Patagonian Afrikaans.

QuartzAfrica reports on a surprising linguistic survival:

The Patagonian desert in southern Argentina is a harsh environment. Little seems to thrive on its seemingly endless red plains and parched land. Yet in this unlikely place there is a unique bilingual community. It’s made up of the Afrikaans and Spanish-speaking descendants of the about 650 South African Boers, who came to Patagonia in the first decade of the twentieth century. […]

The first Boer generations in Patagonia eked out an isolated living. But a cultural shift began in the 1950s as the settlers increased contact with nearby communities in Sarmiento and Comodoro Rivadavia. Today, older members of the community—those over 60—still speak Afrikaans, though their dominant language is Spanish. As the younger generations, which only speak Spanish, become fully integrated into Argentine society, the bilingual community is quickly disappearing.

To many, Patagonian Afrikaans is a relic of the past. Against the odds, however, a renaissance has begun.

As part of this, our project at the University of Michigan, entitled “From Africa to Patagonia: Voices of Displacement”, is conducting innovative research on the Patagonian Boers and their two languages. The value of studying this extraordinary community is hard to overstate.

The Patagonian Afrikaans dialect, spoken nowhere else, preserves elements of Afrikaans from before 1925, when the South African government recognized it as an official language. It thus provides a unique window onto the history of Afrikaans from a period before its dialectal varieties were reduced through standardization. […]

The community is, in a way, like a time capsule, reflecting pronunciation and syntax from an earlier era. For example, the Afrikaans word for nine—“nege”—is pronounced niəxə in modern South Africa, but with a hard “g,” as niəgə, in Patagonia.

Much more information, and images (including some scrumptious-looking desserts), at the link. Thanks, jack!

Comments

  1. J.W. Brewer says:

    Sounds like they’re mostly in the same general area (Chubut province) that attracted Welsh immigrants, some of whom still speak their ancestral language. Is it too much to hope that there might be a handful of Patagonians (resulting from mixed marriages or what have you) who are fully bilingual in Afrikaans and Welsh (plus presumably able to function in Spanish as needed)?

  2. The value of studying this extraordinary community is hard to overstate.

    This quote just really rubbed me the wrong way. I mean, there is nothing wrong with studying this dialect. However, it is still a dialect of a well-documented, healthy language. I’m sure looking at this community can provide interesting insights into the history of Afrikaans, but resources for linguistic fieldwork are limited, and have I hard time believing that this work is really of the utmost importance, compared with documenting and supporting much more endangered languages

  3. David Eddyshaw says:

    Is it too much to hope that there might be a handful of Patagonians (resulting from mixed marriages or what have you) who are fully bilingual in Afrikaans and Welsh

    Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure that the answer is “yes.”

    My Welsh grandfather was born in Argentina (a statement all Welshmen immediately understand.) His elder sister went back in the 1970’s and said that it was even then really only her generation that were still Welsh-speaking; I get the distinct impression that a lot of the talk about the current status of Welsh in Patagonia is either wishful thinking or the sort of folkloric “revival” that doesn’t amount to much in the end.

    I would be delighted to be proved wrong. And it’s undoubtedly good that people are at least trying.

    On the “mixed marriages” front, I suppose at least that there might be bonding over proper hardcore Calvinism …

  4. Christopher Culver says:

    “The community is, in a way, like a time capsule, reflecting pronunciation and syntax from an earlier era. For example, the Afrikaans word for nine—“nege”—is pronounced niəxə in modern South Africa, but with a hard “g,” as niəgə, in Patagonia.”

    I’m pretty sure that the velar fricative there is the original state of affairs, inherited from Dutch and a defining feature of that branch of Germanic. Denoting it by <g> is a mere spelling convention.

  5. J.W. Brewer says:

    @David Eddyshaw, not to mention bonding over mutual historical grievances toward Anglophones .. (which could also give them something in common with mainstream Argentine nationalists).

  6. David Eddyshaw says:

    @JWB:

    Good point. And in fact, the Argentine Welsh were on the whole noticeably unsympathetic toward the UK during the Falklands war.

  7. There were a handful of people left from the New Australia settlement in Paraguay, who were interviewed about ten years or so ago when the ABC did a program about it However I think the younger generation have mostly merged into the general population.

  8. David Marjanović says:

    This quote just really rubbed me the wrong way.

    Grant proposal.

    Scientists, especially but not only in the US where disproportionately much research is funded by grants, are being systematically trained to lie about the importance of their future projects. Only “outstanding” “excellence” gets funded.

