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Thomas: Boer language

We come now to the topic of language, which will be found relevant, showing Hollander and Bond influence in using that also as a hostile weapon. What the Boers still speak is a vernacular or dialect so far removed from High Dutch as to be unintelligible to the uninitiated Hollander. It took its form from the dialects brought to the Cape of Good Hope by unlettered Dutch colonists and a large admixture of locally produced idioms, with a slight trace of the structure of the French language in expressing negations. In the two Republics High Dutch rules for official purposes, but in common intercourse the vernacular Dutch is still about the same as it had been a hundred years ago. For an English-Dutch interpreter the thorough knowledge of the vernacular is essential. Preachers and teachers have to adapt their speech by combining High Dutch with the dialect, the one or the other predominating according to the capacity of the hearers. Hollanders follow the same method when learning the vernacular Dutch.

In towns and villages, not only in the Colonies, but also in both Republics, English is almost exclusively used. The Boers, and especially the younger generation, have a much greater aptitude and penchant for learning English than for High Dutch; and generally it has been held more important by the parents that their children should become proficient in English, that language being more easily acquired and of vastly greater use than Dutch. The latter, it was truly averred, would be learnt as they grew up quite sufficiently for all purposes.

The feeling thus existed some twenty years ago that English would become general, and ultimately oust both Dutch and the vernacular. Numerous Boer patriots then devised the remedy of preserving the vernacular by raising it to the standard of a written and printed language for official as well as common use. The Rev. du Toit, later appointed Minister (or Superintendent) of Education in the Transvaal, worked tenaciously towards making that movement a national success. He had the co-operation of many other educated patriots likewise. The Paarl Patriot, a journal published in the vernacular, is one of the surviving efforts. Vocabularies, school books, etc., etc., were printed in that dialect, and the translation of the Bible had also been brought to an advanced stage, when the project had to be abandoned, principally through Hollander influence, aided by some of the Republican leaders and Bond men. Dr. Mansfeld, the present Superintendent of Education in the Transvaal, was subsequently appointed—a very able Hollander, but also a very strong advocate in the general Hollander Bond movement for proscribing the use of the English language, and making High Dutch the compulsory medium of instruction. Since then, and during the past ten years, considerable progress has been made by the average Boer children, and even the grown-up people, in approaching a better knowledge of High Dutch. Before 1880 hardly any Boer cared to read a newspaper except, perhaps, the Paarl Patriot, the vernacular journal referred to. High Dutch and English papers were equally beyond his ready knowledge, but since then the interest in politics gave an impulse to a reading tendency, and at this moment the majority of the Boers manage to read and understand fairly well what is presented in simply written High Dutch by the local Press. They also are fond of simply written books of travels, and especially of narratives of a religious trend. With the Bible they are most familiar from childhood, but literature in High Dutch is beyond them as yet. Greater pains have of late years been taken to qualify Boer sons for the administrative service of the Republics, where imperfect knowledge of High Dutch is an obvious bar to advancement, and Hollanders would otherwise continue to monopolize the better positions.

Taking the fairly educated Free State and Transvaal youth, the average proficiency in English compared to that in High Dutch is as two to one, whilst many possess even a literary mastery in English whilst quite poor in the other language.

In the Cape Colony the above comparison among the Boer section is still more in favour of English.

It may be judged what an important rôle the educated Hollander group can take in those Republics, and are yet aiming at in the Colonies.

It is also worthy of reflection why and how the Dutch language has been raised to equality with English in the Cape Colony, seeing English was more generally understood by the Boers there than High Dutch, and none of the Boer legislators or members of Parliament even now know more than the Dutch vernacular, the High Dutch language having actually yet to be learnt by the Boer population—an important step thus gained by Afrikanerdom under the indulgent ægis of self-government, the thin end of another wedge to nurse sedition and treason introduced by that odious Bond under pretence and veil of Boer patriotism and loyalty.

As one of the world's languages, Dutch figures under a very sorry rôle indeed. It had been ignored everywhere outside of Holland and her distant Colonies. The consequence to Hollanders is that they are of necessity subjected to the ordeal of learning several other continental languages for commercial intercourse, and in order to keep at all abreast with the progress of science, literature, and culture. Dutch is in the moribund stage; its salvation from imminent extinction consists in the expansion of its sphere. Boer successes in South Africa would just accomplish that.

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