The first-ever dictionary of South Africa’s Kaaps language has launched – why it matters


Graffiti artist Falko Starr finishes a mural in the Cape Flats area of Cape Town.
GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP via Getty Images

Adam Haupt, University of Cape Town

It’s been in existence since the 1500s but the Kaaps language, synonymous with Cape Town in South Africa, has never had a dictionary until now. The Trilingual Dictionary of Kaaps has been launched by a collective of academic and community stakeholders – the Centre for Multilingualism and Diversities Research at the University of the Western Cape along with the hip hop-driven community NGO Heal the Hood Project. The dictionary – in Kaaps, English and Afrikaans – holds the promise of being a powerful democratic resource. Adam Haupt, director of the Centre for Film & Media Studies at the University of Cape Town, is involved in the project and tells us more.


What is Kaaps and who uses the language?

Kaaps or Afrikaaps is a language created in settler colonial South Africa, developed by the 1500s. It took shape as a language during encounters between indigenous African (Khoi and San), South-East Asian, Dutch, Portuguese and English people. It could be argued that Kaaps predates the emergence of an early form of Kaaps-Hollands (the South African variety of Dutch that would help shape Afrikaans). Traders and sailors would have passed through this region well before formal colonisation commenced. Also consider migration and movement on the African continent itself. Every intercultural engagement would have created an opportunity for linguistic exchange and the negotiation of new meaning.

Today, Kaaps is most commonly used by largely working class speakers on the Cape Flats, an area in Cape Town where many disenfranchised people were forcibly moved by the apartheid government. It’s used across all online and offline contexts of socialisation, learning, commerce, politics and religion. And, because of language contact and the temporary and seasonal migration of speakers from the Western Cape, it is written and spoken across South Africa and beyond its borders.

It is important to acknowledge the agency of people from the global South in developing Kaaps – for example, the language was first taught in madrassahs (Islamic schools) and was written in Arabic script. This acknowledgement is imperative especially because Afrikaner nationalists appropriated Kaaps in later years.

For a great discussion of Kaaps and explanation of examples of words and phrases from this language, listen to this conversation between academic Quentin Williams and journalist Lester Kiewit.

How did the dictionary come about?

The dictionary project, which is still in its launch phase, is the result of ongoing collaborative work between a few key people. You might say it’s one outcome of our interest in hip hop art, activism and education. We are drawn to hip hop’s desire to validate black modes of speech. In a sense, this is what a dictionary will do for Kaaps.

Quentin Williams, a sociolinguist, leads the project. Emile Jansen, Tanswell Jansen and Shaquile Southgate serve on the editorial board on behalf of Heal the Hood Project, which is an NGO that employs hip hop education in youth development initiatives. Emile also worked with hip hop and theatre practitioners on a production called Afrikaaps, which affirmed Kaaps and narrated some of its history. Anthropologist H. Samy Alim is the founding director of the Center for Race, Ethnicity and Language at Stanford University and has assisted in funding the dictionary, with the Western Cape’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport.

An album cover with the title 'Afrikaaps', an illustration of assorted cool looking young people with a mountain in the background.
CD art from the musical Afrikaaps.
Courtesy of Afrikaaps/Dylan Valley

We’re in the process of training the core editorial board in the scientific area of lexicography, translation and transcription. This includes the archiving of the initial, structured corpus for the dictionary. We will write down definitions and determine meanings of old and new Kaaps words. This process will be subjected to a rigorous review and editing and stylistic process of the Kaaps words we will enter in the dictionary. The entries will include their history of origin, use and uptake. There will also be a translation from standard Afrikaans and English.

Who will use the dictionary?

It will be a resource for its speakers and valuable to educators, students and researchers. It will impact the ways in which institutions, as loci of power, engage speakers of Kaaps. It would also be useful to journalists, publishers and editors keen to learn more about how to engage Kaaps speakers.

A Kaaps dictionary will validate it as a language in its own right. And it will validate the identities of the people who speak it. It will also assist in making visible the diverse cultural, linguistic, geographical and historical tributaries that contributed to the evolution of this language.

Kaaps was relegated to a slang status of Afrikaans?

Acknowledgement of Kaaps is imperative especially because Afrikaner nationalists appropriated Kaaps in order to create the dominant version of the language in the form of Afrikaans. A ‘suiwer’ or ‘pure’ version, claiming a strong Dutch influence, Afrikaans was formally recognised as an official language of South Africa in 1925. This was part of the efforts to construct white Afrikaner identity, which shaped apartheid based on a belief in white supremacy.




