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Afrikaans, also known as the Cape Dutch, belongs to the west Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family. It is spoken by 6.9 million people as a first and by 10.3 million people as a second language in South Africa. Afrikaans is also spoken in Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Swaziland and Zambia. It is estimated that the total number of first language speakers of Afrikaans is 7.1 million but the numbers have been decreasing. 

The name Afrikaans means ‘African’ in Dutch. It was originally used by the Dutch settlers and indentured workers brought to the Cape area in southwestern South Africa by the Dutch East India Company between 1652 and 1705. Most of the settlers were from the Netherlands, but there were also settlers from Germany, France, Scotland, and other countries. The indentured workers and slaves were mostly Malays, and the indigenous workers were Khoi and San people of South Africa.

Afrikaans was considered a Dutch dialect until the early 20th century. In 1925, it was officially recognized to be a distinct language from Dutch. There is some disagreement about the origin of Afrikaans. Some linguists believe that it originally developed first as a pidgin, and then as a creole that provided a common means of communication between Dutch settlers and their African and South Asian workers. Other scholars think that Afrikaans retained too much of the basic structure and vocabulary of Dutch to be considered a creole.South Africa map

Colloquial, or spoken, Afrikaans is strongly influenced by English through a great deal of phonological, grammatical and lexical borrowing and code-switching. At the same time, due to strong anti-English sentiments, the influence of English on Standard Afrikaans has been relatively minimal. As a result, there may be an increasing gulf between colloquial and standard varieties of Afrikaans.

  • South Africa
    Afrikaans is one of eleven official languages of South Africa along with English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tswana, Tsonga, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu. The most common home language in South Africa is Zulu, followed by Xhosa, and Afrikaans. Before 1925, when Afrikaans was proclaimed to be a language separate from Dutch, the official languages of the Union of South Africa were English and Dutch. Dutch was replaced as an official language by Afrikaans.
  • Botswana
    Afrikaans is spoken by 20,000 people in Botswana where it has no official status (Ethnologue).
  • Namibia
    Afrikaans is spoken in Namibia by 90,000 people (Ethnologue). It has had constitutional recognition as a national language since independence in 1990. Prior to independence, Afrikaans, along with German, had equal status in Namibia as an official language.



Afrikaans has several mutually intelligible dialects which debveloped  due to contact with different immigrant groups and indigenous local languages.Three dialects are generally identified:

  • Cape Afrikaans was influenced by the language of Malay slaves who were brought in to work on sugar plantations and who spoke a Portuguese-based pidgin.
  • Orange River Afrikaans was influenced by the neighboring Khoi languages.
  • East Cape Afrikaans is thought to have developed as a result of contact between Dutch and English settlers and the Xhosa tribes of Southern and Eastern Cape areas.


Sound system

Afrikaans has a rich vowel system similar to that of Dutch. For instance, Afrikaans has both short and long vowels. Long vowels in the table below are indicated by a colon. Afrikaans also distinguishes between unrounded and rounded front and back vowels. Rounded vowels are pronounced with rounded and protruding lips. The vowel phonemes of Afrikaans are presented in the table below (from Wikipedia). In addition, Afrikaans has a number of diphthongs.

Front Central Back
ɛ, ɛ:
ɔ, ɔ:
  • /i/ = ee in beet
  • /ɛ/ = e in bet
  • /y/ has no equivalent in English
  • /ɶ/ has no equivalent in English
  • /ə/ = a in tuna
  • /u/ = oo in boot
  • /ɔ/ = o in dog
  • /ɐ/ occurs in some varieties of American English
  • /ɑ/ = o in hot


Below are the consonant phonemes of Afrikaans (from Wikipedia). Voiced paired consonants become voiceless at the end of words, e.g., baard ‘beard’ is pronounced as /baart/.

Stops voiceless
Fricatives voiceless
  • /ʃ/ = sh in shop
  • /X/ has no equivalent in English
  • / ɦ/ has no equivalent in English
  • /tʃ/ = ch in chop
  • / ŋ/ = ng in sing
  • /j/ = y in yet


Stress in Afrikaans words usually falls on the first syllable, but there are some exceptions.


