Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies

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On language heroes and the modernising movement of Afrikaner nationalism

Anne-Marie Beukes


This article explores the re-invention of translators as ‘language heroes' in periods of intense Afrikaner mobilisation during the first half of the 20th century. The narrative construction of translators' accomplishments in standardising the corpus and modernising the functional uses of Afrikaans is mapped against the institutional context that gave rise to the Afrikaner's ethnolinguistic vitality. Not unlike other venerated language engineers of the time, translators were language activists who played a key role in transforming the low image of the Afrikaans vernacular as a function of Afrikaner nationalism and hence in building ethnolinguistic vitality. It is argued that translation should be utilised in contemporary South Africa as one of the key strategies for language modernisation. The high esteem in which Afrikaans translators were held and their accomplishments in defying the structural confines of their times, could serve as a pointer for the much needed expansion of the socio-cultural domains of the indigenous languages in postapartheid South Africa.

Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies 2007, 25(3): 245–258
AJOL African Journals Online