Along with languages such as German, Dutch and Frisian, Afrikaans makes frequent use of an extended series of modal auxiliaries. As Afrikaans derives mainly from 17th century Dutch, a comparison between these two languages may be fruitful – more so because of a number of lexical differences, but in particular because of a number of very subtle differences between the languages, which may be a key to contextual factors determining particle insertion.

Examples of Dutch particles which, unlike the corresponding Afrikaans words, are modal in nature, are heus, soms, even, best and perhaps gewoon, while Afrikaans has dalk (‘perhaps’, from dadelijk), mos (‘surely’, etc., from immers), glo (‘reputedly’, from geloven), sommer (‘informally’, etc., from zo maar), darem (‘rather’, etc., from daarom), straks (‘perhaps’, from ‘shortly’), rêrig/regtig (‘really’, from a reduplication of recht), hoeka (‘in fact’, etc., from Khoi ‘long ago’), kamma/kastig/kammakastig (‘ostensibly’, etc.) and others. Shared particles would be een beetje/’n bietjie (‘a little’), maar (‘but’), zeker as an expression of uncertainty, etc. Afrikaans has extended the series by converting Dutch temporal adverbs to modals and through loans from languages such as Khoi and Portuguese.

The factors governing insertion of a particle into a particular context, include authority (glo), self-image (darem, ’n bietjie), group membership (’n Mens maak mos nie so nie: ‘Surely someone belonging to the speaker’s group will never do that.’) and practical considerations (Maak sommer die deur toe: ‘Close the door while you’re at it.’) – to mention a few Afrikaans examples.

The comparison becomes interesting in the case of a lexical item such as Dutch zeker/Afrikaans seker, ‘certain’. To use a few examples (with my translations) from a paper by Ton van der Wouden:

1. Ik weet bijna zeker dat dat Wim Kok is. (adverb)

‘I am almost certain that that is Wim Kok.’

2. U bent zeker Olga van Marion? (modal particle)

‘I take it that you are Olga van Marion?’

3. Dat is niet moeilijk, zeker niet voor iemand als jij. (focus particle)

‘That isn’t difficult, most certainly not for someone like you.’

4. Er zijn hier zeker twintig mensen in de zaal. (scalar particle).

‘There must be at least twenty people in this hall.’

Examples (1) and (2) would resemble Afrikaans. In a question, such as (2), zeker/seker seeks authority rather than claiming certainty. In a literal Afrikaans translation of (3), however, Afr. seker will have a reading of ‘presumably’; beslis, ‘definitely’, would provide a reading which corresponds better to the Dutch. While (4) in Dutch expresses a fair amount of certainty, the corresponding Afrikaans sentence would be much more speculative. The question as to what contextual factors determine a reading of ‘certain’ or ‘certainty sought’, respectively, in the two languages, will be addressed in this paper.

Finally, if it can be shown that Afrikaans makes more extensive use of, or has been more innovative in the field of modal particles than Dutch, this would require an explanation. One possibility would be that Afrikaans is still closer to its vernacular roots than Standard Dutch. This could in principle be tested by comparing Dutch and German with their dialects as far as the use of modal particles is concerned, as well as Afrikaans with its non-standard varieties. This may, however, exceed the scope of this paper.