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Van Huyssteen & Eiselen 2021b

Van Huyssteen, Gerhard B. & Eiselen, Roald. 2021. How Afrikaans women became fierce-tempered. Zürich Workshop on Afrikaans Linguistics. Zürich, Switzerland. 4-5 October. https://vloek.co.za/leesstof/kongresmateriaal/fierce-tempered-afrikaans-women.

English: Afrikaans, constructionalisation, etymology, feeks, helleveeg, poll, taboo, swearing

Afrikaans: Afrikaans, etimologie, feeks, helleveeg, konstruksionalisering, meningspeiling, taboe, vloek

English: The family of Afrikaans words that could refer to fierce-tempered women, is rather small: feeks, helleveeg, xantippe, furie, heks, geit(jie), and perhaps also snip, slang, kat, and juffer. As a general point of departure, we can assume that all of these have somewhat, if not considerably, pejorative emotive connotations. However, as will be discussed in this paper, not all language users agree that all these words are negative polarity items (i.e. “constructions whose use or interpretation is sensitive to polarity” (Israel 2006)). For example, the renowned Afrikaans novelist Riana Scheepers created a folk etymology for the word feeks (‘shrew’) as a contraction of fee (‘fairy’ – ameliorative) and heks (‘witch’ – pejorative), in order to convey her view that “every woman has something of a fairy, and something of a witch in her”, and that “women with exceptionally strong personalities are often reviled as shrews” (Scheepers 2021). This folk etymology of Scheepers gave rise directly to this article: Is there perhaps any truth in this etymological explanation? If not, where does feeks come from? What other words are part of feeks’s word family? What is the etymology of a near-synonymous word like helleveeg? Are feeks and helleveeg slurs; if so, what are their taboo values? And are these words only applicable to women, or can they also have male or other referents? The purpose of this research is to provide answers to these and other questions. This investigation is part of a large-scale project on swear words in Afrikaans and other languages in its eco-system. One important subproject is to develop an Afrikaans swearword constructicon (the Afrikaanse Vloekepedia), situated specifically within the framework of construction grammar and some of its related theories (i.e. constructionalisation; see Traugott & Trousdale 2013) and applications (i.e. constructicography; see Lyngfelt at al. 2018). In this presentation we will specifically focus on the etymological developments of feeks and helleveeg by postulating a constructionalization network. The theory of constructionalization aims to account for and describe the creation of new constructions (i.e. new form-meaning pairings), as well as changes to existing constructions (i.e. constructional change; see also Hilpert 2013). Based on perception survey conducted using online questionnaires, we will also briefly present some results on the taboo values; self-reported frequencies and prominence; and the gender of the words’ referents.


Afrikaans: Die Afrikaanse woordfamilie wat na kwaai vroue kan verwys, is taamlik klein: feeks, helleveeg, xantippe, furie, heks, geit(jie), en miskien ook snip, slang, kat en juffer. As ‘n algemene uitgangspunt kan ons aanvaar dat al hierdie woorde effense, indien nie aansienlike nie, pejoratiewe emosionele konnotasies het. Soos in hierdie referaat bespreek sal word, is dit egter nie alle taalgebruikers wat saamstem dat al hierdie woorde negatiewe polariteitsitems is nie (d.w.s. “constructions whose use or interpretation is sensitive to polarity” (Israel 2006)). Die beroemde Afrikaanse romanskrywer Riana Scheepers het byvoorbeeld ‘n volksetimologie vir die woord feeks (‘shrew’) geskep as ‘n sametrekking van fee (‘fairy’ – amelioratief) en heks (‘witch’ – pejoratief), om haar siening oor te dra dat elke vrou iets van ‘n fee en iets van ‘n heks in haar het, en dat vroue met buitengewoon sterk persoonlikhede dikwels as feekse uitgekryt word (Scheepers 2021). Hierdie volksetimologie van Scheepers het direk aanleiding gegee tot hierdie artikel: Is daar miskien waarheid in hierdie etimologiese verklaring? Indien nie, waar kom feeks vandaan? Watter ander woorde is deel van feeks se woordfamilie? Wat is die etimologie van ‘n byna sinonimiese woord soos helleveeg? Is feeks en helleveeg beledigings; so ja, wat is hul taboewaardes? En is hierdie woorde slegs van toepassing op vroue, of kan dit ook manlike of ander referente hê? Die doel van hierdie navorsing is om antwoorde op hierdie en ander vrae te gee. Hierdie ondersoek is deel van ‘n grootskaalse projek oor vloekwoorde in Afrikaans en ander tale in sy ekosisteem. ‘n Belangrike deelprojek is die ontwikkeling van ‘n Afrikaanse vloekwoordkonstruktikon (die Afrikaanse Vloekepedia), spesifiek gesitueer binne die raamwerk van die konstruksiegrammatika en ander verwante teorieë (soos konstruksionalisering; sien Traugott & Trousdale 2013) en toepassings (soos die konstruktikografie, sien Lyngfelt at al. 2018) daarvan. In hierdie aanbieding sal ons spesifiek fokus op die etimologiese ontwikkeling van feeks en helleveeg deur ‘n konstruksionaliseringsnetwerk te postuleer. Die teorie van konstruksionalisering het ten doel om die skepping van nuwe konstruksies (d.i. nuwe vorm-betekenis-pare), sowel as veranderinge aan bestaande konstruksies (d.i. konstruksieverandering; sien ook Hilpert 2013) te verantwoord en te beskryf. Op grond van ‘n persepsieopname wat met behulp van aanlyn vraelyste gedoen is, sal ons ook kortliks ‘n paar resultate aanbied oor die taboewaardes; self-gerapporteerde frekwensies en prominensie; en die geslag van die woorde se referente.

In: English

On: Afrikaans