Discovering the Richness of Afrikaans in Different Countries and Cultures

afrikaans language history

South Africa is known for its multicultural and multilingual populations, making it the ninth most diverse country in the world. Its official languages which include 8 indigenous languages are of great significance and reflect the heritage and traditions of different African communities. Among these important languages comes Afrikaans. Afrikaans is spoken as a first language by more than 6.9 million people and as a second language by about 10.3 million people in South Africa. 

Afrikaans comes from the 17th-century Dutch which was spoken by European colonists and their slaves. It was derived from the Dutch vernacular of South Holland and most of its vocabulary is of Dutch origin, in addition to some vocabulary borrowed from other languages such as German and the Khoisan languages. Although Afrikaans has the highest majority in South Africa, it is also spoken in many other countries and communities such as Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Swaziland and Zambia.  Afrikaans was highly impacted by varied cultures and languages to be a separate language that has quite different characteristics from standard Dutch.

After going through the importance of translating Afrikaans for your business growth and providing you with expert tips on how to select a dependable Afrikaans translation agency, we will give you valuable insights into the history of Afrikaans and its use in different countries and cultures. Let’s get started!

The History of Afrikaans

Afrikaans, also known as cape Dutch, is a West-Germanic language of South Africa that belongs to the Dutch language that was spoken in the 17th century by the Dutch, French, and German settlers and the African people who worked as slaves for them. It comes from the Dutch vernacular of South Holland. The European settlers created this vernacular as a simplified form of Dutch to communicate easily with their African slaves in Southwestern Africa. Over the centuries, Afrikaans was impacted by various languages including Malay, Portuguese, and indigenous African languages. It was referred to as one of the Dutch dialects until the early 20th century. However, it became a distinct language that had its own characteristics in 1925. 

As affected by many European immigrants and influenced by the indigenous African languages, there are immense dialects for Afrikaans. The following are three of the most popular dialects of Afrikaans:

  • Cape Afrikaans: This dialect evolved from the Malay language that was spoken by the slaves who were brought to work on sugar plantations and who spoke a Portuguese-based pidgin.
  • East Cape Afrikaans: The strong connections between the Dutch and English settlers and other African communities have created this unique dialect of the Afrikaans language.
  • Orange River Afrikaans: The name refers to the “Orange River” which is a river in Southern Africa. This dialect originated from the Khoi languages and was spoken by the Khoi community and their descendants. 

Afrikaans culture has been largely affected by both the indigenous African cultures and those of the European immigrants. You can see the aspects of the Afrikaans culture in their dance, music, and festivals. 

Afrikaans started to be used in schools in 1913 and the first Afrikaans translation of the Bible was in 1933. Furthermore, Afrikaans literature first appeared in the 20th century. The language has a rich literary tradition, with notable authors such as C.J. Langenhoven, Breyten Breytenbach, and Antjie Krog. The Afrikaans literature has contributed remarkably to the revival of the language, making it one of the most significant languages in South Africa with a strong cultural heritage and history. 

The Use of Afrikaans in Several Cultures and Countries

Afrikaans has the highest prevalence in South Africa with more than 13.5% of the total population as stated by South Africa Gateway. It has manifold dialects as a result of its contact with manifold cultures and communities. Yet, Afrikaans is also spoken in other countries that differ in their usage of the language. Let’s delve into the use of Afrikaans in some countries:

South Africa

Afrikaans is the language of Afrikaners in South Africa. It was recognized as a distinct language by the South African government in 1935. Since then, Afrikaans is not just a vernacular, but a language that has its own grammar and pronunciation rules. It became one of the official languages of South Africa in 1961 according to the South African constitution. Afrikaans is the main language in the Western half of South Africa, especially in the provinces of the Northern Cape and Western Cape. 75.8% of coloured South Africans speak Afrikaans. It is also spoken by 2.7 million whites and 600,000 black people. Afrikaans is used heavily in politics as today 19 of the 20 Cabinet members are native Afrikaans speakers. It is also the language of labour bureau, police, and prisons. 


Afrikaans speakers in Zimbabwe form a small minority of the total population. However, there are many recent Afrikaner immigrants from South Africa and their descendants. In the early 1890s, many Afrikaners were brought to the country by the pioneer Cecil Rhodes to work in farming and help the country with their agricultural expertise. They settled in rural cities like Umtali, Salisbury, and Melsetter. Nowadays, Afrikaans does not have much importance in the Zimbabwean communities and the small minority that speaks Afrikaans tend to speak English to be able to communicate with other Zimbabwean populations. 


Afrikaans is a widely spoken language in Namibia as well and the number of its speakers exceeds 3.05 % of the Namibian population. It was recognized as a national language since independence in 1990. The language has been influenced by German, as Namibia was a German colony until the end of World War I. Afrikaans is used in education, media, and government in Namibia, and it plays a vital role in preserving the cultural identity of the Afrikaans-speaking community.


As a result of the political changes in South Africa and that many Afrikaners got depressed by the climate of instability, many Afrikaans-speaking populations have immigrated to European countries such as Britain, Australia, and Canada. The Afrikaans-speaking families experienced extensive linguistic and cultural changes but managed to preserve their language and cultural traditions, forming organizations and institutions to promote the Afrikaans language and heritage. Afrikaans is not widely spoken in Australia, but it holds a special place among the South African diaspora. 

The Netherlands and Belgium

Afrikaans has also made its mark in the Netherlands and Belgium, the countries from which the Dutch settlers originated. While Dutch is the official language in the Netherlands and Belgium, there is an interest in Afrikaans due to its historical connection to Dutch and its unique linguistic characteristics. Afrikaans is taught in some universities, and there are cultural exchange programs that promote awareness and understanding of Afrikaans.

Piling up

Despite being born out of the Dutch colonial era, Afrikaans has spread in many countries where it has been influenced by different traditions and cultures. Its rich history and unique linguistic characteristics make it a fascinating language worth exploring and celebrating. Afrolingo offers first-rate Afrikaans translation services that are tailor-made to meet your business goals and help you bring your products or services to the Afrikaans-speaking communities. Whether you need translation, interpretation, localization, or transcription services, Afrolingo’s team of experienced translators will make sure that your message is accurately delivered. Do not hesitate anymore and talk to our experts now!