A perceptual account of Afrikaans in Namibia: Between lingua franca and socially exclusive language

Gerald Stell, Gerald Groenewald

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Afrikaans was first introduced in Namibia's current territory by migrant Oorlam and Baster groups who imposed it in its Cape Dutch form as a prestige language and inter-ethnic medium of communication. The status of Afrikaans in Namibia was consolidated during the South African regime which systematically promoted it while preventing indigenous languages from spreading out of their intra-ethnic contexts of use. A linguistic consequence of independence, which Namibia gained in 1990, was that English suddenly became the country's only official language, as well as the dominant language in education. Despite the hegemonic status that English acquired in Namibia, Afrikaans is today still popularly represented as the main lingua franca in Namibia, or at least as an important one. However, the position of Afrikaans in urban areas could nowadays be under threat from the sustained influx of migrants from Namibia's northern districts, including those that constitute the traditional homeland of the Ovambo, the country's numerically dominant group, where English is better known than Afrikaans. An indication of the pressure that Afrikaans might be subject to in Windhoek, Namibia's capital city, is the demographic preponderance that the Ovambo group has locally acquired within the last three decades. Based on a qualitative survey conducted among an ethnoracially representative sample of young Namibians, this article provides a description of the status and use of Afrikaans in contemporary Windhoek, as well as a reflection on its potential for locally maintaining itself as a lingua franca. It generally shows that Afrikaans has to compete with English in that function, while indigenous languages are still largely restricted to intra-ethnic contexts of use. Afrikaans is clearly perceived as the lingua franca with more "covert prestige" in that it is associated with informality and a sense of local identity. By contrast, English is generally associated with overt prestige and formal functions, and it is characteristically used as a lingua franca within groups that do not understand Afrikaans, such as among particular Ovambo migrants. It is not enough, however, to give an account of Windhoek's sociolinguistic profile in which English and Afrikaans are presented as the two main lingua francas without specifying which form of Afrikaans is used in which contexts as a lingua franca. Standard varieties of Afrikaans do not seem to possess enough neutrality to function as a medium of inter-ethnic interaction as they are perceptually amalgamated with "White Afrikaans", that is, the linguistic marker of an ethnoracial group, namely, the Afrikaners, that is still largely seen as self-insulating in the context of Windhoek. Those varieties of Afrikaans perceived as more neutral for the purpose of inter-ethnic communication are Coloured varieties of Afrikaans, with which various Non-Coloured ethnic groups seem to identify. However, there are indications that English rather than those varieties tends to be used by Non-Whites in communication with Whites, even when Afrikaans is notionally shared as a native language. Where Standard Afrikaans is used in inter-ethnic communication, it is mostly unilaterally by Afrikaners, as it is apparently not widely used in informal contexts outside of that group. Also relevant to a description of the uses of Afrikaans as a lingua franca in the context of Windhoek is the practice among Non-Whites of combining it with English in the form of Afrikaans-English mixed codes. As regards the long-term prospects of Afrikaans in Windhoek, the data suggest that Afrikaans in its local Coloured varieties has potential for spreading as an attribute of a local urban identity among migrant groups, as it already has done among Ovambo born in the city or in the southern districts in general, to the point that language shift might be taking place among them from Oshiwambo to combinations of Afrikaans and English.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1128-1148
Number of pages21
JournalTydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
Volume56
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Afrikaans
  • English
  • Ethnicity
  • Namibia
  • Sociolinguistics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)
  • Social Sciences(all)

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