Raise the Afrikaans language to a written language, let it become the vehicle of our culture, our history, our national ideals, and you will also raise the people who speak it … The Afrikaans Language Movement is nothing less than an awakening of our nation to self-awareness and to the vocation of adopting a more worthy position in world civilization. Dr D.F. Malan (Giliomee, 1989:43)
My grandfather was a dignified man. An educated man. A teacher and eventually a school principal. He was a lover of the Afrikaans language and of Afrikaans (and Afrikaner) culture. He spoke what would probably be considered today as proper or standard Afrikaans and would definitely have abhorred the AfriKaaps movement simply because that is not the way the language is supposed to be spoken. He would have considered this “liberation” of Afrikaans a bastardisation of what is pure and proper and “the right way”. Much of the way I think today I attribute to him and to his educated, decorous peers with whom I interacted on several occasions as a child. And, reflecting on this now, perhaps my decision to write my thesis in Afrikaans was, to some extent, out of loyalty to my grandfather, whom I adored.
Afrikaans is my mother tongue and academic language. It is the language of my family and the language in which I live. I was proud that I could continue and contribute academically to this linguistic legacy of my forefathers: not the white Afrikaners who fought against imperialism in the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), but the supposed “lammervangers” and “children of the ‘dop’-system” (Croucamp, 2016). Those people who worked on the farms and in the kitchens of their masters speaking this kombuistaal (kitchen language), “the local variant of the Dutch … trade language” (Coplan, 2008:16). It is their legacy that I refer to here.
I completed my Honours degree in Music Education in 2010 with a dissertation written in Afrikaans. With this and the above mentioned background in mind, it was a natural progression and a logical assumption that I would pursue any future academic ventures in Afrikaans. Which I did. I started my Master’s degree studies in 2014 under the supervision of two Afrikaans supervisors and I felt confident with them at the helm. The reasons for my decision to write my thesis in Afrikaans, while the majority of Afrikaans academics seemed to prefer English in which to write their own theses, had nothing to do with any particular loyalty to the language or with “making a statement”. It was never a matter of taking a stand for the language and, consequently, against any other. It was simply the natural choice.
A subsequent reason that solidified my resolve to write in Afrikaans was my subject matter. I had chosen to write about a topic that involved the history of the Afrikaans Coloured community and I sought to honour and thereby include Sacks Williams, Dan Apolles and Dan Ulster by writing in their mother tongue. Some of my peers expressed doubts about the soundness of this decision and questioned the user-friendliness of the final product. I must admit that the latter concern briefly caused me to reconsider my stance, but I was already committed to this course. As Le Page (1985, cited in Milroy and Muysken, 1995:7) states: “each utterance a speaker makes and the language choice which it embodies [is] an ‘act of identity’ associated with the different sources of influence … in his or her multilingual and multicultural community”. As much as we would like to contest this, Afrikaans has an association with Coloured people. It is part of our identity. My language choice thus unintentionally became an act of reinforcing this identity and it is this identity that was perpetuated through the use of this language. Martinician writer Edouard Glissant (2007:35) posits: “Maybe we should be suspicious of the idea of identity, but even more of keeping silent about it.”
However, opting to write my thesis in Afrikaans meant that I had also inadvertently joined the cause to advocate for and maintain Afrikaans as main language of instruction at Stellenbosch University (SU). This also denoted that I was now obligated to continue to support this cause that, I am reluctant to admit, I was in fact incognizant of. I had become caught in the middle of two opposing sides: those who unwaveringly supported the language and its continuance as the language of instruction at SU and those who still associate Afrikaans with apartheid and wanted its role reduced. I have never thought of Afrikaans as “the language of the oppressor”, as one of my English colleagues often (erroneously) points out, but this is where we find ourselves now.
At the 2015 SASRIMSouth African Society of Research in Music. conference held at the University of Cape Town (UCT), I presented a paper on Sacks Williams which was the first academic paper I had written in English. The paper was received warmly and it meant much to me that responses to it were not limited to those from Afrikaans-speakers. My subsequent interest in English as an academic linguistic alternative would become a struggle for the remainder of my studies: the language issue would become my own. I found that writing the SASRIM paper in English was not as daunting as I had anticipated and I enjoyed the exercise. I noticed a certain linguistic freedom and ease with which I wrote in English, something that I felt was absent in my Afrikaans writing. I became uncertain about my writing abilities in Afrikaans and thus briefly contemplated rewriting everything that I had written in Afrikaans to that point in English. I understand now that my insecurities about the language had to do with doubts about my own proficiency. I believed that, compared to my ever expanding English vocabulary, my Afrikaans vocabulary range had remained stagnant. In retrospect, these were self-imposed reservations as both my supervisors encouraged me to continue writing in Afrikaans.
