Afrikaans faces a dilemma. How can it remain relevant to a younger generation while maintaining linguistic standards?
Writers of Afrikaans teen fiction are using slang and English words in order to appeal to the youth. Purists obviously see this as a debasement of the language. It’s known as taalvermenging , a contentious issue that regularly pops up on the letters page of newspapers. Back in 2002, a 17-year-old Jackie Nagtegaal published Daar’s vis in die punch and sparked a debate that divided literature professors. André Brink called it a rejuvenation of the language while Dan Roodt said that Afrikaans had hit an all-time low.
Part of the problem is that Afrikaans caries a historical burden. Because it is spoken by a community that supported a racist system, the language is tinged with verkramptheid. To many, Afrikaans is still associated with conservative white people even though that connotation is statistically inaccurate* . When an actor speaks an old-fashioned English dialect, he sounds sophisticated, even romantic. If he speaks formal Afrikaans , he’ll seem conservative and unfashionable.
So is it possible to side step these negative connotations? I think so.
It should be possible to get a young audience to warm to formal Afrikaans if it’s a dialect so antique that it isn’t associated with their parents and grandparents’ generation. An interesting example of this trick is seen in HBO’s True Blood.
Bill Compton is the romantic lead in the show. He’s also a vampire that once lived as a human in mid-19th-century Louisiana and fought for the South in the Civil War. That means he’s a confederate soldier with an accent that makes you think of a front-porch-sittin’ slave owner. But all of the potentially hazardous connotations are somehow sidestepped because he’s a vampire, and chivalrous, and 160 years old.
So Radio Sonder Grense should consider creating a radio drama with a teen novel tie-in about dashing vampires and beasts set in a contemporary South African town. It shouldn’t be a Twilight knock-off, but it will need a good dose of young love and drama.
Om elfuur was jou liggaam
die honger en dors in my,
as jou skewe papier-kalot
ver deur die danssaal gly.
Om twaalfuur was jy ‘n ligte brug,
‘n hoë, gevaarlike gang
bo my klein verwildering
tussen pyn en sterwe gehang.
- N.P. van Wyk Louw 1937
* A 2002 survey revealed that of the six million South Africans who claim Afrikaans as their first language, only 42% are white (Giliomee, 2004: 623).