Read more:
Afrikaner identity in post-apartheid South Africa remains stuck in whiteness


For example, think about the Kaaps tradition of koesiesters – fried dough confectionery – which was appropriated (taken without acknowledgement) and the treats were named koeksisters by white Afrikaners. They were claimed as a white Afrikaner tradition. The appropriation of Kaaps reveals a great deal about the extent to which race is socially and politically constructed. As I have said elsewhere, cultural appropriation is both an expression of unequal relations of power and is enabled by them.

When people think about Kaaps, they often think about it as ‘mixed’ or ‘impure’ (‘onsuiwer’). This relates to the ways in which they think about ‘racial’ identity. They often think about coloured identity as ‘mixed’, which implies that black and white identities are ‘pure’ and bounded; that they only become ‘mixed’ in ‘inter-racial’ sexual encounters. This mode of thinking is biologically essentialist.




Read more:
How Cape Town’s “Gayle” has endured — and been adopted by straight people


Of course, geneticists now know that there is not sufficient genetic variation between the ‘races’ to justify biologically essentialist understandings. Enter cultural racism to reinforce the concept of ‘race’. It polices culture and insists on standard language varieties by denigrating often black modes of speech as ‘slang’ or marginal dialects.

Can a dictionary help overturn stereotypes?

Visibility and the politics of representation are key challenges for speakers of Kaaps – be it in the media, which has done a great job of lampooning and stereotyping speakers of Kaaps – or in these speakers’ engagement with governmental and educational institutions. If Kaaps is not recognised as a bona fide language, you will continue to see classroom scenarios where schoolkids are told explicitly that the way in which they speak is not ‘respectable’ and will not guarantee them success in their pursuit of careers.

This dictionary project, much like ones for other South African languages like isiXhosa, isiZulu or Sesotho, can be a great democratic resource for developing understanding in a country that continues to be racially divided and unequal.The Conversation

Adam Haupt, , University of Cape Town

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Youse wouldn’t believe it: a new book charts the 11-year making of a ‘people’s dictionary’ for Australia



Even the dictionary entry defining lamingtons proved controversial …
shutterstock

Roslyn Petelin, The University of Queensland

Review: More Than Words: The Making of the Macquarie Dictionary by Pat Manser (Pan Macmillan)

In 1973 Pat Manser answered an advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald seeking a research assistant to work on phonetic transcriptions for a dictionary of Australian English.

Now, nearly 50 years later, she has published her monumental account of the making of this dictionary, which in the words of Thomas Keneally, “paid the Antipodean tongue the great compliment of taking it seriously”.

If you’re a word aficionado, you’ll love this book. I could not put it down until I had read through to the end of the final section, which contains the wonderful launch presentation speeches for all eight editions of the Macquarie Dictionary.




Read more:
Gogglebox and what it tells us about English in Australia


The beginnings

John Bernard, a chemist who was appointed Associate Professor in the Department of English and Linguistics at Macquarie University in 1966, had published a paper in Southerly in June 1962 about the need for a dictionary of Australian English. He argued that we need

a dictionary of our own because our idiom, usage, invention and especially pronunciation are sufficiently different from those of other Englishes.

In December 1969, Brian Clouston, who had founded Jacaranda Press in Brisbane, agreed to fund a dictionary that would be

aggressively Australian, not to be encyclopedic, not to be illustrated, to be in one volume, and to be ready in two years.

Bernard’s colleague at the university, Professor Arthur Delbridge, was appointed chair of the editorial committee to compile the book. He argued for a “people’s dictionary” that would “hold up a mirror directly to contemporary Australian speech and writing”.

The critical decision at the outset was whether to describe how people use the language or prescribe how people should use the language.

Should the new dictionary describe how language was used or prescribe its use?
shutterstock

The father of English lexicography, Samuel Johnson, whose prescriptivist A Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1755, felt “the duty of the lexicographer was to correct or proscribe”. The Oxford English Dictionary, published in 1928, had also been prescriptive.

However, the Macquarie editorial committee was “adamant that its dictionary was to be descriptive”, a move now standard in English language dictionaries. The committee wanted as comprehensive a dictionary as possible, so spoken as well as written words were included.

Johnson’s dictionary took seven years to compile. The Oxford dictionary took 70 years. Rather than two, Macquarie’s dictionary took 11 years.

