German language in Namibia

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Examples of German language on signs in Namibia
Namibia is a German language island outside of Central Europe
See also: German Namibian

Namibia is a multilingual country whereby German is recognized national language (a form of minority language). While English is the sole official language of the country, in many areas of the country German enjoys some official status at a community level.[1]

German is especially widely used in central and southern Namibia and was until 1990 one of three official languages in what was then South-West Africa, alongside Afrikaans and English. German is the main or mother tongue of about 30,000 Namibians, a number composed roughly equally of German Namibians as well as older black speakers of Namibian Black German and Namibians who as children grew up in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). The German Namibian newspaper Allgemeine Zeitung on its website refers to 22,000 native speakers and of several hundred thousand who know German as a second (third etc.) language. German benefits from its similarity to Afrikaans and has a prominent position in the tourism and business sectors. Many Namibian natural features, place and street names have German names. Some experts see the future of German in Namibia as threatened.[2]


Sign in Windhoek with directions to the German colonial-era monuments Christ Church, Alte Feste and Reiterdenkmal
The Allgemeine Zeitung is the only German-language daily newspaper in Africa and one of the highest-circulation newspapers in Namibia

During the period as a German colony from 1884 to 1915 German was the only official language in German Southwest Africa, as Namibia was then known. Boers, i.e. South African whites who spoke Dutch (South African Dutch would later develop into Afrikaans) already lived in the country alongside Orlam tribes and mixed-race Reheboth Basters.

South Africa took over administration of the country in 1915. However, German language privileges and education remained in place. In 1916 the Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper was founded under its original name of Der Kriegsbote. After the end of the First World War the South African attitude to the German Namibians changes, and between 1919 and 1920 about half of the Germans were transferred out of the country. In 1920 Dutch (later to be superseded by Afrikaans) and English replaced German as the official languages of the country.

The German-speaking population wished German to be reinstated as an official language and in 1932 the Treaty of Cape Town encouraged South Africa to do so,.[3] It was hoped that this would throw a spanner in the works against South African annexing South-West Africa into the Union of South Africa. South Africa did not officially recognize German, however, de facto German was added to Afrikaans and English as a working language of the government. Only in 1984 would German officially be added as an official language.

After independence in 1990, English became the sole official language of Namibia, and German thus lost its official status, but German today continues to be used in a wide range of spheres of Namibian life.

Situation today[edit]

Degree of use[edit]

German is more widely used than may be assumed by its lack of official status. About 30,000 Namibians speak German as a mother tongue, and several tens of thousands of Namibians, either white native English or Afrikaans speakers or better-off black Namibians, speak German as a second (third, etc.) language. German is taught in many schools, is the medium for a daily newspaper, the Allgemeine Zeitung as well as daily programming on the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation. Although German (and for that matter English) is not common as a mother tongue among the black population, a number of public servants especially in the tourism sector speak German to various degrees.

However there are many spheres in which the German language is not or barely present at all — sphere with a small number of white people, especially in the north part of the country, but also in many neighborhoods of Windhoek.


German is used as a medium of communication in a wide range of cultural spheres:


In addition to 32 schools in which about 14,000 pupils learn German as a foreign language, there are about a dozen German-medium schools, including the Deutsche Höhere Privatschule Windhoek (DHPS), German schools in Omaruru and Otjiwarongo as well as five government schools. There are several additional elementary schools, German-medium high schools and a German-medium Gymnasium in Windhoek. The University of Namibia offers German-medium programs in German studies and business administration.


Examples of multilingual signs in Namibia

Signs for shops, restaurants and services are often in English and German, reflecting not only a high proportion of German-Namibian ownership but also the high number of German-speaking tourists that visit the country. However, a customer entering such as shop may well be greeted in Afrikaans; relatively fewer signs are in Afrikaans but the language retains a leading position as a spoken lingua franca in Windhoek and throughout the central and southern parts of the country.

German is also found on signs for tourists, especially those to monuments and historic buildings from the German colonial period. Other signs that include German date back before 1990, when English, Afrikaans and German shared status as official languages of the country.

Street names[edit]

In Windhoek, Swakopmund, Keetmanshoop, Grootfontein and Lüderitz many or most street names are German in origin, even though after 1990 many streets were renamed to honor black Namibian people. (See for example List of former Swakopmund street names). Streets named before 1990 often end in "Str.", the standard abbreviation in German for Straße, and in Afrikaans for straat; streets renamed since 1990 often end in "St.", implying the English abbreviation for "Street".[4][5]

Place names[edit]

German place names are especially prevalent in the south of the country
Except for the northern part of the country, Namibia is peppered with Afrikaans and German place names

Unlike other parts of the world with large German immigration and large numbers of German place names, Namibia never experienced a wave of place-name changes. Especially in the south, in the regions of Hardap and Karas, about 80% of all place names are either German, Afrikaans, or a mix of German or Afrikaans with English. Examples include "Keetmanshoop" (after German industrialist Johann Keetman and the Afrikaans word for "hope", hoop.

Namibian German as a dialect[edit]

Namibian German
Native to Namibia
Native speakers
20,000–30,000 (first language); several hundred thousand (second language) (est.)  (date missing)[citation needed]
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottolog None

The German language as spoken in Namibia is characterized by simplification and the adoption of many words from Afrikaans, English, and Ovambo and other Bantu languages. This variant of German is called variously Südwesterdeutsch (German südwest, southwest, referring to the country's former name, South-West Africa); while younger people also call it Namsläng (i.e. Namibian slang) or Namlish.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Deutsch in Namibia" (PDF). Beilage der Allgemeinen Zeitung. 18 July 2007. Retrieved 23 June 2008. 
  2. ^ Stefan Fischer: Erhalt von Deutsch „fraglich“. In: Allgemeine Zeitung. 13. September 2010.
  3. ^ „Nach den Bestimmungen des Vertrages von Kapstadt wird die südafrikanische Regierung aufgefordert, deutsch als dritte Amtssprache einzuführen.“
  4. ^ Straße umgetauft. In: Allgemeine Zeitung. 19. Dezember 2001.
  5. ^ Umbenennung sorgt für Irrwege. In: Allgemeine Zeitung. 19. Juni 2003.


  • Marianne Zappen-Thomson: Deutsch als Fremdsprache in Namibia., Klaus-Hess-Verlag, Windhoek 2000, ISBN 3-933117-15-1.
  • Joe Pütz: Das grosse Dickschenärie. Peters Antiques, Windhoek Namibia 2001, ISBN 9-991650-46-6.
  • Erik Sell: Esisallesoreidt, Nam Släng - Deutsch, Deutsch - NAM Släng. EeS Records, Windhoek Namibia, 2009, ASIN B005AU8R82.

External links[edit]