February Clements Bookworm Conversation
January 12, 2024

Linguistics MLK Colloquium

January 19, 2024 | 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm | Weiser Hall

Department of Linguistics

Professor Quentin Williams is Director of the Centre for Multilingualism and Diversities Research (CMDR) and an Associate Professor of Sociolinguistics in the Linguistics Department at the University of the Western Cape (UWC). TITLE How we liberate Kaaps: the history and future of a South African ‘language’ ABSTRACT Kaaps (also known as Afrikaaps) is an African ‘language’ that became the slave lingua franca of the indentured indigenous, enslaved populations and Khoi in the settler Cape Colony. Formed out of Cape Dutch, it was creolised first through a mixture of (Low and High) Portuguese, Indonesian (such as Malay, Singhalese), and Khoi phono-/lexical-/syntactic-variations, and later heavily influenced by Arabic, standard Afrikaans and English. Since colonialism, the speakers of this ‘language’ has remained oppressed and only recently have we seen an accelerated effort to develop the necessary linguistic infrastructure (grammars, digital text collections, educational materials, etc.) to liberate and secure the future of Kaaps. In this talk, I will discuss the story of the liberation of Kaaps in post-apartheid South Africa. I begin by providing important historical insight into the 17th century life of the first slaves who wrote in Kaaps, what I term Early Kaaps, pointing to the creole life and roots of Kaaps at the formation of Cape Dutch from 1652 to 1790. I point to diachronic studies of Kaaps to represent the enslaved voices of early Kaaps speakers. I then move on to the 1800s to demonstrate how with the lead up to the establishment of the Union of South Africa (in 1910) and into apartheid (1945-1989), Kaaps is developed in writing as a “tussen taal” (in-between language) and later a ‘language of resistance’. I point out that for much of the 1960s to 1980s, Kaaps writers came to resist apartheid govermentality and racism by expressing liberation through forms of Kaaps protest writing (amongst other forms of protest and activism). In the final part of this talk, I ask: would the liberation of Kaaps in post-apartheid be achieved through the development of linguistic and educational tools – such as a grammar, dictionary and bilingual learning materials – and thereby raise the functions of Kaaps in institutional contexts? I answer this question by discussing how recent projects focused on (1) developing a trilingual dictionary of Kaaps, (2) Kaaps bilingual learning materials, and (3) considerations for a descriptive grammar, orthography and standardization of Kaaps are helpful in advancing the empowerment of Kaaps speakers. I conclude the talk by reflecting on the pitfalls of liberation work for Kaaps and its speakers. I also provide a number of conclusions on whether, and if it all, the development of a full Kaaps grammar, dictionary, orthography and educational materials are able to successfully challenge the binaries inherent in the remains of ‘colonial and apartheid linguistics’, including those linguistic fixities, hegemonies and hierarchies of standardized languages that prevent greater access to linguistic resources and infrastructures for Kaaps speakers.


Quentin Williams

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