‘something which is not nothing’ … a symbol of the continuous growth of Afrikaans, the language and its culture
Afrikaans is the only language in the world that has its own monument. Click to get a bird’s eye view and discover the symbolism of this timeless site.
One of a kind
The idea of building a monument for Afrikaans was first made public in 1942. It was only in 1965 that the call for a design of the Afrikaanse Taalmonument was launched. There were a couple of requirements:
It needed to be erected on the southern slopes of Paarl Mountain.
It needed to be a visually bold and symbolic monument visible from afar.
It had to symbolise the wonder of the cultural and political growth which culminated in the establishment of the Republic.
It took three decades to realise this dream. The monument was officially opened on 10 October 1975. It commemorates the semi-centenary of Afrikaans being declared an official language of South Africa, separate from Dutch. It was also erected on the 100th anniversary of the founding of Die Genootskap van Regte Afrikaners or GRA (the Society of Real Afrikaners) in Paarl. The GRA that helped to strengthen Afrikaners' identity and pride in their language.
The monument consists of various tapering structures of a convex and concave nature. It symbolises the influences of different languages and cultures from three different continents as well as political developments in South Africa.
The confluence of two curves forms a bridge which is the base of the main hyperbola. This, rising up into space, signifies the coming into being and the development of Afrikaans. "Afrikaans is the language that connects Western Europe and Africa... It forms a bridge between the large, shining West and the magical Africa... And what great things may come from their union – that is maybe what lies ahead for Afrikaans to discover. But what we must never forget, is that this change of country and landscape sharpened, kneaded and knitted this newly-becoming language... And so Afrikaans became able to speak out from this new land...” – N.P. van Wyk Louw.
A podium with three semi-spheres to the right of the building represents Africa – the continent of indigenous languages and cultures. The podium develops into a lesser curve which joins the main upward movement/needle.
To the left of the monument is a colonnade of three elements. They symbolise the languages and cultures of the enlightened West (Dutch, German, French and English). These structures, closely juxtaposed, begin at a height and diminish in size before descending in a curve. This curve ascends again into the main upward sweep.
The monument still inspires deep thought on the subject of the Afrikaans language. “I’m no purist and believe that language is a live organism, adapting and changing as times and conditions change. This artwork depicts a language that might be under threat or might be on its way to a brighter future depending on how the wind blows. Jan van Riebeeck arrived with three ships but this arrival was only the beginning and a transformation started as a result of outside influence.” – Strijdom van der Merwe, well-known land artist.
The idea to build a monument for the Afrikaans language was announced on 14 August 1942 during the unveiling of a memorial plaque at the cemetery on the farm Kleinbosch outside Paarl. The plaque was in honour of SJ du Toit, DF du Toit and PJ Malherbe, the three founding members of the Genootskap van Regte Afrikaners (GRA). The announcement was followed by a public meeting in Paarl where the Afrikaanse Taalmonument Committee was established with the purpose to raise funds. The launch was enthusiastic and a so-called ‘Oproep’ (Call for action) was set up to bring the matter to the attention of the whole of the country. It was nearly three decades later before the monument became a reality.
In 1963 a committee was established to launch a competition for the design of the monument. Twelve architects were invited to partake. According to the brief, the monument had to be visible from far away and among others present the cultural and political bloom of Afrikaans. The design by architect Jan van Wijk was announced as the winner.
Inspiration for the design
Jan van Wijk’s design was inspired by the monument site, where he was reminded of the works of two prominent Afrikaans authors/poets.
From their sentiments and the rock-strewn timeless site, the monument grew to represent the language and culture during its ongoing evolution and growth. It acknowledges the presence of other languages and cultures: African, Western Europe and the East.
Author: C.J. Langenhoven
In 1914, C.J. Langenhoven compared the growth potential of Afrikaans to a rapidly rising curve, or in geometrical terms, a hyperbola.
“If here in this hall we were to plant a row of posts, say ten of them, to represent each of the past ten years, and were to cut a notch in each post at a height from the floor corresponding to the relative literary use of Afrikaans for each year respectively, and if we were to join the notches from the one nearest the floor to the last notch somewhere near the ceiling, the line would then form a steeply mounting curve, not only rising sharply but doing so at a rapidly increasing ratio. Let us now imagine that this curve is extended for the next ten years. Do you see gentlemen, to where the tip of the curve will soar? By the year 1924, it will have reached a point somewhere in the blue sky, high above Bloemfontein.”
“Afrikaans is the language that links Western Europe and Africa; it draws its strength from these two sources; it forms a bridge between the enlightened West and magical Africa. Both are great forces, and whatever greatness may spring from this union – that probably is what lies ahead for Afrikaans to discover.
Our language has had its origins in a much older form of language. In the process of its growth, it has broadened its scope and range. At the same time, it experienced a fascinating refinement as a medium of communication. We should not lose sight of how the change of environment has shaped and fashioned the young, newly evolving language. It has caused new words, new images and new concepts to come into being. Old words and concepts to be adopted and in many cases to disappear. Every feature of the new world is reflected within its scope. Afrikaans has thus been able to depict this new country as no other European language has done.
Among the languages of our country’ Afrikaans occupies a strong position in South African English and the African languages. In its facility of expression of the concrete and physical, Afrikaans may be equated with the indigenous African languages; and its expression of the abstract, there is a kinship with the flexibility and aptness of the English language. Between these two, Afrikaans is established as a glistening instrument, a double-edged sword.
Afrikaans can remain vitally alive only as long as it continues to be the medium for communicating all our fortunes and our fate: as long as it expresses the concrete as well as the abstract; as long as both Europe and Africa are founded in its being.
We do not know how our language will develop or what will become of it; we can only speak about it with passionate affection.”
The Structure of the monument design
The system of shuttering consisted of vertical metal strong backs, joined by horizontal sections of piping curvature. This structure was lined with marine plywood for the concrete face. Special wooden moulds were constructed from models made to scale for use where the curves became too sharp.
After the shuttering had been removed, all inner and outer concrete surfaces were finished off with pneumatic hammers. A 2mm-3mm thick layer was removed. This slow procedure continued throughout the period of building.
Building operations lasted two years. Every effort was put in to preserve this monument as a timeless structure for future generations. It was constructed from granite on location and from concrete, hammered in an effort to imitate the texture of the neighbouring rocks.
The result is fascinating; a structure of handmade granite which, with its curving lines, its rounded surfaces, and its ever-changing interplay of light and shade, attempts to produce an image of the refinement of our language. In so doing giving in sculpture expression to N.P. van Wyk Louw’s words, ‘something which is not nothing’.
Flight over the Afrikaans language monument
“Dit is ons Erns”
The phrase "Dit is ons erns" (“This is our earnestness") adorns the pathway leading up to the monument.
On a large plaque at the entrance are two quotations from prominent poets writing in Afrikaans:
"Afrikaans is the language that connects Western Europe and Africa... It forms a bridge between the large, shining West and the magical Africa... And what great things may come from their union – that is maybe what lies ahead for Afrikaans to discover. But what we must never forget, is that this change of country and landscape sharpened, kneaded and knitted this newly-becoming language... And so Afrikaans became able to speak out from this new land... Our task lies in the use that we make and will make of this gleaming vehicle..." – N.P. van Wyk Louw
"If we plant a row of poles down this hall now, ten poles, to represent the last ten years, and on each pole we make a mark at a height from the floor corresponding to the relative written use of Afrikaans in the respective year, and we draw a line, from the first here near the floor to the last over there against the loft, then the line would describe a rapidly rising arc, not only quickly rising, but rising in a quickly increasing manner. Let us now, in our imagination, extend the arc for the ten coming years from now. See you, sirs, where the point shall be, outside in the blue sky high over Bloemfontein, in the year 1924." – C.J. Langenhoven
Plaque showing two quotations from poets writing in Afrikaans
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