by Jac Dowling
I love words. Like a recipe, I use them, mix, muddle, sieve, blend, taste and, hopefully, eventually come up with something half decent by way of a scribble.
So it was that this English speaker recently added a most useful new word to the Afrikaans language. A true example of ‘ontwikkeling’. I’m often introduced as ‘Dis nou Jacky, sy’s engelssprekend jy weet…’ which is fine, because I also speak pretty good 2nd and a bit of 3rd official languages but keep quiet about it. This way I hear some very interesting conversations between the shelves of our local library … which is why I’m usually up to date with the local scandals and matters of dubious interest before they reach the pages of our weekly newspaper. While remaining a paragon of discretion and zipped lips, my cloth ears have a wide magnetic field.
One of the pluses of living in a bilingual town is the vibrant mix of languages; Afrikaans spoken by the purists, the non-purists and the totally free speaking ‘Djou Ma se…’ brigade, whose eclectic vocabulary grows ever more colourful as the day progresses, especially after 5pm and on Friday afternoons. It’s a bit like a huge balloon of words let loose in the sky, bumping into each other and getting thoroughly wind-blown before bursting in a burping frenzy of blue and purple air. Like the roofer who yelled out across our road to his mate opposite ‘Hey, djy wat met die anner man se vrou slaap…’ the response was unprintable. And the guy who stuck his head through the back window of our car when we were being unco-operative regarding R50 for a papsak (wine bladder) and shouted at our rottweiler ‘Hey hond, sê vir djou baas VOETSAK.’
We share our languages. We mix them. We taste them. We garnish and glaze. There are sayings, words, idioms, descriptions in the Afrikaans language which simply do not translate into English and retain their character – and vice versa. I was not much of a bi-linguist when we came to the Western Cape, but this has changed to the extent that I now enjoy reading novels in Afrikaans: I read Die Burger and Rapport. Quite slowly. Friends laugh charitably at my accent, but they all speak English and when we get together conversation is totally ‘opgemix’ and works really well. I’ve also discovered that our Xhosa speaking community are genuinely happy when I make the effort to greet them in their own language, and hazard a few sentences. They smile and call me Mma or Mama, gently correct my grammar and help me with new words. Which is fine, as long as no-one calls me Tannie!
So – the new word: Koeksitter – she who sits with the cake being raffled locally, and sells tickets. During a recent sitting session, a man asked me whether the cake was well preserved. I replied that it contains at least half a bottle of best KWV and he bought 6 tickets. Next punter was a quietly dressed woman of middle years, who asked me the same question. I sexed up my reply to an even greater volume of preservative at which she turned puce then quivery white and informed me in no uncertain terms (in another official language) that she never had a drop of that stuff in her house. Pity, I thought, having told her it would last at least five years in her koekblik – also in the other official language. I read somewhere that one of the founder Ontwikkelers of the Afrikaans language was Arnoldus Pannevis … tomorrow is pancake day at the library, which, translated, is Pannekoek which: NO. No more!
Now, this Koeksitter is off to her local hair stylist to have a ‘Sny en Blaas’. Actually, it’s so cold that I may well cancel the blaas bit and have a really outrageous hunk of choc caramel cake and several mugs of cappucino instead.
©J Dowling 2013
Photo by Nuttakit from freedigitalphotos.net