    (It’s less bad once the results are ready for publication. All the most prestigious journals reject manuscripts that they fear won’t be cited often enough to increase the journal’s impact factor, but they’re simply less easy to lie to, and in some fields – like mine – the journals with the highest IF are very broad megajournals that never reject manuscripts based on “importance”.)

    I’m pretty sure that the velar fricative there is the original state of affairs, inherited from Dutch and a defining feature of that branch of Germanic. Denoting it by <g> is a mere spelling convention.

    A voiced velar fricative is original, probably for Germanic as a whole. It has been devoiced (along with all other voiced fricatives) in northern Dutch and in Afrikaans. The question for me is whether “hard g” is really supposed to mean [g], or rather the Spanish “/g/”, i.e. the voiced velar approximant, in which case part of Afrikaans probably escaped the devoicing.

  9. David Marjanović says:

    Job applicants, too, have to be outstandingly excellent.

  10. “Scientists, especially but not only in the US where disproportionately much research is funded by grants, are being systematically trained to lie about the importance of their future projects. Only “outstanding” “excellence” gets funded.”

    Unfortunately, this is a very accurate observation.

  11. Yeah, I hate making those exaggerations too. I have just this month been working on a collaborative grant proposal to be submitted to the NIH (not one of my usual funding agencies). The collaboration came about because the PI is a friend from college, and he got in touch with me about some technical questions. But everything he writes for the proposal seems to be totally over the top about how amazing the new method we want to use is going to be

  12. It has to be excellent, and it has to have mercenary applications. So if you’re doing field research on some language, it doesn’t hurt to add boiler-plate text on how the basic research could some day be useful for natural language processing.

    A search for “Center for Excellence” at .edu addresses finds that weed well-spread. “Center for Excellence in Entrepreneurship”, “Center for Excellence in Post-Harvest Technologies”, “Valley Fever Center for Excellence”, “Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities”, etc., etc., etfc.

  13. J.W. Brewer says:

    See also the Simpsons episode where Homer gets the “Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence.” (There’s probably a broader question here about the role of jokes and parodies like that as linguistic data – they are probably funny only to the extent they resemble real-world linguistic phenomena sufficiently for people to “get it,” and thus provide an indirect-mirror sort of view of real-world linguistic phenomena.)

  14. I just got my post-tenure review report, and my overall rating was “superior.” Per my earlier comments about the terminology, I had to go back and look at the guidelines to confirm that this was actually the highest rating.

  15. Congratulations, and yes, it’s entirely conceivable it could have been the lowest.

  16. January First-of-May says:

    I’m reminded of the Sheldon coin grades (the system used in the USA) – past the obvious “Mint State” and “About Uncirculated”, the grades below that are, in order, Extremely Fine, Very Fine, Fine, Very Good, Good, About Good, Fair, and Poor.

    A coin in a Fine grade is already quite worn; a coin graded Good is worn very much. A coin graded Fair is worn so much that most of the lettering is unreadable.
    It’s relatively rare for a coin to get graded Poor, since at that point it usually cannot be identified precisely enough to be graded at all.

    (There are occasionally some coins that still deserve a lower grade, but it’s such a rare situation that the Sheldon scale doesn’t go any lower.)

  17. Olive size grades are Bullet, Fine, Brilliant, Superior, Large, Extra Large, Jumbo, Extra Jumbo, Giant, Colossal, Super Colossal, Mammoth, and Super Mammoth. This has made comedians very happy over the years.

    Typically I only see Large to Super Colossal (which are twice as big by weight as the Large).

  18. David Eddyshaw says:

    Having some dim (and it would appear, wholly erroneous) recollection of hearing about tea grades in the stock market reports on the BBC World Service (you have to make your own entertainment in rural Africa), I looked it up and discovered a whole world of exotic terminology:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tea_leaf_grading

    I now aspire to be the Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe of my circle (but suspect I may just be Fannings, or even Dust.)

    “Orange” is apparently nothing to do with oranges. Or the colour.

  19. The grading of agricultural products is designed to be consistent over time. However, the size distribution of items available to consumers is not time invariant. Thanks to superior breeding and better rowing techniques, the sizes of what we think of as “regular” apples, eggs, or onions has been continually on the rise. The “small” versions of such products still exist, but they are much less common than they used to be; moreover, they are typically used as ingredients in other products, rather than being sold to the end consumers intact. Shoppers like their eggs and eggplants big.

