From there to where? An overview of the restandardisation debate of Afrikaans

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Standard Afrikaans has enjoyed high language form status since 1925, while other varieties, which are mainly associated with coloured Afrikaans speakers, have low language form status. This is a consequence of the influence of Afrikaner nationalism on the standardisation of Afrikaans, during which Afrikaans was standardised based on a variety that was used mainly by white Afrikaans speakers. Since the late 1980s Standard Afrikaans has been in the spotlight due to questions about the validity of the standard variety (Odendaal 2014:658). The investigations into the validity of Standard Afrikaans as representative of the entire Afrikaans-speaking community came mainly from the educational sphere (Nöthling 1996:1). In a study by the School of Education at the University of Cape Town on the image of language reality in textbooks for Afrikaans Home Language (then Afrikaans First Language), role players in the education sector described the school textbooks as exclusive, Afrikaner-centred and alienating (Botha 1990:5). Similar sentiments emerged in Van de Rheede’s (1992:277–9) investigation in which he reports on how educators and learners experience school textbooks such as Ons moedertaal and Afrikaans my taal as alienating, and especially highlighted idiomatic expressions described as removed from their lived realities.

Since the late 1980s there have been several discussions about the reorientation, or restandardisation, of Afrikaans. It would involve the establishment of a standard variety which, on the one hand, is detached from the Afrikaner nationalist ideology, and on the other hand reflects the totality of the Afrikaans-speaking community.

Despite the enthusiasm for such a standard variety, there was, and still is today, uncertainty about how to restandardise Afrikaans. This lack of clarity is a consequence of the divergent treatment of the concept of restandardisation. Additionally, it seems that the frequency of discourse within the restandardisation debate is indicative of the dominant socio-political discourse within a particular time and the needs of the education system within that zeitgeist. Thus, to shed light on the lack of clarity on the concept of restandardisation, the proposals made by Van den Heever (1987), Van Rensburg (1991, 1992), De Wet (1997), Willemse (2009), Hendricks (2011, 2016, 2017) and Odendaal (2012) are discussed against the socio-political backdrop of the time. This discussion is followed up with an exploration of more recent views on restandardisation by Le Cordeur (2020), McLachlan (2020), Van Coller and Steyn (2020), and Van Huyssteen (2020). Based on the discussion of the various proposals for restandardisation, Odendaal (2012) provides the most appropriate description and exposition of the restandardisation of Afrikaans. Odendaal (2012:125–6) describes it as a project that stems from social redress to democratise Afrikaans. Such a project involves broadening the current standard, recognising, legitimising, and promoting other varieties of Afrikaans to ultimately make the speech community a home where all speakers are empowered (Odendaal 2014:667).

To better understand the need for a restandardisation project, the concept of standard language ideology is examined. According to Moeliono (1968:55) and Deumert (2004:2), uniformity is one of the most important characteristics of standardisation. This means that all speakers must use and maintain language identically, for example identical pronunciation and use of grammar and vocabulary (Milroy 2006:133). Yet Milroy (2006:135) says that correctness in spelling is arbitrary and that the choice of one variant over another during standardisation is influenced mainly by external factors. The combination of the chosen variety and the external factors consequently forms the standard language ideology (Milroy 2006:133). Lippi-Green (1994:166) describes the standard language ideology as “a bias towards an abstracted idealized homogenous spoken language imposed from above and which takes as its model the written language”.

Fairclough (1989:3) describes the maintenance of a standard language ideology as institutionalised behaviour that originates with those in power and aims to divide those with and without power. This power imbalance creates problems for a heterogeneous speech community. This can lead to a standard language that does not represent the entire speech community and negatively affects speakers of other varieties’ language use, identity and social mobility. Monteiro (2015) expands on these negative effects and argues that language not only extends beyond the individual and his or her era, but that it also acts as a defining characteristic. He believes we are born and raised “in a language” instead of “with a language”. He describes growing up “in the language” as growing up in the ideological, historical and identity constructions embedded in the language. As language extends beyond eras and functions as a defining characteristic, it leads to ideological beliefs persisting for many years after the standardisation process and thus for many years after the standardisation process continues to define speakers’ identities. One way in which standard language ideology is maintained and promoted is through the education system.

From this follows a discussion of Bourdieu’s (1977:650) concept of a legitimate language and how the school system functions as a space that maintains the standard language ideology and thus presents the standard language as the only legitimate language. Language textbooks are one example of teaching material that promotes language ideology and linguistic hegemony (Apple and Christian-Smith 1991:11). Language in the classroom and in language textbooks not only includes the only “correct” form of language use, but also serves as a socio-political mirror image of the society. Based on Monteiro’s (2015) point of departure of language that transcends eras and functions as a defining characteristic, we then explore how Afrikaans school textbooks historically cultivated negative stereotypes and stigmas around Cape Afrikaans and how those stigmas became established and still affect speakers of Cape Afrikaans in the Afrikaans classroom.

Within the South African context, teaching materials such as Die opkoms van Afrikaans as kultuurtaal (1958) en Dit was ons erns (1962) by the Nienaber brothers were historically used to establish Afrikaans as the language of the Afrikaners. Furthermore, school textbooks such as Afrikaans my taal (1981) have historically also presented the use of the standard variety as civilised language use as found among developed people. According to Van Dulm and Southwood’s (2009) study on the use of language tests to diagnose language and speech problems in children, they indicate how Afrikaans language tests can incorrectly diagnose Cape Afrikaans-speaking learners as underdeveloped, because the language tests were set in the standard variety. According to perception studies undertaken by Cooper (2018) and by me (Basson 2018) Cape Afrikaans-speaking learners are still battling these stereotypes and stigmas in the post-apartheid Afrikaans classroom. According to the studies, these learners viewed Standard Afrikaans as the “correct way to speak” and Cape Afrikaans as “incorrect and ugly” (Basson 2018:144; Cooper 2018:36). Similarly, in the Afrikaaps (2010) documentary Cape Afrikaans speakers pointed out the linguistic hierarchy which places Standard Afrikaans at the top and how the stigmas attached to Cape Afrikaans negatively affects their social mobility.

In conclusion, in order to counteract these stigmas and legitimise Cape Afrikaans so that it can be used as a feeding source to broaden the current standard variety, I propose that Cape Afrikaans be included in school textbooks. Including Cape Afrikaans in Afrikaans school textbooks creates the opportunity to present Afrikaans as the sum of its varieties and to establish the varieties as legitimate language systems.

Keywords: Afrikaans classroom; Cape Afrikaans (Kaapse Afrikaans); legitimate language; restandardisation; school textbooks, Standaardafrikaans; Standard Afrikaans; standardisation; standard language; standard language ideology


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Van daar na waar? ’n Oorsigtelike blik op die herstandaardiseringsdebat van Afrikaans

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