Why Kaaps Language Dictionary Matters!
Big Issue|Issue 300
The first-ever dictionary of South Africa’s Kaaps language has launched. Why it matters …
Adam Haupt

It’s been in existence since the 1500s but the Kaaps language, synonymous with Cape Town in South Africa, has never had a dictionary until now. The Trilingual Dictionary of Kaaps has been launched by a collective of academic and community stakeholders – the Centre for Multilingualism and Diversities Research at the University of the Western Cape, along with the hip hop-driven community NGO Heal the Hood Project. The dictionary, in Kaaps, English and Afrikaans, holds the promise of being a powerful democratic resource.

Adam Haupt, director of the Centre for Film and Media Studies at the University of Cape Town, is involved in the project and tells us more.

WHAT IS KAAPS AND WHO USES THE LANGUAGE?

Kaaps or Afrikaans is a language created in settler-colonial South Africa, developed by the 1500s. It took shape as a language during encounters between indigenous African (Khoi and San), South-East Asians, Dutch, Portuguese and English people. It could be argued that Kaaps pre-dates the emergence of an early form of Kaaps-Hollands (the South African variety of Dutch that would help shape Afrikaans). Traders and sailors would have passed through this region well before formal colonisation commenced. Also, consider migration and movement on the African continent itself. Every intercultural engagement would have created an opportunity for linguistic exchange and the negotiation of new meaning.

Today, Kaaps is most commonly used by largely working-class speakers on the Cape Flats, an area in Cape Town where many disenfranchised people were forcibly moved by the apartheid government. It’s used across all online and offline contexts of socialisation, learning, commerce, politics and religion. And, because of language contact and the temporary and seasonal migration of speakers from the Western Cape, it is written and spoken across South Africa and beyond its borders.

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