The Macquarie lexicographers had started work in 1970; the first edition was published in 1981. The 8th edition, published in 2020, and its thesaurus contain more than 300,000 Australian words and definitions.

It is no surprise there were controversies to contend with in the years it took to compile the first edition.




Read more:
Togs or swimmers? Why Australians use different words to describe the same things


Controversies

The test for inclusion of words and expressions is currency. How often do you hear people say, “I’ll see youse later”? That particular Australianism is included in the dictionary because, as an entry explains:

English you does not distinguish singular from plural. The form youse does provide a plural, contrasting with singular you, but there is strong resistance to it, in spoken as well as written language, and it remains non-standard.

Other tests include whether a word is accepted by the language community, whether it’s used extensively, or whether it’s too individual or specialised. Is it likely to stand the test of time? Is the entry well supported by citations?

Language is forever changing, so the challenge for a dictionary is its capacity to remain up to date. Manser amusingly illustrates the growing acceptance of “literally” to be understood as “figuratively” with a quote from Amanda Vanstone:

But I can assure you that we are literally bending over backwards to take into account the concerns raised by colleagues.

Amanda Vanstone poses (literally) for a photograph for Australian Women’s Weekly in 2006.
Tim Bauer/AAP

As the recipient of elocution lessons in my early education I was fascinated to learn about the dictionary’s engagement with spoken English pronunciation. Then there is the fraught question of the description of iconic foods. Should Lamingtons be dipped only in thin chocolate icing and coconut? Not necessarily. There are pink jelly lamingtons and, more recently, Tokyo lamingtons, which have apparently landed with flavours of matcha and black sesame.

Manser’s least favourite word is mansplain, Word of the year in 2014. She hoped it would be ephemeral … but it was recently just nudged out by “fake news” for word of the decade.




Read more:
The horror and pleasure of misused words: from mispronunciation to malapropisms


A cocktail

The dictionary was launched on 21 September 1981 as The Macquarie Dictionary because it would “add prestige to the dictionary to be associated with a university”, as the Oxford one was.

A special cocktail, the Macquarie, was created to mark the occasion: “Champagne, mango juice, Bitters, Grand Marnier, and a whole strawberry to float on the top”.

The reviews were glowing, except for one condescending and scathing review by the editor of the second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. Robert Burchfield, a New Zealander, accused the committee of a “charming unawareness of the standards of reputable lexicography outside Australia”.

The new dictionary sold very well: 50,000 copies in its first year and another 50,000 copies over the next 18 months. Within ten years there were 23 spin off editions.

Malcolm Turnbull avails himself of a dictionary in 2008 during parliamentary question time.
Alan Porritt/AAP

Currently, there are more than 150 spin offs. There was even a Macquarie Bedtime Story Book for Children. There are, of course, other dictionaries of Australian English, such as Oxford University Press’s Australian National Dictionary, a dictionary of Australianisms first published in 1988. There was also an Australian version of the Collins British English Dictionary, which the Macquarie staff regarded as essentially British.

In 1976, the Macquarie offices moved to a former market gardener’s cottage on the campus of Macquarie University. Called “the cottage”, it sounds reminiscent of James Murray’s scriptorium in Oxford, where he oversaw the creation of The Oxford English Dictionary. In 1980, Macquarie Library Pty Ltd became the publisher and has held the copyright ever since, though Macmillan bought the dictionary in 2001.

Macquarie embraced Indigenous Australian issues with Macquarie Aboriginal Words in 1994 and the Macquarie Atlas of Indigenous Australia in 2005. As Ernie Dingo put it at the time: “This book is a White step in the Black direction”.

Manser, who went on to become a high-level public servant, has done painstakingly detailed research for this book, with great support from former colleagues.
It is well written in short chapters. I would have liked to see an index and a time-line, but I hesitate to quibble in the face of such a splendid historical document.The Conversation

Roslyn Petelin, Course coordinator, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

2020 Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year


The links below are to articles reporting on Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year for 2020 – actually, there are more than one.

For more visit:
https://lithub.com/oxfords-official-word-of-2020-is-well-its-a-lot-of-words/
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/nov/23/oed-says-2020-too-many-potential-words-of-the-year-to-name-just-one-oxford-english-dictionary

‘Rona’, ‘iso’, ‘quazza’ — words of the year speak to our Australian take on COVID



Unsplash/United Nations, CC BY

Roland Sussex, The University of Queensland

Language is like archaeology. It lays down evidence for following generations to excavate and write PhD theses about. Layers of the stuff. And such has been the language of the year of COVID.

