Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron is facing fierce criticism in South Africa after saying her mother tongue, Afrikaans, is “a dying language.”
The “Monster” and “Tully” star made the comments on Monday’s episode of the “Smartless” podcast, saying that the language that she grew up speaking was fading out.
Theron, 47, who revealed she only learned to speak English fluently when she moved to the United States at 19, said there’s “about 44 people still speaking” Afrikaans.
“It’s definitely a dying language, it’s not a very helpful language,” she told hosts Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes and Will Arnett.
Theron’s remarks soon sparked a social media debate in South Africa. While some branded her ill-informed, others agreed that Afrikaans was a “dead language.”
“Charlize Theron is a legend!” one Twitter commentator wrote. “Indeed Afrikaans is a dead language. It belongs in the past. It’s a tool once used to oppress Africans.”
Another Twitter user said: “This statement was made by Charlize Theron to appease Hollywood. I do not concur with her. As with all other languages, the Afrikaans language must be preserved.”
Tim Theron, a South African actor and director of no relation to Theron, commented under a clip of the podcast shared on Instagram: “We’re extremely proud of Charlize and everything she has achieved … but we’re also very proud of our diversity and our amazing and beautiful official languages, of which Afrikaans is one.
“It’s not a ‘dying language’, and it’s not only spoken by 44 people. It’s spoken by millions of people, there are new songs and poems being written every day, movies made etc.”
On Thursday, the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB), which was set up to promote multilingualism in the country, responded with a statement calling Theron’s comments “disturbing,” adding that stats show Afrikaans is the third most spoken language in the country.
“These comments made by Ms Theron perpetuate the persistent misconception that Afrikaans is only spoken by white ‘boere’ South Africans, which could not be farther from the truth as 60% of the people that speak the language are black,” the statement said.
The PanSALB went on to add that Theron was held in high regard by South Africa and needed to “continue the commendable work of using her platform to highlight some of the critical socioeconomic issues that affect the continent including the importance of participating in public life using one’s mother tongue.”
Afrikaans, a language first introduced by Dutch colonial settlers and imposed on non-whites by the apartheid regime, is one of 11 official languages recognized in South Africa. It includes words from Asian Malay, Malagasy, Khoi, San, Xhosa, French and Portuguese.