Nevertheless, after months of writing up the life stories of Sacks Williams, Dan Apolles and Dan Ulster in Afrikaans, I had come to a crossroads. For me Afrikaans had become a straitjacket within I was required to manoeuvre with ease, but couldn’t. I am aware that this analogy is perhaps a bit extreme, but it accurately portrays the way in which I felt constrained by the language. The text was evolving into something rigid and removed and I did not possess the tools to ameliorate the situation. In 1998 Roz Ivanič wrote the following in Writing and Identity: The discoursal construction of identity in academic writing, which allowed me to grasp something of the discomfort I was experiencing:
I have often had the experience myself of not being able to find the right words for what I want to write, and then realising that it is not so much a problem of the meaning I want to convey as a problem of what impression of myself I want to convey.
Afrikaans, and my commitment to it, had been transformed by the Stellenbosch language debates into a position where my continued writing in the language created an impression of myself with which I was not comfortable. Moreover, I was concerned about the impression I was conveying about Williams, Apolles and Ulster and my responsibility toward them and their very important narratives, which would arguably be better served by a more accessible English language text. As is evidence from the first part of this thesis and also as I have mentioned earlier, this thesis involves the Afrikaans Coloured people, more so than those from the English Coloured community, but not entirely excluding them either. When talking about Afrikaans it is, of course, imperative to include Coloured people in this discussion, as this language that is one of “the three language miracles of the past hundred years” (Prah, 2010:141) belongs to them, to us. It is also important to remember that, “originally, within educated white Afrikaans circles, the preferred language was Dutch because the Afrikaans spoken at the time could be identified too closely with the Coloured population of particularly the Cape” (Prah, 2007:7).
In Religions of South Africa (1992), David Chidester calls the notion of ownership with regard to Afrikaans a problematic one, ever since attempts at establishing Afrikaans as an emblem of pure Afrikanderdom in the early 1800s had been made when “a cultural movement was formed in the Cape to promote Afrikaans as a language”. (p?) He writes:
As a spoken language, Afrikaans was used by people of Khoisan, European, and slave descent who came to be classified as “Coloureds”. Furthermore, as a written language, it had been used by Muslims in the Cape to produce Afrikaans texts in Arabic script. Nevertheless, the leaders of the Genootskap van Regte Afrikaners [Fellowship of True Afrikaners] claimed Afrikaans as the authentic language of white, Dutch-Afrikaners, producing a grammar […] and a history in hopes of mobilizing an Afrikaner identity.
It is clear from this text that Afrikaans was first associated not with white settlers, and that it was only later taken up by the Afrikaners, as evidenced in the opening quote by Dr. D.F. Malan who viewed Afrikaans as “the vehicle of our culture” (Giliomee, 1989:43). In South Africa, Afrikaans has subsequently been perceived as “one of the undigested features of post-Apartheid South Africa” (Prah, 2007:5).
The ongoing and tedious debate concerning the use of Afrikaans at Stellenbosch University has formed a backdrop to the writing of this thesis. What I find perhaps most disconcerting, is that the Coloured people, whom N.P. Van Wyk Louw referred to as “our brothers” and who are only ever recognised when votes are needed (Croucamp, 2016), are now sagaciously called upon to fight too against the abolition of Afrikaans as language of instruction. In many ways I feel that this fight is not ours. Yes, we claim this language as the primary language of the Coloured people, but I also recognise that this fight has very little to do with the language issue and more about the breaking down of ideals that reflect what James de Villiers (2016) called “the apartheid nostalgia inherent at Stellenbosch University”; ideals that should have been done away with long ago. Writing Genadendal’s composers into history in Afrikaans – a choice I initially made without thinking about its political implications – now seems to me to be problematic because it resonates with this nostalgia of others, perhaps even working to protect it.
Writing Part Two to my thesis in English as a reflection on my Afrikaans-writing self, has become a way to think not only about my subjects, but about the way in which I have constituted them in language and the way in which I myself am constituted in language. This shift from Afrikaans to English, or rather the shift between the two languages, can also be seen as a form of code-switching, which is defined as “the alternative use by bilinguals of two or more languages in the same conversation” (Milroy and Muysken, 1995:7), a linguistic technique that is usually applied as “an element in a socially agreed matrix of contextualisation cues and conventions used by speakers to alert addressees, in the course of ongoing interaction, to the social and situational context of the conversation” (Gumperz, 1982: 132-52; 1984: 112).
My decision to write part of my work in English was therefore partly political. But the decision to write these reflective essays was also more than a political one. Hamilton and Pitt (2009:61) define creativity in relation to academic writing as “the imaginative use of communicative resources, by combining these in novel ways and/or experimenting with conventions, to produce ideas that are both original and productive to the academic endeavour.” It is with this characterisation in mind that I have approached this section of the thesis, and language is not exempt from this experimentation. Naturally, I feel some measure of complicity in partially abandoning my mother tongue for what Eusebius McKaizer (2016) so eloquently described as a position of being “trapped between rehearsed anglicised identities and Afrikaans authenticity”. But it is possible the “rehearsed anglicised identity” is exactly what I require to describe and engage with my so-called “Afrikaans authenticity”, and that of my subjects. This imperative may have less to do with politics, than with the distancing that we need to gain perspective, and the different kinds of pathways that open onto knowledge through different languages.
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