Afrikaans 101

You can never understand one language until you understand at least two. ~Geoffrey Willans

Loan Words

Loan words from languages that use Latin characters, are loaned with glyphs intact. For example, letters from Scandinavian languages, like å, ä, ø, letters from Bantu languages, like ḓ, ṱ, ḽ, ṋ, ṅ, and letters from Esperanto, like ĉ, ĝ, ĥ, ĵ, ŝ, ŭ are retained in Afrikaans loan words, although writing these may represent difficulties for Afrikaans users of word processors and e-mail.

One exception is the Dutch digraph which looks like a 'y' with diaeresis (often called the 'long y' or the 'Greek y') and is usually typed as 'ij', which in Afrikaans becomes two separate letters 'i' and 'j' (rather than a 'y' with diaeresis, 'ÿ'). In Afrikaans, this digraph from Dutch loan words is always written as 'y', never as 'ij', except in proper nouns.


All letters in the Latin alphabet are acceptable in Afrikaans, although for non-loan words only the 26 letters of the English alphabet and certain vowels with diacritics are used.

The vowels with diacritics in non-loanword Afrikaans are: á, é, è, ê, ë, í, î, ï, ó, ô, ú, û, ý. These thirteen letters are pronounced the same way as their non-diacritic counterparts in isolation. For the purpose of alphabetic ordering, these diacritic letters are regarded as equivalent to their non-diacritic counterparts. It is not acceptable to replace them by their non-diacritic equivalents in situations where typing the diacritic forms may be difficult. In the early days of e-mail and on primitive computer systems, the diacritics were often left out or written next to the character, and computer illiterate users may still do so today.

When a sentence is written in the uppercase, the diacritic letters stay in the lowercase form.

Initial apostrophes

A few short words in Afrikaans take initial apostrophes. In modern Afrikaans, these words are always written in lower case (except if the entire line is uppercase), and if they occur at the beginning of a sentence, the next word is capitalised. Three examples of such apostrophed words are 't, 'k, 'n . The most common is 'n , which is the indefinite article, and the other two may soon be regarded as archaic.

'k Het hom lief (I love him)

similar to Dutch words: ik heb hem lief

'k 't Dit gesê (I said it)

similar to Dutch words: ik heb dit gezegd

'n Man loop daar (A man walks there)

similar to Dutch words: een man loopt daar

Daar is 'n man (There is a man)

similar to Dutch words: daar is een man

The apostrophe and the following letter are regarded as two separate characters, and is never written using a single glyph, although a single character variant of the indefinite article appears in Unicode, ʼn.

Some modern word processors have autocorrect features that incorrectly treat an apostrophe (also known as a 9-quote) at the beginning of a word as a single quote (also known as a 6-quote).

In non-stylised fonts, it is acceptable to use a straight quote for the apostrophe, and this is often done in electronic communication.

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