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Afrikaans syntax

The syntax of Afrikaans is described in terms of four major parts of speech and the phrases that are built with these parts of speech as their head:

The formation of Afrikaans clauses, including the relation between verbs and their arguments, word order in main and dependent clauses, and emphatic constructions at clause level are described as part of the verb phrase.

The syntax of Afrikaans was written by a number of different authors, resulting in slightly different treatment of the various parts of speech, but they largely correspond to the overall organisational structure of the syntax of Dutch and syntax of Frisian on Taalportaal. The Afrikaans authors were also generally more inclined towards a usage-based approach, and in many sections, made use of electronic corpora or other text collections of Afrikaans as descriptive basis. Furthermore, the standard reference work on Afrikaans syntax, Afrikaanse Sintaksis by Fritz Ponelis (1979), served as central reference point for the authors working on Afrikaans syntax.

The authors who contributed to the writing of the syntax of Afrikaans, and the sections they were responsible for, are the following:

  • NP
    Authors: Adri Breed, Johanita Kirsten

    Moderators: Adri Breed, Johanita Kirsten

  • AP
    Author: Ernst Kotzé

    Moderators: Lande Botha, Adri Breed, Lize Terblanche

  • VP
    Authors: Jac Conradie, Haidee Kotze, Bertus van Rooy

    Moderators: Cecilia Erasmus, Bertus van Rooy

  • PP
    Author: Ernst Kotzé

    Moderator: Adri Breed

[+]Afrikaans syntax research: a very brief (and subjective) history

The syntax of Afrikaans received attention first in the early grammars of the late 19th and early 20th century, which were written as part of the early attempts at standardisation, or aimed at language learners, especially English speakers in South Africa, such as the Fergelijkende taalkunde fan Afrikaans en Engels / Comparative grammar of English and Cape Dutch by SJ du Toit (1902), or the Afrikaanse taalboek: praktiese wegwijser bij die vernaamste moeilikhede in verband met die Afrikaanse grammatika ( Afrikaans language book: practical guide to the most important difficulties in connection with the Afrikaans grammar) by DF Malherbe (1917). Prior to these early pioneers of the grammatical description of Afrikaans, observations about syntactic phenomena can be found in the work of Dutch teachers who came to South Africa and wrote books in which they try to "restore" the Dutch language to its "original" (or better, contemporaneous European) form, if "adjusted to local needs" as reflected by the titles of these 19th century works, e.g. De Nederduitsche taal in Zuid-Afrika hersteld: zijnde eene handleiding tot de kennis dier taal, naar de plaatselijke behoefte van het land gewijzigd ( The Low German language restored in South Africa: being a guide to the knowledge of the language, adjusted according to the needs of the country) by ANE Changuion (1844), and the Proeve van een Kaapsch-Hollandsch idioticon, met toelichtingen en opmerkingen betreffend land, volk en taal ( Samples of a Cape Dutch idioticon, with notes and observations in connection with the country, people and language) by N Mansvelt (1884).

The first time a book with the words Afrikaans and sintaksis ( syntax) appeared, as far as could be determined, was in 1923, when JJ le Roux published his Oor die Afrikaanse sintaksis ( Concerning Afrikaans syntax) (Le Roux 1923). Subsequently, various more specific investigations were conducted into the syntax of Afrikaans, in the form of articles on specific phenomena, or master's and doctoral dissertations on often more comprehensive topics in the broad field of Afrikaans syntax. Many of the shorter articles were also written with a strong prescriptive bent, targeting in particular Anglicisms, constructions in Afrikaans that appear to be based on templates adopted from English. A comprehensive list of typical sources can be obtained from the Digitale Bibliografie van die Afrikaanse Taalkunde (Digital Bibliography of Afrikaans Linguistics) (see Breed et al. 2016).

The next complete description of the syntax of Afrikaans followed only in 1968, when Fritz Ponelis published his Grondtrekke van die Afrikaanse sintaksis ( Basic outline of Afrikaans syntax) (1968), followed a decade later by the more comprehensive Afrikaanse sintaksis ( Afrikaans syntax) (Ponelis 1979), which is still the most comprehensive source on the entire syntax of Afrikaans. Subsequently, JL van Schoor published Die grammatika van Standaard-Afrikaans ( The grammar of standard Afrikaans) (Van Schoor 1983), which covers similar ground, while various aspects of Afrikaans syntax also receive attention from a normative perspective in WAM Carstens's Norme vir Afrikaans ( Norms for Afrikaans) (Carstens 1989), which has seen its 6th edition in 2018. With the exception of a number of journal articles in recent years, English-language publications on the syntax of Afrikaans are limited to Donaldson's Grammar of Afrikaans(1993) and The influence of English on Afrikaans(1991), as well as Ponelis's historical work The development of Afrikaans(1993).