Afrikaans grammar shares many common features with Dutch.

Articles, nouns, adjectives, pronouns

  • The definite article is die, e.g., die boek ‘the book’, and the indefinite article is ‘n, e.g., ‘n boek ‘a book’.
  • Nouns are marked for number, but not for gender or case. The most common suffix for marking plural is –e. For example, vriend ‘friend’ – vriende ‘friends’. Some plurals are formed by adding the suffix –s, e.g., motor ‘car’ – motors ‘cars’. There are also some irregular plural, e.g., kind ‘child’ – kinders ‘children’.
  • Adjectives as modifiers and adjectives as predicates may have different forms, e.g., my goeie motor ‘my good car’ and my motor is goed ‘my car is good’.
  • There is a distinction between subject and object personal pronouns, e.g., ek ‘I’ and my ‘me’, e.g., Ek gee ‘I give’ and Gee my ‘Give me’.



  • Regular verbs do not make a distinction between the present and infinitive form
  • Verbs are not marked for person in the present tense, e.g., ek is ‘I am’, ji is ‘you are’, hy is ‘he is’, etc.
  • The past tense is normally formed with the auxiliary verb het ‘have’ and the prefix ge-, e.g., Ek het geslaap ‘I slept/have slept’.
  • The future tense is formed with the auxiliary form sal, e.g., Ek sal slaap ‘ I will sleep’.


Word order

The normal word order in Afrikaans is Subject-Verb-Object.


The basic vocabulary of Afrikaans is Dutch in origin, but the language is heavily anglicized due to widespread Afrikaans-English bilingualism in South Africa. Spoken Afrikaans vocabulary also includes words from a variety of languages, such as ubuntu ‘humanity’, tsotsi ‘gangster’ (from Zulu and Xhosa), piesang ‘banana’ (from Malay); peri-peri ‘chili pepper’ (from Portuguese).

Below are some common Afrikaans words and phrases.

Hello Hallo
Goodbye Totsiens
Thank you Dankie
Please Asseblief
Excuse me Verskoon my
Man Man
Woman Vrou
Son Seun
Daughter Dogter
Good Goeie
Bad Sleg


Here are the numbers 1-10 in Afrikaans.



Afrikaans is written with a standard Latin alphabet consisting of 26 letters.

A a
B b
C c
D d
E e
F f
G g
H h
I i
J j
K k
L l
M m
N n
O o
P p
R r
S s
T t
U u
V v
W w
X x
Y y
Z z
  • c, q, x, and z are used almost excusively in foreign words.
  • Long vowels are represented by double letters, e.g., nee ‘no.’
  • The letter g represents a velar fricative [x] as in German pronunciation of Bach.
  • ‘n represents the indefinite article, equivalent to Dutch een.


Take a look at Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Afrikaans.


Artikel 1
Alle menslike wesens word vry, met gelyke waardigheid en regte, gebore. Hulle het rede en gewete en behoort in die gees van broederskap teenoor mekaar op te tree.



Article 1
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Text and Recordinging

Did you know?

English has borrowed a number of words from Afrikaans. Among them are the following:

literally, ‘earth-pig,’ from
Afrikaans aard ‘earth’ + vark ‘pig.’
literally, ‘separateness,’ from
Afrikaans apart ‘separate’ +
suffix –heid, ‘ -hood.’
from Afrikaans, kommandeeren ‘to
from Afrikaans, ‘a troop under a commander,’ during
the Boer wars
from Afrikaans trek,
from Dutch trekken ‘to
march, journey’
veld (veldt)
South African grassland, from Afrikaans veld,
from Dutch veld ‘field;’ related
to English field
from Afrikaans wildebees,
literally, ‘wild beast,’ plural wildebeest, from Dutch wild ‘wild’ + bees ‘beast, ox’


How difficult is it to learn Afrikaans?
Afrikaans is considered to be a Category I language in terms of difficulty for speakers of English.

Basic resources

Wikipedia article on Afrikaans language 
Afrikaans (Ethnologue)
OLAC Resources in and about the Afrikaans language


29 Responses to Afrikaans

  1. freek

    It’s “china” not “chana”. From Cockney slang. I have never heard an Afrikaans speaking person use it except in a certain sitcom from the 80s.