Not surprisingly, COVID has spawned an efflorescence of words and expressions. And these will certainly be dug up for analysis by our descendants.

In Australia we have a characteristic way of repurposing words, and we have applied it to COVID. Isolation became “iso”, which was crowned (joke: corona is Latin for crown) Word of the Year, or WOTY, by the Australian National Dictionary.

And coronavirus became “rona”, the Macquarie Dictionary’s COVID WOTY for 2020, announced today.

The Macquarie has departed from its usual practice (as has the Oxford English Dictionary) and anointed not one but two WOTYs (should that be WOTIES?): one to honour the way COVID has dominated our world, thinking and language this year; and another across-the-board WOTY as well. Their latter choice was “doomscrolling”, the practice of continuing to read news online or on social media when you know there’s nothing new in the news, and it’s all miserable.




Read more:
‘Iso’, ‘boomer remover’ and ‘quarantini’: how coronavirus is changing our language


Short, not necessarily sweet

Iso and rona are diminutives or hypocoristics. I have a database of over 6,000 of these in Australian English. These are derived forms of words that express an emotional overtone, usually amiable and solidaristic (“barbie” for barbecue; “servo” for service station), sometimes pejorative (“commo” for communist, “drongo” for well, an idiot).

But my personal nomination for the 2020 WOTY is “quazza” for quarantine. I predicted its birth and was fulfilled when it duly appeared.

Quazza follows a pattern in Australian English where R becomes Z: Terry gives “Tezza”, Barry gives “Bazza”, and quarantine yields “quazza”. Which is a long way from the Italian word quarantina, a reference to the 40-day period ships had to anchor off Italy in days gone by to prove there was no plague on board.

These diminutives serve an important purpose. They de-demonise threatening words. Without reducing the level of the words’ threat, the diminutives imply: this is something we can get our minds around and manage.

And gradually, with some temporary reversals, that is what we have done, and much more effectively than most other countries. Though whether the diminutives have medical force is not yet proven.

Person in mask looks at laptop in darkened room
‘Doomscrolling’ captures the intersection of this year’s unfolding catastrophes and social media.
Unsplash, CC BY

Getting the message

Of course, there’s more to the influence of language under COVID than diminutives. In terms of public health and communication, three key agencies have driven our handling of the pandemic: scientists, policymakers and the public.

In Australia, the passage of information and action between these three entities has worked rather well. Science has transmitted reliable and helpful analyses of coronavirus and COVID-19 to policymakers. They informed our understanding of specific pandemic terms like “incubation” and “reinfection”.

State and federal governments have issued action guidelines with terms like “COVID safe”. And the public has created their own shorthand like the diminutives described above to make it all a bit friendlier.




Read more:
We’re not all in this together. Messages about social distancing need the right cultural fit


Australians have accessed the science through the media and the internet, and have generally acted responsibly.

Using words consistently and specifically is vital when it comes to health messages.
Unsplash/United Nations, CC BY

The key mechanism for communicating along the three axes between science, policymakers and the public involves messaging. Words matter in this context. What is needed is simple, direct, transparent and plausible language. Translations for multilingual communities are also vital.

Australian authorities have used words effectively and fairly consistently (though not always). The words and terms have fallen within four broad lexical categories:

1. isolation — lockdown, isolation, quarantine

2. distance — social distancing, venue capacity

3. hygiene — handwashing, sanitiser (or “hand sanny” in Australian slang), masks

3. social — COVID safe, flatten the curve, stop the spread, WFH (work from home).

The British messaging was much less effective, moving from “Protect the NHS” (National Health Service) to “Stay alert” without specifying what people should be alert to.




Read more:
Coronavirus anti-vaxxers: one in six British people would refuse a vaccine – here’s how to change their minds


Going the distance

Unfortunately, many countries took up the phrase “social distancing”, when what was needed was “physical distancing”, continuing social interaction as an important part of maintaining well being. The World Health Organisation agrees.

Next time — and there certainly will be a next time — we need to be better prepared.

There will be new vocabulary to describe, and perhaps to help tame, potential new threats. The messaging may be very similar, and we will know, from our experience with COVID-19 in 2020, how best to stop “covidiots” from acting “coronacrazy”.




Read more:
How COVID-19 is changing the English language


The Conversation


Roland Sussex, