African dictionary makers meet in South Africa

SHARE   |   Sunday, 06 July 2014   |   By Othusitse Tlhobogang
Thapelo Thapelo

Botswana’s foremost lexicographer and linguist, Professor Otlogetswe Thapelo has said that they have covered milestones in developing the Setswana dictionary, Tlhalosi ya Setswana.
Thapelo was part of a Botswana team that represented the country at the just ended Members of the African Association for Lexicography annual meeting this week in South Africa to discuss matter pertaining to African languages and how to develop it.

He said they talked about how they are developing the Setswana dictionary which is expected to be published in 2016. The academic, who is a lecturer at the University of Botswana, said from the conference they realised that South Africans working on African languages dictionaries instead of developing they are regressing.


“South Africa has nine official languages. Those writing Setswana dictionaries are saying they want to focus on what is standard and exclude no-standards words. The same will happen to Sesotho-sa-Leboa. They want to reject dialectal words. A single language is a composite of different dialects. We are supposed to standardise how we spell the words of the language. So, it’s really to merge sound to spelling. It should be such that when we have the sound we can tell ‘this is how we spell it’. We need to be open to words from Setswana’s different dialects,” he said.

He said there should not just be focus on using stylistic features-whether a word is formal or not formal. “We don’t want somebody saying this word should not be in the dictionary because it’s spoken by children. Colloquial words, insults as well as religious words, scientific words should all be incorporated. There should be a diverse collection of words and languages spoken by people,” he said.


He said in South Africa, by excluding certain dialects in African languages, it would lead to a situation where they have dictionaries that have words that are not used by people. The lexicographer said the country has language boards for each of the nine languages and that the boards make judgements on how a good dictionary should look like, “but they are not lexicographers,” he said.

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