The Language of Ham and the Language of Cain: "Dialect" and Linguistic Hybridity in the Work of Adam Small

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    The "coloured" South African writer Adam Small has made an important and largely unrecognized contribution to anti-apartheid literature in Afrikaans. His pioneering use of "Kaaps" (a linguistic variety spoken by "coloured" Afrikaners at the Cape) in his poetry and plays complicated the racial designation of Afrikaans as a "white" language and challenged the dominance of the "white" Afrikaans literary tradition. In a literature where the variety used by the white nationalist government was also that used by (albeit some of them dissident) Afrikaans writers, he created an appetite and appreciation for vernacular language as a medium of resistance against white supremacy. His work has helped to make possible a continuing investment by Afrikaans writers (white as well as "coloured") in non-standard language as resistance to cultural imperialism and nationalism. During apartheid, however, he faced considerable criticism for his use of what was seen as a degraded and degrading "dialect", and for his ostensible complicity in apartheid as a self-avowed "brown Afrikaner". This article examines some of the difficulties which faced "coloured" Afrikaans writers during apartheid, taking Small as a specific example of a writer whose career displays the impact of the collision between "coloured" separatism and a politically pragmatic universalism, and proposes a reconsideration of his work as a subversive, ironic and ground-breaking intervention in South African literature.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)389-408
    Number of pages20
    JournalJournal of Commonwealth Literature
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Sept 2010


    • South Africa
    • Apartheid
    • Non-standard language
    • Nationalism
    • “Coloured” identity
    • Afrikaans


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