Since arriving in South Africa on Sunday, I have developed an almost obsessive obsession with the languages of this amazing country. Maybe it’s my own desire to be a multilingual expert or just something special about the languages spoken here, but I find myself drawn to learning and exploring the words I see and hear. Thus far, I have been particularly intrigued by Afrikaans. Its dual nature as the language of oppression during apartheid, as well as part of the cultural identity of Afrikaners, leads me to wonder at the impact the language has on people her in South Africa. For example, how do different people in South Africa respond to this poster we found at a local restaurant in Melville called the Ant Cafe (in case you were curious the meal we had there last night was fantastic)?
Anyway, because of my fascination with language as part of the culture here, I have decided to focus some of my blog posts on different words I learn while here. Today’s word is one that I learned from talking with a young artist at a community project in a trendier Johannesburg neighborhood (http://www.iwasshotinjoburg.co.za/Landing.aspx). We were talking about the words on some of the items they have for sale, and he taught me the word “lekker.” He told me that it is Afrikaans for “cool.” When I got home I did a little more research and found that there is more to the word than it first seems. It is a word in both Dutch and Afrikaans that directly translates to mean “tasty” or “nice.” However, in both cultures it has been adopted into a slang meaning. Here in South Africa people use it in place of the words “cool” or “sweet,” but when used by Dutch speakers it usually means that something is “sexy.”
In the few days that I have been in South Africa I have already been exposed to so many new and exciting things. Even from something as seemingly insignificant as a word I have learned incredible things about the culture here. I can’t wait to keep learning new things and share them with everyone back home. Goodbye for now and take a page out of the South African life manual: slow down and live in the now, not the now now.