  20. January First-of-May says:

    Shoppers like their eggs and eggplants big.

    In the USA at least (and probably elsewhere, if perhaps to a lesser extent), this is said to be also true of strawberries, leading to a pressure for larger sizes that had (supposedly) as a side-effect significantly worsened the strawberries’ taste.

  21. David Marjanović says:

    how amazing the new method we want to use is going to be

    At least you are using a new method! Try getting research funded that could (and should) have been done 10 years ago, and despair.

  22. @January first-of-May: I’ve read that the commercial strawberry is a hybrid of the European strawberry, small and tasty, and the Chilean, big and insipid. Maybe our strawberries are being bred back more and more with the Chileans.

  23. It is certainly true that larger strawberries have a less intense flavor than small one. I love finding tiny wild strawberries, with their much greater intensity.* One of my very small number of memories from the trip I took to Italy when I was two was of having wild strawberries for dessert at a cafe. I have wondered though whether the truly optimal strawberry would be the most intensely flavored, or whether it should have the greatest total fruit flavor, or something else. Naturally, different types of fruits present different balancing challenges. One of the reasons that I particularly like blueberries is that it is easy to pick out the best; the largest blueberries are also the best tasting.

    * However, I also get excited about pretty much any wild fruit I find. This includes things like red huckleberries and even thimbleberries that are sometimes derided for being nearly tasteless even at their optimum.

  24. John Cowan says:

    The same is true of low-bush (small) vs. high-bush (large) blueberries. Unfortunately, the much tastier low-bush berries are mostly used in things like blueberry muffins (when real blueberries are used at all). Otherwise, it’s pick them yourself.

  25. John Cowan says:

    Olive size grades

    There is now a larger size still, Atlas. For context, Atlas olives are 70-90 per kg, whereas Bullets are 351-380, so Atlas olives are 4.5 times as heavy.

  26. Atlas olives are 70-90 per kg

    In July 2016, a single bunch of Ruby Roman grapes, containing 26 grapes at a weight of about 700 grams, sold for 1.1 million yen (around $8400) in the year’s first auction at a wholesale market in Kanazawa.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruby_Roman

  27. I’ve just spent a fascinating half hour googling the Argentinian Afrikaans speakers. There are only about 45 older native speakers, but after a visit from the University of Michigan research team, interest has grown in their heritage amongst the younger generation. It’s apparently very unusual for an immigrant language to survive for over 100 years unchanged, but this is due to the isolation of the people. Their accent is different from the Afrikaans of today. As someone said, they use the hard g in the word for “nine”, nege. Since I remember the Afrikaans spoken in very isolated communities which I visited as a child, I recognize much of it, but I can also see the changes that have led to modern, standardized Afrikaans which has been influenced by so many other languages. Something similar happened in South Africa, where a staunchly puritan branch of Afrikaans speakers in the Cape Province, a place called Die Hel (The Hell) in Gamkaskloof, formed an isolated community that had hardly any contact with the outside world and lived in much the same way, with the same language and traditions, as they had a hundred years or more ago. In 1962 a road was built into the ravine where they lived, and from then on, their cultural traditions and dialect were diluted and eventually lost. You can still visit the area which remains as beautiful as it was before the settlers arrived.

  28. I’m glad you found this post — it’s great to have the reaction of someone who knows the language!

  29. John Cowan says:

    I wonder if the switch from [x] to [g] is motivated by a desire to keep their phonology distinct from Spanish. Certainly the English inability to do [x] is a point of pride with Scots, even those who don’t do [x] either.

  30. I doubt it, since they are so proud of the language they have kept as pure as it was when they emigrated to Patagonia and the switch is from [g] to [x], not the other way round.

  31. David Eddyshaw says:

    Certainly the English inability to do [x] is a point of pride with Scots

    True; though the [x] is in fact a feature of middle-class Scottish speech, rather than (say) working-class Glaswegian, which says [lɔk] not [lɔx] for the totemic word. Romantic illusions notwithstanding, few Scots actually speak the Lallans in which [x] is truly native.

    I actually recall [x] being inculcated as a shibboleth at my (extremely middle-class) school in Glasgow; it was certainly promoted as being Scots as opposed to English, but there was a most definite conscious decision involved in using it. None of my schoolfellows said [nɪxt] for “night” or [plux] for “plough” as part of their normal vocabulary (in a school in which kilts were specifically permitted as school uniform and in which the prefects actually wore them.) But to this day I have the [x] sound in “subarachnoid” and “matriarch.” And Scots do say [ɔx] in unguarded moments.

