Aweh! New Kaaps dictionary to preserve heritage

Preserving the cultural significance of Kaaps

There are a few words true to the Cape and echoing beyond its borders: aweh, poenankies, kanalla and entjie. To name a few. However, it is not – as often perceived – Afrikaans slang but rather a vernacular which preceded the Afrikaans we know today, called: Kaaps.

Developed in the early 1500s, Kaaps was used between the KhoiKhoi and slaves mainly to keep conversations private and also as a way to rise up against the language of colonists. Influenced by the Cape Muslim population the first recording of this language was in phonetic Arabic, about a century before Afrikaans was declared an official language. And needless to say, it was regarded – and discarded – as a slave language, and the people marginalised. It had little to no social hierarchy status tied to it and when Afrikaans became standardised as an official language in 1925, many words got lost in the proverbial translation.

It is believed that one language dies about every 14 days. And loss of a language means loss of a conceptual system, a product of the human mind, which can never be recovered.

The survival of any language lies in community, seeing artists use it as medium of expression and documenting its roots and nuances. And even though Kaaps has survived over the last 500 years, with more than 70% of the coloured community in the Cape Flats still using it, the preservation of something with such cultural significance often starts with a dictionary.

It had little to no social hierarchy status tied to it and when Afrikaans became standardised as an official language in 1925, many words got lost in the proverbial translation.

The Trilingual Dictionary of Kaaps was launch on the 26th of July by the Centre for Multilingualism and Diversities Research at the University of the Western Cape and Heal the Hood Project.

“We are embarking on a historic journey: to bring you the first dictionary of Kaaps. For the last six months, we have worked tirelessly to set up the infrastructure and staffing to implement the project.”
–  Professor Quentin Williams, director of the Centre for Multilingualism and Diversities Research

For a long time, academics, writers, activists, and linguists have argued that there need to be a focus on the linguistic description of Kaaps, the unification of the writing system, the educational advancement of Kaaps for academic literacy in basic and higher education, as well as the media and economic benefits of Kaaps.

And in addition to that, the Trilingual Dictionary of Kaaps will further aim to transform prevailing negative attitudes and perceptions of Kaaps (to find out more about this project visit

Poet, academic and activist, the late Adam Small, once said “Kaaps is a language … people live their whole lives ‘with everything in it’ … Kaaps is not a joke or funny … it is a language.”

This 5-year project will use films, documentaries and news articles as resources and if the public submit words, it should be accompanied by a clear source, context and the etymology thereof. Part of the Editorial Board of the Trilingual Dictionary of Kaaps are Quentin Williams, Emily YX, who was inducted into the South African Hip Hop Museums Hall of Fame.  Shaquile Southgate, and Tanswell Carl Jansen, as well as Robyn Gelant and Tyron De Villiers.

Vernacular language to vernacular architecture

Much like the languages in South Africa, the story of our architecture is layered, complex and cemented in our history. While Cape Dutch architecture takes us back to our troubled past let’s not forget the hands who put these buildings together, the people responsible for South Africa’s first real icon.