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The Afrikaans language monuments August 29, 2010

Posted by Jenny in Boer War, history, travel.
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I think I like this monument better than the one shown at the very bottom of this post

This is another post related to my upcoming trip to South Africa. I will depart September 19.

Two monuments have been erected to the Afrikaans language. This seems striking to me. Is there anywhere in the world a monument to the English language in and of itself, despite the exponentially larger number of English speakers than Afrikaans speakers?

The existence of these monuments has of course a historic and symbolic significance. Afrikaans was long considered an illegitimate child of Dutch, spoken only by people considered to be ignorant, somewhere off in the veld of southern Africa. The monument pictured above was created in 1893, or six years before the start of the Boer War, in the town of Burgersdorp. The interesting thing about Burgersdorp is that it is a town in the former Cape Colony (already part of the British Empire as Britain went to war with the Boers),  but very close to the border with the Orange Free State, and inhabited largely by people of Dutch descent. Although subjects of the Empire, their sympathies lay largely with their near neighbors who were of similar descent but citizens of an independent republic (until the British took it over) rather than subjects of Queen Victoria. As a result, residents of Burgersdorp were particularly tempted to become “Cape rebels,” risking imprisonment or execution if they provided assistance to the Boers.

This monument, as it has existed since 1939, presents a very unusual dual vision. It consists of a statue of a woman pointing her finger at a book that she holds. The statue was beheaded sometime during the Boer War, and the British, as the victors, simply had the remains of it removed and stored away. As relations between Britain and South Africa gradually softened after the war, the statue was replaced by a replica that depicted a similar woman pointing at a book, with her head still on. In 1939, the beheaded original was discovered, and it was placed beside the replica.

The two versions beside each other

There are a lot of subtexts in this side-by-side placement. To me, the major message is: They tried to destroy us, but they did not succeed.

In 1975, another, very different, monument was erected to the Afrikaans language, in Paarl, not far from Cape Town. It commemorates the 50th anniversary of the occasion when Afrikaans, as opposed to Dutch, was declared an official language of South Africa. It was also erected on the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Genootskap van Regte Afrikaners (Society of Real Afrikaners), an organization celebrating the distinct identity of the Afrikaners.

On my upcoming trip to South Africa, I will be spending most of my time with people for whom Afrikaans is their first language—though most if not all of these people will also be fluent in English. In the interest of making a friendly gesture, I downloaded a language course for Afrikaans so that I might be able to say a few simple things like “Good morning,” “Please,” and “Thank you.” And, of course, the very useful “Excuse me” and “I’m sorry.”

But I am having a terrible problem. There is a particular sound in Afrikaans that I cannot for the life of me get right. It is the “G” sound, which is pronounced with a kind of extra mini-explosion of air—but this is not (as I read somewhere) that “weird Arab thing that you do in your throat.”  It is the sound that you hear at the end of the Scottish word “loch.” For some reason, I can make a halfway plausible approximation of the sound if it comes at the end of the word (as in “loch”), but not if it comes at the beginning.

But the very phrases I want to use the most, such as “Goeiemore” (Good morning) and “Goeienag” (Good night), start right off the bat with that terrible unpronounceable sound, throwing me into a kind of linguistic paralysis. I am picturing the following: I go into the breakfast room, see a friendly Afrikaans-speaking individual, and try to say “Goeiemore” but instead come out with some horrible, gargling version of that incorrect “weird Arab thing that you do in your throat.”

I will just have to keep practicing, I can see.

Here is a picture of that second Afrikaans language monument. I do like the inscription, “DIT ONS ERNS,” which is said to mean “We are earnest about this” or “This is our earnestness,” but I don’t like the monument itself.

I just can't warm up to this one