It’s a good thing English is one of the 11 official languages of South Africa, because I’m not sure we have enough time to learn to speak or understand any of the others. Afrikaans would probably be the “easiest” since it is a Germanic language based in Dutch and has many cognates that we recognize in English. So, by reading an Afrikaans newspaper, for example, we could tell that Kylie Minogue was in town last Friday (Vrydag) and that we should probably care about it. (Of course, like typical Americans, we do not care nearly enough about Kylie Minogue.)
Listening to the radio – at least, to certain stations – is akin to listening to a young Puerto Rican girl in Chicago talking on her cell phone to a friend while riding the El: it’s an utter jumble of languages and interjections and slang that is almost always fun to hear. The difference here is that instead of Spanglish, which we can understand, we are dealing with Afrikaanglish, which is much more difficult (and guttural) and leaves us scratching our heads. The deejay, for example, may be describing a song or an event in English, then switch to Afrikaans to deliver the important details. Oops. You lost us.
When it comes to Pedi, Tswana, Ndebele, Sotho or any of the other languages primarily spoken by black South Africans, there’s just no hope. Unless the conversation includes words that have no equivalent other than English, but, still, I don’t know if my ears will be able to adjust. I hope so, of course, because I’d love to know a few phrases in some of these languages. (Jenny and I have always wanted a secret language so we could talk about things in front of others without their knowledge, so maybe Zulu…)
Now, no discussion of official languages would be complete without including Sign Language. We will sometimes see references to the “12 Official Languages of South Africa”, with the 12th being sign. Television newscasts often include a sign interpreter, and I assume the interpretation is in the same language as the audio, which is most often English, from what we’ve seen in our short time here.
According to a promo for a popular TV drama here, there’s actually a 13th and “Unofficial” language here: Gunfire. Fortunately, we haven’t heard any of that language “spoken” just yet.
So, by now you must be wondering about the title of this post: Buy a Donkey? Thank You. “Buy a donkey” is the only Afrikaans phrase we’ve learned so far. Actually, it’s baie danke and it means “many thanks.” Baie dankie = buy a donkey. Get it? Now you know as much Afrikaans as we.
Don’t worry, though, we haven’t screwed up and purchased any donkeys (Indie would be really confused). We are, however, very close to buying a car! Details to come…