Speaking Graaffrikaans

Karoo language

Anziske Kayster, author of this article, is head of Graaff-Reinet Museums and a keen social observer.

By Anziske Kayster

Visitors to our little dorp always ask me what the predominant language is, but here in Graaff-Reinet we have an efficient way of mixing our languages to give expression to emotion and sommer just because it sounds lekker.

Karoo language

At the Karoo-lus Festival in Graaff-Reinet, a typical sign.

We call it Graaffrikaans.

Nancy Kingwill, who lives in Graaff-Reinet, explains it beautifully:

“If you don’t speak Graaffrikaans then, foeitog, you don’t know South African English. Here, in our platteland dorp, we’ve got to hou kop when an uitlander comes to kuier or he’ll get half deurmekaar with our skeef English. And don’t los out the Rooineks who went to Bishops and St. Andrews, hey! They are eintlik worse than the ous from Volkskool who try to talk ordentlike English.

“Toemaar, we’re a helpmekaar klomp on the whole, even those who spog at the Stockfair with their spekvet hamels that were reared on the vleis to get them slagbaar in the droogte. You won’t verneuk the auctioneer with your vrekmaer stock that you ja’d out the mountain after the first little vlagie, to spare the vlakteveld.

Karoo language

You maar groet everyone on Stockfair days.

“You maar groet everyone on Stockfair days, even those you know so padlangs, and the dikbek outjies who are shortoff with you. Shame, perhaps they are vies because the last time they called in at your place, your wife gave them a kaal tea. (A ‘kaal tea’ refers to tea without eats.)

“Nee wat, if you really want to hear ware South African, you should come and hear how we talk, because it’s mos verspot to expect me to say ‘family-fond’ like Jane Austen in Bath when I erfed the word ‘familievas’ from my ouma on Klipfontein. Platweg we may be, but dom we are not.

“You people can gerus consult us if you want pure South African English — it’s our taal, it’s mooi, and we can’t kom klaar without it.”

Karoo language

Graaff-Reinet’s English- and Afrikaans-speaking communities happily chat in Graaffrikaans.

There is nothing more satisfying than telling stories in Graaffrikaans and here is one, recounted by one Tony in the Angora & Mohair Journal):

“It was really hot that day when I attended the begrafnis of old Swanepoel. The Swanepoels were bywoners on our farm for many years so I felt it was my plig to represent the family. The kis was put in the shade of the pruimboom, which apart from the odd karoobossie and the people attending the begrafnis, was the only other thing that represented life on the werf.

“Now old Dominie Swanepoel was maar a bit langdradig and when it came to the gebed, he behoorlik tested our geduld. It was at this time that I noticed a Swiesbok loer-ing around the corner of the bywonershuis and I immediately noticed that the bok was korrel-ing for the only bit of green on the werf. So by the time old Ds Swanepoel said ‘Amen’, the Swiesbok had already verdwyn-ed around the corner with the krans in its mouth.”

  • This article was first published in a Graaff-Reinet Museum newsletter, 2012.

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One Response to Speaking Graaffrikaans

  1. Pam Kolbe February 19, 2015 at 6:06 pm #

    My love of the Karoo was born in my childhood. I was an only child living in Johannesburg with boring parents (in my view). The highlight of my year was a trip by train, together with an elderly aunt, to Graaff Reinet where we were picked up and taken to my uncle’s farm Wheatlands, south of the dorp on the way to Jansenville. Not only was I part of a family of five kids, but I could pretend to be the sixth. The wide open spaces were there for our enjoyment. We rode horses, rode on the back of bakkies, climbed Compassberg.

    Today I can really appreciate Graaffrikaans because I live in the Swartland where we also speak a strange language. When I go back to Johannesburg I have to remember to speak ‘ordentlike’ English. in our everyday lives we speak a language that we all understand and is very expressive in its context. What shall we call it – Swartlandikaans? Maybe your readers have some suggestions.

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