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The Kaapse Student


Interview with Chevãn Van Rooi (linguistics PhD candidate)

Why do you call yourself the Kaapse Student?

I'm from Cape Town, which translated into Kaaps / Afrikaans, is often "Kaap" (e.g. Ek is vanni Kaap ['I'm from Cape Town']). The second meaning is related to my study, or rather the language on which my study is focused, Kaaps. So, I'm the student doing his study on Kaaps, die Kaapse Student ('Student of Kaaps').

What is your link to the Kaaps language and culture?

I grew up speaking Kaaps – in the streets of Blue Downs, and on the playgrounds of my primary school (Blackheath Primary). To date, I speak Kaaps. I'm also a coloured person, and Kaaps is spoken predominantly (although not exclusively) by the coloured community.

Coloured – This term has its roots in Apartheid South Africa after the mixing of colonial whites and local slaves: someone who is both not white and not native (black), or someone of mixed race (both European and African decent). Today, post-apartheid, this term is still used but carries many complexities and connotations, not simply captured by a definition of being "mixed race". To be coloured is often associated with a complexion of being “in the middle” or not quite fitting in anywhere; to be coloured is to be marginalized.

“Kaaps is a fully fledged language and highly systematic.”

What is your PhD about?

My PhD is a syntactic study based on a subset of grammatical properties in Kaaps. The aim is to gain a better understanding of these properties and to describe them, as there is a lack of documentation concerning the grammar of Kaaps. The aim is also to understand how these properties inform what we already know about other related varieties and languages, and linguistic theory. Furthermore, the study aims to shed light on a marginalised language and people: the speakers of Kaaps.

Syntactic – A syntactic study looks at the syntax of a language. This is a branch of linguistics which looks at the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences.

Why did you choose to do this?

I chose to do my PhD in linguistics because I'm passionate about language and language related matters; since my school days. I chose Kaaps as my focus language because it is an understudied variety which we don't yet know enough about. It is also a variety that is marginalised - seen as lesser-than. This perception extends to coloured people as well; we are often perceived as being lesser-than.

Why is this important?

This study will debunk some of the theoretical ‘myths’ about Kaaps. For example, some argue that Kaaps is simply a mix and mash of various languages, which again perpetuates the lesser-than idea. However, when studied closely, we see that Kaaps is a fully fledged language and highly systematic.

Moreover, the study is important because it shines a spotlight on a marginalised variety and people. It directly, or indirectly, invites Kaaps and its speakers to a table that they were not allowed to sit at for generations; a table that they have never been seated at. This study recognises the authenticity and validity of Kaaps.


“I hope to successfully convince my readership of the ‘status’ of Kaaps; that Kaaps is more than what is typically assumed.”

How does your faith fit into your story?

My faith is central throughout. Even though my study is not positioned in a theological framework, my faith – my belief in Jesus Christ – carries me through all the ups and downs presented by the academic journey. I’ve been asked in the past how I’ve achieved academic success. My answer to that question still holds true today: prayer, perseverance and passion, surrounded by a faithful community, and by the hand of God.

Academia is packaged with many struggles and difficulties, but God has been developing different parts of my character throughout. He teaches me patience and perseverance, among other things. He teaches me that even though my studies are not part of ‘church’, I still need to strive for excellence, because everything that we do we should be done unto the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

I believe that I’m in academia because this is where God wants me to be; it is (part of) my calling. When I was in high school, I did not envision doing a PhD. I foresaw myself doing a basic BA degree, a TEFL course thereafter, and heading overseas somewhere to teach English. However, God has directed my footsteps. He has opened doors for me that I couldn’t have imagined. He certainly is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20) – I can testify to this.

Furthermore, I believe God has encircled me with and entrusted me, as a student, into the hands of great minds. Through this, I receive top quality training. In return, I am being positioned to better equip the body of Christ.

“Everything that we do should be done unto the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).”

What are your hopes in light of your studies?

First, I hope to successfully complete the PhD within the following four years. Second, with the dissertation, I hope to successfully convince my readership of the ‘status’ of Kaaps; that Kaaps is more than what is typically assumed, and that is it not a lesser-than language.

During the PhD programme (and beyond), I hope to acquire the skills of a ‘true’ syntactician and academic.  I hope to one day get a permanent position as a lecturer (although I won’t limit myself to this) and to give back to my students from the abundance that I’ve received. In addition, I also hope to inspire a younger generation of aspiring syntacticians, linguists, and academics.

Should you require some more details, you can visit my website:

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