Less than a hundred years ago if you spoke Afrikaans you might be thought to simply be speaking Dutch badly – and until about a hundred years ago if you wrote something down in Afrikaans you were likely writing it in pure Dutch instead.
Since Afrikaans was born of Dutch, it is officially a West Germanic language despite its main population living in Africa. Afrikaans has drifted quite a ways from its Dutch origins – interestingly, Afrikaners can usually understand Dutch pretty easily but Dutch-speakers usually need some time to adjust before Afrikaans becomes at all intelligible.
In the early 19th century Afrikaans began to be used in the Muslim schools in South Africa, and was written in the Arabic script. As a sense of nationalist pride swept the country under the rule of the British, a movement to establish a written form of Afrikaans incorporated the Latin alphabet in about 1850, and that’s the alphabet used today to write in Afrikaans. It’s the same 26 letters used in English, though the pronunciation is, naturally, very different.
Afrikaans is a simplified language; It began as Dutch and its evolution away from that parent language involved the jettisoning of many features. For example, in Dutch there are genders to consider when you conjugate and decline; Afrikaans simply eliminated this from the language as it evolved.
To give you a bit of the flavour of Afrikaans, here’s a sample piece of text in Afrikaans, Dutch, and the English translation:
Afrikaans: Alle menslike wesens word vry, met gelyke waardigheid en regte, gebore. Hulle het rede en gewete en behoort in die gees van broederskap teenoor mekaar op te tree.
Dutch: Alle mensen worden vrij en gelijk in waardigheid en rechten geboren. Zij zijn begiftigd met verstand en geweten, en behoren zich jegens elkander in een geest van broederschap te gedragen.
English: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Can you see the differences between the Dutch and Afrikaans? The similarities? It’s interesting that two languages that superficially look so similar are, in fact, wholly distinct languages and have been considered so since 1925. Afrikaans hasn’t changed much since then, by the way, almost as if it had attained a goal.