    In the early 1990s I often worked in the border country with people in their seventies and above who really did speak Lallans; even they would often code-switch to Standard Scots when they realised I was a foreign gentleman from distant Edinburgh.

  32. John Cowan says:

    the switch is from [g] to [x], not the other way round.

    How’s that? Dutch has always had a fricative (voiced or voiceless, fronted or backed) as its pronunciation of g (unlike English and Standard German), so Afrikaans had it too. If it shifted to a stop in Patagonia, there has to be a reason: that’s not just conservatism.

  33. I wonder if the switch from [x] to [g] is motivated by a desire to keep their phonology distinct from Spanish.

    The Afrikaans are indeed very proud of their language and literature which is why I doubt that they would deliberately change their pronunciation of the number nine, “nege”, in order to distinguish themselves from Spanish speakers. The Afrikaans that I heard spoken by older speakers in isolated communities in South Africa many years ago pronounced “nege” with a voiced “g” which is no longer heard. The pronunciation of “nege” didn’t necessarily shift in Patagonia. I suspect, from memories of Afrikaans speakers in these isolated areas of South Africa many years ago, that it was probably always a voiced “g”, and it remains thus in the recordings of the Patagonian community. Maybe those original Patagonian settlers were from one of those isolated South African communities. Maybe there’s another reason that the researchers will uncover.

  34. David Marjanović says:

    “nege” with a voiced “g”

    But is it a voiced [g], like you’d find in French, or a voiced [ɣ], like you’d find in Greek?

  35. I’m no linguistics expert, but from the IPA chart I found, the pronunciation of the G is shown by the g symbol. “Nege” used to be pronounced “nee-uh-guh” with the emphasis on the “nee”. I’d be grateful if someone would help out by putting this into IPA symbols for me, and I apologise for the confusion if you still can’t make out what I’m trying to say.

  36. So when you say the -g-, the air is completely stopped from flowing through the vocal tract? In other words, it doesn’t keep flowing in a constricted channel, producing a fricative sound like the -ch in Scots loch?

  37. David Marjanović says:

    You’re saying it’s [ˈniəgə]. I keep asking because those varieties of Dutch (basically Flemish) that haven’t merged g and ch pronounce g as [ɣ], while [g] is pretty much foreign to Dutch altogether.

  38. David, what I used to hear in that isolated community, is as you have transcribed it. Thank you for that. The standard pronunciation now is [ˈniəχə]. I think I’ve inserted the correct symbol for the current Afrikaans pronunciation of the letter “g”. It’s not voiced.

  39. PlasticPaddy says:

    http://nederl.blogspot.com/2015/02/wat-was-er-eerder-de-harde-g-of-de.html?m=1
    The speaker is not a linguist, but makes the point that the hard Kh (loch) is harder to pronounce than the soft one (German Milch). He does lots of variations but believes the soft sound to be the original one, even in Amsterdam!

  40. David Marjanović says:

    I think I’ve inserted the correct symbol for the current Afrikaans pronunciation of the letter “g”. It’s not voiced.

    All true, and the same holds for generically-northern Dutch.

    the soft one (German Milch)

    Oh, that is different again. If you bring that in, we have to distinguish three voiceless fricatives – uvular [χ], velar [x] and palatal [ç]!

    The voiced versions of these are [ʁ ɣ ʝ] in this order. I’ll try to watch the video later today (will be fun to find out how much spoken Dutch I understand when I know the topic); meanwhile, there are plenty of Flemings who distinguish g from ch as [ɣ] vs. [x].

  41. And thereby put the phlegm in Fleming.

  42. I am Afrikaans speaking, grew up in the Johannesburg area and was educated in standard Afrikaans. Nowadays I do live in the Northern Cape province and can confirm that it is still customary for some people in this area to use a different pronunciation for certain numbers. Some examples would suffice; a person who would pronounce 9 as ‘nege'(g as in gholf), would invariably pronounce 99 as ‘nege en neëntig’, thus avoiding the g (pronounced’x’) in ninety. The correct word would be nege en negentig. However, the same person would pronounce 8 as ag (g as in Xavier) instead of agt and would pronounce 88 as ag en taggentig instead of agt en tagtig. I believe that this relates to a certain style of Afrikaans, more than anything else.

  43. Thanks!

Trackbacks

Speak Your Mind

*