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.

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