It’s Afrikaans – Not South African

A close friend of mine has a poster depicting different sayings around the world. One of the “languages” that is listed on this poster is South African.

For those who know nothing about South Africa (besides what occurred during the World Cup in 2010), I would like to provide a cultural lesson.

First, South Africa is not a language. It is a country. True, it can also be considered a culture, as every location has their own cultural differences. This is where the language part comes up though – through dialects people speak differently.

With 11 official languages (and many more dialects), it is hard to pick just one language or way of speaking that is South African. It all depends on your location and own cultural background. For example, if you live on the eastern coast, you will know some words of IsiZulu, as it is one of the most dominant languages there and has existed for hundreds of years. However, you will find it hard to converse on the western coast of the country without knowing one of their regional languages.

Typically, when you see posters that say “South African” – they are showing Afrikaans. This was, traditionally, the white person language – which is most similar to 16th century Dutch. (It also is similar enough to where some ladies I met in South Africa, who are from Holland, were able to speak Afrikaans and understand most things.)

While the chart below once again depicts South Africa as a language, the words and phrases they are showing are common ways that white people in Southern Africa (note the difference) speak. Good friends of mine who are white and from Zimbabwe and Swaziland spoke more like this than those of similar skin tone from Cape Town, South Africa. A few of the words also depicted are from traditional tribal languages.

When you are looking at foreign languages, it is important to understand that things are not always as they seem. Main point of this post is that there is no language called South African. Remember that – please and thank you.

Chart found at: