Some Afrikaans expressions don’t bear translation. No other language quite captures their exact meaning. Like bakgat, which means ‘cool’, although the word doesn’t really get that element of grudging admiration. Or gatvol, which means ‘fed-up’, but with far less civility. The Afrikaans Language Monument traces the history of the unique language that is Afrikaans.

Did you know?

The Northern Cape town of Richmond boasts a rare horse museum.

The emergence of new languages in modern times is unusual, but one that has come into being in recent history is Afrikaans, somewhat of a bridge between the European languages spoken by the early white settlers (Dutch, German, French and Portuguese) in South Africa, the Malay tongue of slaves brought here by the Dutch East India Company, and an array African languages, dating from the ancient San.

One of the advantages of a new language is that the process of its formation can be documented. At the Afrikaans Language Museum in the Western Cape town of Paarl (or the Taal Museum to give it its Afrikaans name), the visitor can trace the shaping of the Afrikaans language.

The museum has been set up in the very location where a body formed to promote Afrikaans was first established in 1875, the Association for True Afrikaners (ATA). The ground floor of this two-storey Georgian-style house has been restored and furnished as close as possible to its original state. A noteworthy item situated in the children's bedroom, just as it was some 135 years ago, is the ATA's printing press, used to publish Afrikaans literature.

The top floor of the Afrikaans museum in Paarl presents the story and the personalities behind the development of the language. The exhibits are imaginatively presented as games, soundtracks and interactive displays. Exhibits are translated into English, so speaking Afrikaans is not a prerequisite.

The Afrikaans Language Museum is best visited in conjunction with the Taal Monument or the Afrikaans Language Monument, which towers above Paal just outside town. Its columns and curves represent the pillars of Afrikaans, namely its diverse intercontinental influences, and its sweeping growth. The monument is located on the edge of Paarl mountain and enjoys a panoramic view of the surrounding winelands.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Taal Monument
Restaurant: +27 (0)21 863-2800

Museum Address:
Gideon Malherbe House, 11 Pastorie Avenue, Paarl
Tel: +27 (0)21 872-3441

How to get here

Paarl is reached via the N1 motorway from Cape Town. From Cape Town International Airport it takes about 50 minutes.

Best time to visit

There is no special time to visit, although the Cape is always at its best in the spring and summer.

Around the area

Paarl has a 12km long main road. The buildings that line it are an architectural mix of Cape Dutch, Victorian, Edwardian and Art Deco. The 'arboreal giants of Paarl', ancient oak trees dating back to the 1600s, can be seen lining the main road. Scenic drives to wine estates are part of the Paarl experience, and you can hike, bike, fish and balloon ride. For young ones there is a crocodile park and a snake farm.

Tours to do

Take a guided tour of the museum.

Get around

Within the town of Paarl, on foot or by car. You will need a set of wheels to get up to the monument though.

What will it cost

Museum entrance costs R20 for adults, R10 for students and R2 for school pupils.

Length of stay

An hour or so each for the museum and monument, but consider spending a night or two in the scenic Paarl Valley.

What to pack

Comfortable shoes for the mountain top monument.

Where to stay

There are several B&Bs, boutique hotels and five-star hotels in Paarl. At the top of the range you'll find the well-known Grande Roche, a member of Relais & Chateaux, and The Villa.

What to eat

There are many fine restaurants in the area so take time for a leisurely lunch or dinner at one of the nearby wine estates. There's also a decent coffee shop at the monument.

What's happening

If you're in Paarl in the summer, try and make one of the full moon picnics held at the monument.