Preterite Loss in Early Afrikaans

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This paper attempts to shed light on a unique configuration of factors causing the virtual disappearance of the preterite tense form in the history of Afrikaans. At the outset factors such as apocope and créolisation are discounted on various grounds, though the latter cannot be ruled out completely. However, while the Cape Dutch record of mainly LI speakers suggests a gradual disappearance of the preterite during the first half of the 19th century, the virtual absence of the preterite in texts written in the early Afrikaans vernacular, as soon as they start appearing in this period, is conspicuous. It is hypothesised that the preterite had disappeared much earlier in the vernacular, especially as spoken by L2 speakers or those belonging to groups of former L2 speakers, amongst whom the influence of the Dutch norm was probably less marked. A scrutiny of the extant, though scant, utterances and writings of such speakers or representing such speakers reveals a situation close to that of modern Afrikaans as far as preterite usage and replacement by the perfect, in particular, is concerned. The main factors appear to be mnemonic, systemic and pragmatic. The basic mechanism was imperfect learning, a corollary of which is the retention, to the present day, of the most salient preterite forms. The language system contributed to preterite loss in that the perfect-an important competitor-was itself simplified in several respects, one of which is (again) the elimination of the mnemonic factor through the régularisation of the past participle. From a pragmatic point of view, other tense marking alternatives beside the perfect also remained available, e.g. the historical present and an adverbial marker such as toe. Several of these factors were indeed found to co-occur in texts of L2 speakers and individuals from former L2 groups.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-38
Number of pages20
JournalFolia Linguistica
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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