the "Afrikaanse woordelys en spelreëls" ( Afrikaans Word List and Spelling Rules))
  • Sypaadjieafrikaans (literally: Pavement Afrikaans; referring to informal Afrikaans used for chatting)
  • Zefrikaans (referring to a variety often used in literature, music, blogs, etc., and which mimics the language of users in certain suburbs of Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town)

[+]Online resources for linguists

The following list of resources and information sources might serve as a point of departure for linguists interested in doing research on the grammar of Afrikaans.

  • Carstens, W.A.M. & Raidt, E.H2017Die storie van Afrikaans uit Europa en van Afrika. Deel 1: Die Europese geskiedenis van Afrikaans.Protea Boekhuis
  • Carstens, W.A.M. & Raidt, E.H2017Die storie van Afrikaans uit Europa en van Afrika. Deel 1: Die Europese geskiedenis van Afrikaans.Protea Boekhuis
  • Carstens, W.A.M. & Reidt, E.H2019Die storie van Afrikaans: uit Europa en van Afrika (deel 2).Protea
  • Coetzee, A.E1987Morfologiese aspekte van stratumkenmerke in die Afrikaanse leksikon.South African Journal of Linguistics = Suid-Afrikaanse Tydskrif vir Taalkunde51-23,
  • Combrink, J.G.H1990Afrikaanse morfologie: capita exemplaria.Academica
  • Conradie, C.J. & Coetzee, A.E2013Afrikaans (On language variation).(In Hinskens, F., Taeldeman, J., eds. Language and space: an international handbook of linguistic variation. Volume 3. Dutch. [Handbücher zur Sprach- und Kommunikationswissenschaft / Handbooks of Linguistics and Communication Science (HSK) 30/3]. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. p. 897-917).
  • Conradie, J. & Groenewald, G2014Die ontstaan en vestiging van Afrikaans.Bundels
  • Du Plessis, H2018Herkomsseminaar: Afrikaans sonder grense.
  • Kotzé, E2018The classification of Afrikaans.
  • Ponelis, F1993The development of Afrikaans.ReeksP. Lang
printreport errorcite