Linguistic Similarities of Scottish, Dutch, and Afrikaans

Why do some people from South Africa sound almost Scottish? Not quite but almost. My parents attend a Presbyterian church in the United States and the minister is from South Africa. His last name is Dutch. Does the Dutch influence create a Scottish-like accent? As an example, here is a video of a sermon by Danie de Beer, my parents’ minister:

I was wondering about other influences. Supposedly, my Scottish ancestry originally was Dutch. And there were many historical connections between Scotland and Netherlands. There were both Dutch and Scottish immigrants to South Africa. I noticed another question that partly covered this, at least the Scottish aspect: Are there Scots or people of Scottish descent living in South Africa?

The best answer to that other question was by Ruth Dryer. She notes the significant Scottish ancestry among white South Africans. In the past, as with other immigrant countries, there were ethnic enclaves where immigrants were concentrated. But the Scots were mixed throughout the general population. She argues that the immigration of Scots is ongoing: “Generally speaking, Scots to this day tend to drift into the Afrikaans community rather than the English.”

Here is the main part of her answer: “Mark here: Many; some are founders of great Afrikaner families. Numbers of Scots got employment in the Netherlands, as mercenaries in the Scottish regiments of Maurice of Orange. Others (many, provided they were not Catholic, could make shift to understand Dutch – Lowland Scots is pretty close already – & they were qualified artisans) joined the Dutch East India Company, & these became part of the mobile population of the Dutch Mercantile Empire, including the Cape Settlement.” Dryer also answered my question. “There two points of congruence in the Scots dialect of English & Afrikaans,” she wrote and continued:

“The first is that the Old Anglian once spoken in North England comes from a blend of the same closely related dialects in North-Western Europe that contributed to the foundation of the Afrikaners – & Afrikaans – some 1 000 years later. An Afrikaner reading Quirk & Wren’s ‘Old English Grammar’ finds it spooky how similar the language is, apart from the very old grammar. When Tolkien (of the LOR) was taken to the British Midlands, at the age of 4 from Bloemfontein, South Africa, it sounded to him that he’d come home. I have heard a Brit, a bloke from the Old West Country in South England, josh that actually Afrikaans is actually Dutch spoken with a Scottish accent – or – Scottish spoken with a Dutch accent. We in South Africa can spot the difference between a Scottish & an Afrikaans accent pretty soon. Mind you, we find a Scottish accent pretty easy to imitate.

“The other point of congruence is that Lord Charles Somerset, one of our British Governors, tried to anglicise the Afrikaners, & sent us Scottish Presbyterian ministers to replace the Dutch Reformed ones from the Netherlands (who were not keen to come, anyway). They had a FORMIDABLE influence on Afrikaners, & Afrikaans. The Scottish pastors came to teach, as dominees, & that is now the Afrikaans term of address to a pastor – ‘Dominee’. Here is a short list of respected Afrikaans families Murray, Barnard, Cambell, Turner (they used to be O’Neill, or Lamont – ask a Scot), McAlpine, among others.”

The influx of Scottish Presbyterian ministers to South Africa seems like a potential significant line of influence, considering the position of respect and authority minsters hold in a community and considering how central is religion to culture. I had also independently come across some info on this when I did a web search immediately after posing my question, but I didn’t know enough about the history of it. The first part of Dryer’s above answer, in some ways, interests me more.

I know the history of Northwestern Europeans settling in Britain. And I’m familiar with the specific ancestries that mostly ended up in particular regions, such as the Norse in the British Midlands. There was also the immigration of Flemish to Scotland, from 1100 to 1700 (Alexander Fleming, Scotland Has Been Going Dutch Since 1066) as part of their alliance with the conquering Normans, something I pointed out to Scott Hill and was commented on by Kenneth Marikos. This included Flemish aristocracy and monarchy. Further immigration to Scotland was caused by Catholic persecution. All of this has resulted in almost one-in-three Scottish having Flemish ancestry.

This is relevant to the question at hand, as Alexander Fleming noted: “The imprint of the Flemish has also been felt in many other ways, for example the absorption of Flemish words into the Scottish vocabulary. The Scots word ‘scone’, for instance, was derived from the Flemish ‘schoon’.” In general, there was a fair amount of movement of populations in both directions over a long period of time. This included some Scots that went to Netherlands, as did many Puritans before returning to England. And the Scots and Scots-Irish took in plenty of refugees from Europe. such as the French Huguenots who were in northwestern France that was originally part of Flanders.

I assume this could have had a major impact on the populations involved. I’m not an expert in European linguistic history, though. It seems unlikely that these large and continuous flows of people between these places would have left no permanent mark. People tend to carry elements of the culture and language of their ancestry, even when they assimilate to a new society. The fact that, long before the Flemish came along, the original Scots came from Northwestern Europe does seem significant. I’ve studied in enough detail the immigration patterns and regional cultures in Britain and the United States to know how these kinds of influences persist over centuries upon centuries.

By the way, Dryer wasn’t the only one to mention the Scottish Presbyterian ministers. “So for three quarters of a century, then after, Afrikaans South Africans had Scottish Presbyterian Dominies serving them,” commented Michael Baker in his own answer. “This has echoes in the words, the accents & the legal system. Many think that South African trained lawyers cannot practise outside South Africa – but, surprise surprise, they can swiftly be admitted in Scotland, which also has a variant of Roman-Dutch law.”

About the specific issue of language itself, there were some great responses to my question. Scott Hill simply states that, “I suspect what you’re hearing is the guttural G pronunciation and the rolled R pronunciation. The Afrikaans G sounds similar to a throaty CH sound that you’d hear in Scotland, such as “Loch”.” But Michael Koeberg gives an extremely detailed answer that explains the specific similarities, from vowel clipping to rolling effect, and concludes that, “Therefore, the similarity that you perceive does indeed have a good basis with the similarities between Scottish English, Dutch, and Afrikaans have with each other in their respective phonology.” It turns out there is a good reason to hear a similarity.

Wasn’t that a fascinating lesson on language, culture, and history?

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