Ponelis (1989) wrote an extensive chapter for the Afrikaans textbook Inleiding tot die Afrikaanse taalkunde ( Introduction to Afrikaans linguistics), covering the syntax of Afrikaans in 100 pages. For the most recent Kontemporêre Afrikaanse taalkunde ( Contemporary Afrikaans linguistics) (Carstens and Bosman 2017), Ilse Feinauer reworked the 1989 chapter by Ponelis for contemporary students (Feinauer and Ponelis 2014), while Bertus van Rooy wrote a chapter on Afrikaans syntax from a more overtly functional perspective (Van Rooy 2017), to complement the more formal approach taken by Feinauer and Ponelis.

In terms of theoretical orientation, most sources until the middle of the 20th century adopted the formal approach of traditional grammarians, distinguishing the various parts of speech, the phrases (sometimes labelled word groups) that are built with the major or lexical parts of speech, before proceeding to the structure of clauses. A historical orientation, with attention to the development of constructions in Dutch up to the 19th century, can also be detected in some of these sources. Strong traces of Latin or Greek grammars are not present, although De Villiers (1942) pointed to instances where authors imposed Dutch and Latin grammar categories on the description of Afrikaans, leading to rather artificial descriptions. In the work of De Villiers, the traditional approach lead him to consider the semantic values of grammatical constructions on a consistent basis, as exemplified in his book Woordsoorte, werkwoorde en tye ( Parts of speech, verbs and time) (De Villiers 1948), based on his doctoral dissertation (De Villiers 1942), and later revised into a second edition (De Villiers 1968).

From the middle of the 20th century, traces of structuralism can be detected in the approaches taken, with a synchronic orientation on the structure of word groups and clause structure replacing earlier concerns with the historical development of Afrikaans. However, the adoption of structuralism was not consistent and comprehensive, and the traditional, historical, normative and structuralist approaches informed researchers during the third quarter of the 20th century (see Van Wyk 1967 for one statement of the structuralist position). By the second half of the 1960s, the generative approach was adopted by a larger and influential group of scholars, a move that is initially spearheaded by Fritz Ponelis in his Grondtrekke van die Afrikaanse sintaksis ( Basic outline of Afrikaans syntax) (1968), and further reinforced by the work in generative morphology by Rudolf Botha in his The function of the lexicon in transformational generative grammar(1968) and in generative phonology by Daan Wissing in his Fonologie en morfologie van die simplekse selfstandige naamwoord in Afrikaans: 'n transformasioneel-generatiewe beskrywing ( Phonology and morphology of the simplex noun in Afrikaans: a transformational generative description) (1971). This was followed by a number of dissertations in the 1970s where explicit generative approaches are adopted, such as De Bruto (De Bruto 1971), Van Rensburg (1971), Du Plessis (1974), and Waher (1978). In 1973, a major initiative was launched by the University of Pretoria to deepen understanding of the generative paradigm with a series of lectures, also attended by Chomsky and Halle themselves. This is followed in 1974 by the publication of TGG: 'n Eerste oorsig ( TGG: A first overview) (Van Rensburg et al. 1974), and several other studies that aimed to disseminate insight into generative grammar within the community of Afrikaans linguists, including the syntacticians. In the late 1970s, the Department of General Linguistics launches its Stellenbosch Papers in Linguistics publication series, which becomes a further important stimulus for the expansion of generative syntactic work on Afrikaans.

In the meantime, though, Ponelis started to move away from the generative perspective, and very little of that informed his most substantive publication on Afrikaans syntax, his 1979Afrikaanse sintaksis ( Afrikaans syntax). While generative research on Afrikaans continues throughout the 1980s and beyond (e.g. Biberauer 2003, Oosthuizen 2015), researchers adopting other perspectives, such as case grammar (De Stadler 1976), functional grammar and cognitive grammar (De Stadler 1995, Breed 2012, Van Rooy and Kruger 2015, Kotzé and Kirsten 2019) started to make contributions to Afrikaans syntax. Work in the traditional (philological) and comparative perspective continued unabatedly by scholars like Conradie (1996, 2004, 2018). The availability of larger and smaller corpora also stimulated new research into syntactic variability in Afrikaans synchronically (Colleman et al. 2016, Van Rooy and Kruger 2016), as well as diachronically (Deumert 2004, Kirsten 2019).

[+]Symbols, abbreviations and glossing conventions

See the section on syntax on the page about notations and symbols for presenting examples.

Also see this page regarding abbreviations used in glosses, and abbreviations for dictionaries, corpora, etc. A list of common glosses can be found here, while a taxonomy of Afrikaans part-of-speech categories is available here.

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