It is common knowledge that a few Shona words have an Afrikaans influence. I recently came across one that I found surprising, leading me to do some digging up. Along the way, I got to learn some interesting things about Afrikaans.
If your prefer, choose a link below to go straight to the particular heading, otherwise just read on.
List of words
Below are 63 words with an Afrikaans influence, some of which do not seem obvious. I also noticed that some words, like chituro, seem to have been borrowed from either English or Afrikaans. Given the history and evolution of Afrikaans, it could be difficult to establish the exact language from which a word was borrowed.
|5. bheura||byl||large axe|
|12. chihwepura||lepel||dessert spoon|
|17. chikerema||skelm||dangerous person/ thing|
|25. dhangi||danke||thank you|
|31. fadhuku||vaatdoet||cloth used to hold something|
|44. karaga||kalk||whitewash. lime|
|48. kofora||skoffel||to till with a cultivator|
|51. pfutseki||voertsek||get away|
|53. raicha||laai||to load|
|59. siraha||slagter||butcher shop|
Afrikaans in South Africa
Afrikaans developed during colonialism in southern Africa in the 19th century. When a language originates from mixing and simplifying different languages it is called a creole. Contact between the Dutch and the indigenous Khoisan was considered the starting point for its development. From there, key developments came when Europeans began settling permanently in the Cape, with slaves being shipped from abroad. The local people then shaped Dutch into the language initially known as Cape Dutch, today called Afrikaans. While it had its roots mainly in Dutch, other languages such as English, French, Malay, and the indigenous languages also influenced its evolution.
The language has a long history. During the apartheid era in South Africa, it was associated with white oppression. Even today, some South Africans still feel that way. But until 1925 it was not recognised officially and was considered a language for uneducated people. Today, it is estimated that only 40% of Afrikaans speakers are white.
Afrikaans in Zimbabwe
Afrikaans made its way into Zimbabwe when the Afrikaners came into the country in the late 19th century. With their agricultural expertise, they took up farming and cattle ranching. It is no surprise therefore that the Shona farming vocabulary includes a few words with an Afrikaans influence. These include words like chikei, chitirobho and kofora (see table above).
Afrikaners went on to set up institutions to advance their language and culture, given that English was the required language of instruction in schools. The Dutch Reformed Church was one such institution. Bothashof, later to become Eaglesvale Senior School, was another such institution, and an establishment of the Dutch Reformed church. Some sources state that the Afrikaner population peaked at 35,000 in 1975 and began declining thereafter. Most of them emigrated to South Africa after Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980.
Chiraparapa and Others
In the language of languages, they speak of something called a pidgin. A pidgin develops when people who speak two different languages purposely make up vocabulary from the two languages. The purpose of this being to facilitate communication. But, how does this differ from a creole language? With time, a pidgin could become the first language of later generations. It even develops complexities as any other language would. First languages that develop in this way are called creoles, and they ultimately displace the original languages.
As I was researching for this article, I kept coming across the word Fanagalo. As it turns out, some Shona words that we use have their origins in Fanagalo, a pidgin based primarily on Zulu. This pidgin has different varieties, and the one used in Zimbabwe is known as Chilapalapa (commonly referred to as Chiraparapa) and is influenced by Shona. The Zambian variety is influenced by Bemba and is known as Chikabanga. The word Fanagalo itself is made from fana+ga+lo meaning ‘do it like this.’
Fanagalo is said to have developed in South African mining communities which included people of various nationalities. This is because the South African mining industry employed contract workers from across Southern and Central Africa. Examples of Fanagalo based words are chovha (push), chaisa (leave work at end of working period), chaya (hit), and fani (very much).
The Shona people have some history of political and commercial relations with the Portuguese way before the 20th century. This contact with the Portuguese is made evident by the existence of some Portuguese related Shona words.
Similarly, the Shona made contact with the Nguni, whose languages include Xhosa, Zulu, and Ndebele. As a result, several Shona words have their roots in these languages. Examples include bhema (puff tobacco), chichi (ear-ring), chijumba (small bag), chituta (stupid person), dhara (old), dhende (rag), dherera (bully), dhonza (ox), funda (learn), fundisa (teach) and gejo (plough).
Christianity also brought in a whole new variety of words, with a substantial amount of work having been put in when the bible was translated into Shona. We now have words like satani (satan), dhiyabore (diabolos), areruya (alleluia), and Kristo (Christ).
New concepts and new implements were key in ushering in new words. Knowing when something became a part of the Shona way of life sometimes helps in establishing if it has specific Shona vocabulary to go with it, otherwise borrowed words would be used. Now that we have become so used to the borrowed words, it seems as if they have always been a part of our indigenous languages. To preserve our languages, other strategies of word creation could be adopted. For instance, giving a new meaning to existing words or using the rules of the language to create new words. Without this, like pidgins, our indigenous languages will slowly wither away with each future generation.
- South African History Online, Afrikaner
- Britannica, Afrikaans Language
- The Conversation, More than an oppressor’s language: reclaiming the hidden history of Afrikaans
- News24, 5 surprising facts about Afrikaans
- The Washington Post, 15,000-Strong Afrikaner Community Finds Tolerance in Zimbabwe
- Britannica, Pidgins and creoles
- Standard Shona Dictionary, M. Hannan, S.J.
2 thoughts on “63 Shona words you didn’t know were borrowed from Afrikaans”
These are really thought provoking
Just goes to show you can never take anything for granted with language.
Great piece ❤️
Thank you Rose. Thought provoking indeed!