The first-ever dictionary of South Africa’s Kaaps language has launched – why it matters


Graffiti artist Falko Starr finishes a mural in the Cape Flats area of Cape Town.
GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP via Getty Images

Adam Haupt, University of Cape Town

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 & 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 Afrikaaps 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 Asian, Dutch, Portuguese and English people. It could be argued that Kaaps predates 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.

It is important to acknowledge the agency of people from the global South in developing Kaaps – for example, the language was first taught in madrassahs (Islamic schools) and was written in Arabic script. This acknowledgement is imperative especially because Afrikaner nationalists appropriated Kaaps in later years.

For a great discussion of Kaaps and explanation of examples of words and phrases from this language, listen to this conversation between academic Quentin Williams and journalist Lester Kiewit.

How did the dictionary come about?

The dictionary project, which is still in its launch phase, is the result of ongoing collaborative work between a few key people. You might say it’s one outcome of our interest in hip hop art, activism and education. We are drawn to hip hop’s desire to validate black modes of speech. In a sense, this is what a dictionary will do for Kaaps.

Quentin Williams, a sociolinguist, leads the project. Emile Jansen, Tanswell Jansen and Shaquile Southgate serve on the editorial board on behalf of Heal the Hood Project, which is an NGO that employs hip hop education in youth development initiatives. Emile also worked with hip hop and theatre practitioners on a production called Afrikaaps, which affirmed Kaaps and narrated some of its history. Anthropologist H. Samy Alim is the founding director of the Center for Race, Ethnicity and Language at Stanford University and has assisted in funding the dictionary, with the Western Cape’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport.

An album cover with the title 'Afrikaaps', an illustration of assorted cool looking young people with a mountain in the background.
CD art from the musical Afrikaaps.
Courtesy of Afrikaaps/Dylan Valley

We’re in the process of training the core editorial board in the scientific area of lexicography, translation and transcription. This includes the archiving of the initial, structured corpus for the dictionary. We will write down definitions and determine meanings of old and new Kaaps words. This process will be subjected to a rigorous review and editing and stylistic process of the Kaaps words we will enter in the dictionary. The entries will include their history of origin, use and uptake. There will also be a translation from standard Afrikaans and English.

Who will use the dictionary?

It will be a resource for its speakers and valuable to educators, students and researchers. It will impact the ways in which institutions, as loci of power, engage speakers of Kaaps. It would also be useful to journalists, publishers and editors keen to learn more about how to engage Kaaps speakers.

A Kaaps dictionary will validate it as a language in its own right. And it will validate the identities of the people who speak it. It will also assist in making visible the diverse cultural, linguistic, geographical and historical tributaries that contributed to the evolution of this language.

Kaaps was relegated to a slang status of Afrikaans?

Acknowledgement of Kaaps is imperative especially because Afrikaner nationalists appropriated Kaaps in order to create the dominant version of the language in the form of Afrikaans. A ‘suiwer’ or ‘pure’ version, claiming a strong Dutch influence, Afrikaans was formally recognised as an official language of South Africa in 1925. This was part of the efforts to construct white Afrikaner identity, which shaped apartheid based on a belief in white supremacy.




Read more:
Afrikaner identity in post-apartheid South Africa remains stuck in whiteness


For example, think about the Kaaps tradition of koesiesters – fried dough confectionery – which was appropriated (taken without acknowledgement) and the treats were named koeksisters by white Afrikaners. They were claimed as a white Afrikaner tradition. The appropriation of Kaaps reveals a great deal about the extent to which race is socially and politically constructed. As I have said elsewhere, cultural appropriation is both an expression of unequal relations of power and is enabled by them.

When people think about Kaaps, they often think about it as ‘mixed’ or ‘impure’ (‘onsuiwer’). This relates to the ways in which they think about ‘racial’ identity. They often think about coloured identity as ‘mixed’, which implies that black and white identities are ‘pure’ and bounded; that they only become ‘mixed’ in ‘inter-racial’ sexual encounters. This mode of thinking is biologically essentialist.




Read more:
How Cape Town’s “Gayle” has endured — and been adopted by straight people


Of course, geneticists now know that there is not sufficient genetic variation between the ‘races’ to justify biologically essentialist understandings. Enter cultural racism to reinforce the concept of ‘race’. It polices culture and insists on standard language varieties by denigrating often black modes of speech as ‘slang’ or marginal dialects.

Can a dictionary help overturn stereotypes?

Visibility and the politics of representation are key challenges for speakers of Kaaps – be it in the media, which has done a great job of lampooning and stereotyping speakers of Kaaps – or in these speakers’ engagement with governmental and educational institutions. If Kaaps is not recognised as a bona fide language, you will continue to see classroom scenarios where schoolkids are told explicitly that the way in which they speak is not ‘respectable’ and will not guarantee them success in their pursuit of careers.

This dictionary project, much like ones for other South African languages like isiXhosa, isiZulu or Sesotho, can be a great democratic resource for developing understanding in a country that continues to be racially divided and unequal.The Conversation

Adam Haupt, , University of Cape Town

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’ 10 years later: Self-publishing wasn’t novel then, but now it’s easier to reach a niche audience


Substantial cultural commentary and numerous studies addressed how the ‘infamous’ novel influenced both readers and the publishing industry.
(Shutterstock)

Elizaveta Poliakova, York University, Canada

It has been 10 years since E.L. James decided to self-publish her first novel, Fifty Shades of Grey. The plot of the story centres on a college student who enters a relationship with a wealthy businessman involving BDSM practices — bondage, dominance/submission, sadism/masochism — and becomes his submissive.

