“Your way of speaking Afrikaans, although it may sound different to the way others speak the language, has exactly the same regularity and organisation as standard Afrikaans." These words by Dr Donovan Lawrence of the University of the Western Cape (UWC) summarise the recent Fritz Ponelis memorial event.
Along with Dr Gerda Odendaal (Woordeboek van die Afrikaanse Taal) and Mr Marius Swart (Stellenbosch University), Dr Lawrence participated in a panel on 28 July – the eightieth anniversary of the late Prof Fritz Ponelis's birthday – to talk about Ponelis's contribution to the study of Afrikaans syntax, linguistic history, and, in particular, language variance.
The conversation touched on the syntactic analysis of Afrikaans (which Swart described as looking like structural formulas in chemistry), restandardisation, and a discussion on the extent to which many of Ponelis's books and articles on Afrikaans linguistics actually went against the zeitgeist, since he was convinced that the scientific description of Afrikaans should include informal spoken Afrikaans and varieties of Afrikaans.
For Odendaal the recognition of language varieties is also a matter of recognising people's identity and enlarging and enriching the language, rather than taking something away. Or, as Lawrence put it, if someone uses a non-standard variety of Afrikaans, it does not mean that it is a substandard variety.
In the spirit of Ponelis, who authored a number of seminal studies on Afrikaans and Afrikaans linguistics, young researchers in the audience were encouraged to record and study their local variety of Afrikaans.