  2. Erik van Halewijn

    Hi there, I am doing a research on to what extend Afrikaans (or Dutch) influenced South African English, and found this information more than useful. Could you possibly cite the sources? So that I can have a further look into them. Thank you for making this information available.

    With kindly regards, Erik van Halewijn

    • Irene Thompson

      Language in South Africa (2002)edited by Rajend Mesthrie is a good initial source but there are many others.

  3. Erik van Halewijn

    Hi there, I am doing a research on to what extend Afrikaans (or Dutch) influenced South African English, and found this information more than useful. Could you possibly cite the sources? So that I can have a further look into them. Thank you for making this information available.

    With kind regards, Erik van Halewijn

  4. John L

    It may be useful to note that long vowels have generally become diphthongs in Afrikaans. Long-a and long-u are still pure vowels, but “weet” for example, is broadly pronounced /veət/ (compared to the Dutch /ʋe:t/) and “oog” is pronounced /oəχ~ʊəχ/ (cf. Dutch /o:x/).

  5. Bruce McCormack

    I was interested to find out how many words there are in the Afrikaans language.
    Anyone got an idea?

    • Irene Thompson

      The easy answer is to count all entries in a standard dictionary. But dictionaries do not necessarily include all words that are used. So the count will be approximate.

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  9. Chell

    Hi. I would suggest using “Good – Goeie, Bad – Slegte” or “Good – Goed, Bad – Sleg”.

    • Irene Thompson

      Thank you for the comment.

      • Yes

        Yes it is still pronounceed afrikaans in afrikaans.

  10. Megan

    Just wondering is Afrikaans in Afrikaans still said Afrikaans? If that makes any sense…

    • Irene Thompson

      Sorry, I don’t understand your question. Can you rephrase?

      • Megan

        I was wondering how to pronounce Afrikaans in the language Afrikaans… Like a translation from english to Afrikanns

        • Irene Thompson

          I suggest you search YouTube to get an answer.

  11. Megan

    Also how many people to this day speak this language?

  12. Bazil Drift

    so afrikaans is not realy a language that came with the white peole

    • Irene Thompson

      It is a form of Dutch, a language of the Netherlands.

      • Sheridan

        I kind of want to learn Afrikaans(and maybe Dutch) but I can’t do the hard g. Is it different in Afrikaans?

        • Irene Thompson

          Learning any foreign language includes learning to pronounce sounds that you “can’t do”. Learning how to pronounce a certain sound should not be a deterrent to learning it.

  13. Webster coetzee

    Does afrikaans belong to all types of races in south africans

    • Irene Thompson

      Did you mean to ask if Afrikaans is spoken by people of different races in South Africa. According to Wikipedia and other sources:

      “With about 7 million native speakers in South Africa, or 13.5% of the population, it is the third-most-spoken language in the country with the widest geographical and racial distribution of all the eleven official languages of South Africa. It is widely spoken and understood as a second or third language. It is the majority language of the western half of South Africa—the provinces of the Northern Cape and Western Cape. Large numbers of speakers of Bantu languages and English-speaking South Africans also speak it as their second language.

  14. Glen McFarlane

    Haven’t the Scots got a large influence through missionary work which included teaching. The Afrikaans NG kerk surely must be influenced by the Presbyterian Missionaries.

    • Irene Thompson

      It is much more logical that the Afrikaans kerk comes from Dutch kerk. See below from the etymological dictionary online. The answer is simply that both Afrikaans kerk and Scots got the word from the same source, rather than borrowed it from each other.

      Old English cirice, circe “church, public place of worship; Christians collectively,” from Proto-Germanic *kirika (source also of Old Saxon kirika, Old Norse kirkja, Old Frisian zerke, Middle Dutch kerke, Dutch kerk, Old High German kirihha, German Kirche), probably [see note in OED] from Greek kyriake (oikia), kyriakon doma “Lord’s (house),” from kyrios “ruler, lord,” from PIE root *keue- “to swell” (“swollen,” hence “strong, powerful”);


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