A standing woman in an evening gown is accompanied by a man in a suit.
Some critics commend author E.L. James, pictured here, for enticing more authors to experiment with self-publishing.
(Shutterstock)

The story was first developed as a fan-fiction project in 2009 based on the Twilight series, originally titled Master of the Universe. However, after being reprimanded for the mature content by the administrators of a fan fiction website, James decided to self-publish the book in 2011 with the help of an online publisher, The Writers’ Coffee Shop.

James’s book and its sequels — Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed — became a global sensation. The trilogy sold more than 65 million copies after James signed a contract with a traditional publisher, Vintage Books, an imprint of Random House.

Substantial cultural commentary and numerous studies addressed how the “infamous” novel influenced both readers and the publishing industry.

Some people critiqued the book for linking sex and violence without delving into the level of communication required to make BSDM safe and truly consentual. Others discussed how it harmed women’s already fragile role in a patriarchal world, or commended it for starting dialogue around BDSM — and enticing more authors to experiment with niche topics and self-publishing.




Read more:
Violence dressed up as erotica: Fifty Shades of Grey and abuse


Role of gatekeepers has shifted

This is an interesting time in publishing and other areas of the cultural industries, because the roles of gatekeepers are changing. Today, it is much easier to appeal to a niche audience than it was 10 years ago. Self-publishing is here to stay.

Some people commend self-publishing as a great way to ensure that audiences can access a diversity of genres and voices that have traditionally been marginalized by mainstream publishers. Others condemn it because of the lack of gatekeepers to assess the content being produced. A few consider it a get-rich-quick-scheme.

However, these assumptions are based on a limited knowledge of contemporary self-publishing practices.

Self-publishing isn’t new

The phenomenon of self-publishing is often linked to online book production methods, which allow authors to produce an ebook with a few strokes of the keyboard, making their work available to a global audience. However, there is a much richer history of self-publishing that goes further back than its digital counterpart.

A number of prominent authors started off by privately printing their work. For instance, Jane Austen privately published Sense and Sensibility in 1811, and Mark Twain self-published The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 1885. Although self-publishing might appear as the new buzzword, it is not a novel phenomenon in the publishing industry.

Even though self-publishing was a practice some authors adopted in the 18th and 19th centuries, the distribution methods and number of copies were often limited.

A stack of Jane Austen books
Yes, Jane Austen’s ‘Sense and Sensibility’ actually has something in common with ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’: self-publishing.
(Shutterstock)

Amazon & self-publishing

In the past 10 years, the phenomenon of self-publishing grew massively with the help of Amazon, Wattpad and other online publishing tools.

The real game changer to self-publishing was Amazon when it introduced Kindle Direct Publishing in 2007. It became possible for authors to share their work worldwide through a convenient global distributor.

Amazon can be linked to the popularization of electronic books (ebooks) through its promotion of the Kindle — also introduced in 2007 — which prices literary works as low as 99 cents.

In 2012, a year after its publication, Fifty Shades of Grey was the best- and fastest-selling series ever on Kindle.

Self-publishing on the rise

It is difficult to trace the actual number of self-published books because platforms like Amazon assign their own classification, making the ISBN unnecessary. However, Bowker, a company that assesses and reports bibliographical information (such as ISBN data), provides reports showing that self-publishing has been on the rise.

In 2011, the company registered 148,424 printed self-published books with an additional 87,201 ebooks. Only six years later, in 2017, the registered number of self-published books was more than a million. The numbers kept rising the following year, with over 1.5 million self-published books registered in Bowker’s system.

In the past 10 plus years, self-publishing has kept growing as an industry potentially due to ebook adoption and online publishing companies, which indicates that it certainly has the possibility to have a permanent place in the publishing ecosystem.

Wattpad: virtual library of the future?

In 2006, Kevin Kelly, former editor of Wired magazine, proposed the idea of “liquid books” all housed in a universal library, which anyone could access freely. A year after Kelly’s proposal, a platform emerged that made the idea of a universal library a viable possibility.

Wattpad was originally a start-up founded in Canada by Allen Lau and Ivan Yuen in 2007. Originally a website, the company launched a mobile app in 2008, which is now easily accessed from any hand-held device.

At first, the founders of the site uploaded books in the public domain to attract users. Once enough people became aware of Wattpad, writers started to upload their own stories to share with an online audience. Now Wattpad has a range of categories of books and stories for all types of readers, ranging from traditional romance and mystery to spiritual genres and the paranormal. A virtual library of user-generated content, both mainstream and niche, emerged that supported the self-publishing boom.

Wattpad takes prides in the fact that it presents its authors with opportunities to obtain worldwide recognition by working with global media companies. For instance, the self-published novel The Kissing Booth became a Netflix original movie after it found success and a loyal audience on Wattpad. Hence, Wattpad became a place for traditional industries to browse for new content.

Arguably, this signals that self-publishing isn’t going anywhere, and that traditional media companies are quick to take advantage of this new model of production.

After more than 10 years in the industry, Wattpad has developed ties to traditional media outlets that can potentially only get stronger.

What’s next?

Self-publishing could be a solution to a number of problems authors face — from trying to reach a niche market to producing controversial content, as was the case with the work of E.L. James.

Something else to keep in mind when evaluating the usefulness of self-publishing is the possibility of producing and purchasing books and ebooks from home during a pandemic.

Could the pandemic contribute to a shift that potentially makes self-publishing accepted as a viable and legitimate form of book production? Maybe we’ll get an answer in another 10 years.The Conversation

Elizaveta Poliakova, PhD Candidate, Communications and Culture, York University, Canada

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.