Dutch And Afrikaans: Are They Mutually Intelligible?

December 6, 2020

The world of linguistics is one of the most amazing places you can find yourself in, not just because you can learn so much about your own language. Many people are surprised to learn that there are many other languages that share the same roots as theirs. Two languages that are so similar they barely require any translation are Dutch and Afrikaans.

Are dutch and Afrikaans mutually intelligible? Afrikaans and Dutch are mutually intelligible, owing to much of the Afrikaans language having its roots from the Dutch language. This means that most of the words have the same meaning and that the sentences are also the same. A conversation between the two languages would be no problem at all.

While these languages are quite similar, and two people can easily understand each other it is not always perfect. There are some terms and meanings that are offensive in the other, while some words have disappeared entirely from the vocabulary of others. Knowing how each language started, where they are used, and why they diverged can help to save a lot of confusion.

How did the Dutch Language Evolve?

As a part of the group of Germanic languages, Dutch has the same common ancestor as English and German. With a tonal shift happening as the language grew ever larger, owing to the distribution of the countries and population it is hard to say exactly how old the language is. Evolving from old Dutch to middle Dutch, and eventually ending up with modern Dutch!

Today most versions of Dutch are considered to be a part of the language that originated near the Netherlands. The total count of people who speak Dutch is near 24-million people worldwide with each variant being counted as a part of that group.

Dutch has a long history in Europe and has seen a rise and decline as is natural for all languages that were so close to others. Most Dutch speakers are bi-lingual, with almost 5-million people speaking Dutch as a second language.

How did Afrikaans Evolve?

Afrikaans is named after the continent where it originated from, being spoken by South Africans, Namibians, and many more people around the world. The language is relatively young when compared to most other languages.

Afrikaans is a combination of Dutch, German, and some other African languages, however, it is still 90% to 95% related to the Dutch language.

This has meant that it is easily understandable by those who speak Dutch, with even more ease of understanding the language when it comes to written form. There are 7-million people in Africa that speak Afrikaans, and it is the third most spoken language in South Africa.

When considered as a second language the amount of people capable of speaking Afrikaans reaches up to 23-million people. The language was created to find a common tongue for the first groups of European settlers to easily understand each other.

How Easy Are They to Learn for the Other?

If you are already fluent in one language you will be capable of easily learning the other, with most interaction between the two languages only experiencing momentary confusion. When it comes to the written word both languages are able to read the other without much practice and native speakers enjoy sharing the written work between the languages.

Afrikaans has been described as more descriptive when talking while Dutch uses a more direct approach which can cause some confusion for those having to work in Dutch speaking countries.

Fortunately, because the two are so similar it takes almost no time at all to learn the nuances of the other and many immigrants to the countries have noted that they adapted without realizing they had made a change.

How do the Dutch and Afrikaans Language Differ?

Because the Dutch language is really old, it has undergone a lot of changes, some saying that it lies firmly between English and German as a language. As a result the way Dutch is speaking means that it is slightly more direct and a lot less descriptive, while many words make use of rolling R sounds.

This is in contrast to Afrikaans where the spoken language enjoys being a lot more descriptive and has a lot less rolling of the R sounds in words. Many times Dutch speakers will complain that Afrikaans sounds like someone is drunk and too lazy to say some words properly.

These differences are not always present when written, with only a few words appearing that are not present in Dutch. This is owing to the influences Afrikaans has from other languages such as German and Sotho, Dutch has a lot of words that are significantly older and may not be used by Afrikaans in daily use.

These differences are all minor and are usually not mentioned when discussing the two languages.

One of the stranger things for English or German-speaking people is the ease at which they can learn Afrikaans or Dutch. This is why Dutch is considered a good middle ground between both English and German languages.

Since Dutch is considered to be the middle ground between the English and German languages, the Dutch don't have much trouble speaking English or understanding German.

Where are Both Languages Being Used?

Because Afrikaans is considered a daughter language of Dutch they are grouped together when measuring where the two languages are being spoken. Because the Netherlands did have a lot of colonies back in the days, multiple countries in the world still speak Dutch for a big part.

Internationally many African countries speak Afrikaans, while Indonesia, Suriname, and the Netherlands Antilles also speak Dutch for some part. These are some of the more exotic locations where the language is spoken, with many of the locals being able to speak several languages.

The Future of Both Languages

There have been periods where it seemed that the languages were dying out, experiencing lesser and lesser growth in the countries where they are spoken. However, in the modern world, there has been a resurgence in international communities in some of the more far off locations of the world where the languages have experienced regrowth.

This is thanks to technologies like the internet that more people may be interested in speaking either language. This makes it way more accessible and easier for people that are interested in learning both languages.

While in some immigrant-rich countries like Australia and New Zealand many people have started to work towards providing systems to ensure that those living there retain their language.

It is ultimately the pride in either language that has seen their popularity grow across the world, and the ease of which they can be learned has meant that many seeking to learn a new language gladly take on the challenge of learning Dutch or Afrikaans.

Conclusion

I hope this blog has helped you understand more about Dutch and Afrikaans. You now know that Dutch-speaking people will have no problem understanding someone who speaks Afrikaans and that both languages are very similar but still have their own identity.

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Written by

Leo van den Berg
As a Dutchman I am extremely proud of the beautiful country in which I live. My goal is to convey my passion and love for the Netherlands to as many people as possible.

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