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  • Is Afrikaans ‘dying out’? We put Charlize Theron’s claims to the test

    Is Afrikaans ‘dying out’? We put Charlize Theron’s claims to the test

    She may have just been joking around with her podcast host friends, but given Charlize Theron’s status, her words carry weight. This week, she branded Afrikaans as an ‘unhelpful language’ that is ‘dying out’. She also scoffed that ‘about 44 people’ still bother speaking the dialect.

    But is there any truth to her statements? We’ve had a little look at the data…

    Is Afrikaans an endangered language? No…

    According to an update published by Ethnologue in 2021 – one of the leading academic resources for world languages – there are some mixed results to digest. Indeed, the data on Afrikaans certainly makes for a fascinating read.

    According to the experts, a total of seven languages in South Africa can be classed as ‘endangered’. However, Afrikaans is noticeably missing from this list. The dialects in trouble of falling out of favour for good include local, little-known language sets. They include:

    • N|ng (Northern Cape)
    • Xiri (Upington)
    • Korana (North West)
    • Gail (Free State)
    • Camtho (Johannesburg)
    • Pidgin Bantu (Johannesburg)
    • Flaaitaal (North West / Gauteng)
    Afrikaans also boasts a high score on the Language Vitality scale – Photo: Ethnologue

    How many people speak Afrikaans? It’s higher than Charlize Theron thinks

    As it turns out, there are A LOT of people who speak the lingo. An estimated seven million South African residents – or 13% of the whole population – class Afrikaans as their first language. So that’s a *little* bit more than the total of 44 people suggested by Charlize Theron.

    Importantly, Afrikaans is well-represented overseas too. Other countries with significant numbers of Afrikaans speakers include Zambia (96 000), Australia (43 700), New Zealand (27 400), the USA (23 000), eSwatini (17 000), and The Netherlands (14 300).

    Dying out? Unhelpful? The data says no…

    Not only has the usage of Afrikaans been declared ‘large’ – due to the fact that over 1 000 000 active users of the language are still using their mother tongue – but Ethnologue also class it as ‘institutional’. And that’s a fairly big deal.

    When a language is institutional, it means that this dialect has been developed to the point where it is ‘used and sustained by institutions beyond the home and community’. Although the use of Afrikaans may be dwindling *slightly*, it is a long way off dying out.

    Perhaps it’s not all that unhelpful after all? Next time we see Charlize Theron, we’ll let her know. She’ll be thrilled.

    View the full article



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