A language on the back foot: The Afrikaans lexicographer’s dilemma

By November 17, 2016,
AuthorJana Luther
TitleA language on the back foot: The Afrikaans lexicographer’s dilemma
AbstractAfrikaans originated in the variants of Dutch that developed at the southern tip of Africa during the 17th and 18th centuries. In the 19th century, when English began to overtake Dutch as the high-function language in the Cape, proponents of Dutch and Afrikaans put up a resistance, and during the 20th century the functions of Afrikaans expanded until it could take its place alongside Dutch and later stand with equal status next to English. As an official language Afrikaans reached back to Dutch a second time to develop into a full-fledged language. But its heyday could not last indefinitely. In recent decades the milieu of Afrikaans speakers has changed radically. Political upheaval, technological advances, new areas of specialisation, the lightning pace of new developments have thrust Afrikaansers into the thick of the world-wide explosion of knowledge which demands efficient communication. A third reversion to Dutch is out of the question. The path between Afrikaans and Dutch has become overgrown; few present-day users of Afrikaans still walk along it. Likewise, to the average Dutch man and woman, Afrikaans today is a distant language. In the multilingual South Africa, where English dominates, the effect of the contact with English on Afrikaans is undeniable. A serious threat to Afrikaans is its loss of status in the judiciary, the administration, education and as a scientific language. Against this backdrop the Handwoordeboek van die Afrikaanse Taal (HAT) – a household name among Afrikaans speakers, comparable to the Dutch “Dikke van Dale” – is subjected to scrutiny: After its “golden age”, how well has the HAT kept pace with Standard Afrikaans in transition? Can it keep in step with the unstoppable, irreversible changes of the time and in the language today? Or will Afrikaans’s flagship dictionary, in a decade or so, lose its relevance for the Afrikaans user?
SessionReports on Lexicographical and Lexicological Projects
author = {Jana Luther},
title = {A language on the back foot: The Afrikaans lexicographer’s dilemma},
pages = {671-685},
booktitle = {Proceedings of the 14th EURALEX International Congress},
year = {2010},
month = {jul},
date = {6-10},
address = {Leeuwarden/Ljouwert, The Netherlands},
editor = {Anne Dykstra and Tanneke Schoonheim},
publisher = {Fryske Akademy},
isbn = {978-90-6273-850-3},