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The Afrikaans exclamative expression is a functional category without an independent, unique construction form. It makes use of a number of structures, often interrogative structures, that are repurposed to serve this function. In writing, they are distinguished by an exclamation mark at the end of a sentence, in stead of a question mark, and in speech by a different intonation from the interrogatives. Exclamatives also tend to make use of negation, although the meanings are usually irrealis and are not intended to be understood as negated propositions. The main senses conveyed by exclamatives are surprise, delight, happiness, or conversely sadness and disapproval. The requirement is essentially that strong affect must be conveyed, irrespective of whether the affect is associated with a positive or negative feeling.

Variants of the wh-exclamative are the most widely used ones, including exclamatives that consist of a single noun phrase with the interrogative wat what and the indefinite article 'n a/an (like (1a) and (1b)), and wh-interrogative clauses (like (1c)), but other possibilities exist and are set out below.

Example 1

a. Wat 'n gemors.
what a mess
What a mess!
[Nominal wh-exclamative]
b. Wat 'n fokken party was dit nie!
what a fucking party be.PST it PTCL.NEG
What a fucking party it wasn't!
[Negative wh-exclamative clause]
c. Waddefok maak jy hier!!??!
what.the.fuck make.PRS you here
What the fuck are you doing here!??!!
[Positive wh-exclamative clause]

In Afrikaans, unlike English, there is no difference in the form of the exclamative and interrogative. It is therefore not possible to draw the distinction on the grounds of word order. The context usually helps to disambiguate, but graphological or phonological information is the most reliable guide to the writer or speaker's intention.

[+]Noun phrase form

The most frequently attested exclamative form in both the fiction section of the Taalkommissiekorpus and in the Watkykjykorpus is a noun phrase introduced by wat what, followed by the indefinite article, a modifier and a noun, as illustrated by the examples in (2). The use of an adjectival modifier, very often a taboo word or euphemism, depending on register and audience, is very prominent, and allows infinite opportunity for creativity and expressiveness. Exclamations in Afrikaans are often not for the feint of heart.

Example 2

a. Wat 'n grieselrige vonds!
what a gruesome find
What a gruesome discovery!
b. Wat 'n weird naweek!
what a weird weekend
What a weird weekend!
c. Wat 'n fokken kak movie!
what a fucking shit movie
What a really shitty movie!

Less frequent in the data, but grammatically speaking, a simpler form, is the use of the wh-noun phrase without the modifier, only identifying the noun about which the speaker exclaims. The implication in context is usually that this is a particularly noteworthy (outstanding or exceptionally bad) example of the category denoted by the noun in the case of a neutral noun, or else a non-neutral noun is further appraised in intensified terms, as illustrated by (3).

Example 3

a. Wat 'n prediker!
what a preacher
What an inspiring preacher!
b. Wat 'n ramp!
what a disaster
What a disaster!
c. Wat 'n doos!
what a twat
What a twat!

In contexts where taboo words are freely used, a further form has emerged in Afrikaans that is built on the same template, namely Wat de fok! What the fuck!, often reduced in pronunciation (and imitated by the spelling) to Waddefok! [va.də.fɔk]. Both forms are attested very frequently in the Watkykjykorpus, and clearly imitates spoken language. This pattern has further productivity in Afrikaans, in that the taboo word fok fuck can be replaced by other taboo forms, such as bliksem/donder thunder, hel hell, moer mother, poes pussy/cunt, to yield the exclamations wat de bliksem/donder/ wat de hel/ wat de moer/ wat de poes.

A final variant of the wh-noun phrase form for the exclamative seems to be a reduced form of the wh-cleft, in which the copular verb is omitted, and where the noun being appraised is post-modified by what appears to be a noun complement clause, as illustrated by example (4).

Example 4

a. Wat 'n snaakse gedagte dat my gaste meteens kan begin uitsit soos ballonne!
what a weird thought that.COMP my guests at.once can.AUX.MOD begin.LINK expand.INF like balloons
What a weird thought that my guests would begin to expand like balloons!
b. Wat 'n heuglikheid om julle weer saam by die losie te sien!
what a joy for.COMP you.PL.OBJ again together at the suite PTCL.INF see.INF
What a happy occasion to see the two of you together again at the suite!
[+]WH-interrogative form

Specific interrogative main clauses with an interrogative pronoun like wat what, hoe how and waar where can be used to form an exclamative. These forms most frequently have a clause-initial noun phrase that identifies the topicalised entity about which the exclamation is made, as shown in example (5). The grammatical patterns of these initial noun phrases are similar to those that are attested when exclamative noun phrases are used as single utterances.

Example 5

a. Wat 'n aanwins gaan hy nie vir Somi wees nie!
what a asset go.LINK he not for Somi be.INF PTCL.NEG
What an asset he is (not) going to be for Somi!
b. Wat 'n droommaand was dit andersins nie!
what a dream.month be.PST it otherwise not
What a dream month was it not otherwise!
c. Wat 'n fokken sirkus was dit nie!
what a fucking circus be.PST it not
What a fucking circus it was!

The association with negation, as shown in the examples in (5) is a very strong one, but the formal Afrikaans negation does not have the meaning of negating either the clause or some constituent of the clause. Therefore, the English translations do not consistently require negation. It is also possible, if less frequent, to form exclamatives with wh-clauses that are not negated, as shown in (6).

Example 6

a. Wat 'n blye verrassing was dit toe sy hierdie eerste antwoord van die grens gekry het!
what a joyous surprise be.PST it when she this first answer from the border receive.PST have.AUX
What a pleasant surprise it was when she received this first answer from the border!
b. Wat 'n vriend het ons in PW!
what a friend have.PRS we in PW
What a friend do we have in PW!
Johannes Kerkorrel lyric

When adverbial interrogatives like hoe how or waar where are used, the initial phrase of the interrogative clause is often adjectival or adverbial, rather than nominal, as illustrated by the examples in (7).

Example 7

a. Hoe bly is ek nou die shocktreatment is verby!
how glad be.PRS I now the shock.treatment be.PRS past
How glad I am that the shock treatment is over!
b. Hoe fokken durf jy!
how fucking dare.PRS you
How the fuck dare you!
c. Hoe kief is dit nie!
how cool be.PRS it not
How cool is this!
d. Waar loop ek my toe in Bakkies vas by die mall!
where walk.PRS I me.REFL then in Bakkies against at the mall
Where do I bump into Bakkies at the mall!
[+]General interrogative form

The general interrogative can be used in much the same way as the specific interrogative, by positioning the verb first, followed by the subject and the remainder, but with an exclamative, rather than interrogative meaning. These exclamatives are often intended to be understood in a sarcastic or ironic manner. The option of a negated clause also seems to be quite prevalent with this construction, although negation is not obligatory.

Example 8

a. Is dit nie fokken pragtig nie!
be.PRS it not fucking exquisite PTCL.NEG
Isn't it fucking exquisite!
b. Is dit nie opwindend nie!
be.PRS it not exciting PTCL.NEG
Isn't this exciting!
c. Slaap die ou kleintjie nie te mooi nie!
sleep.PRS the old small.DIM not too beautiful PTCL.NEG
Doesn't the baby sleep so sweetly!
d. En was daar perde toe sy dit uitvind!
and be.PST there horses when she it out.find.PRS
And was there trouble when she found out about this!
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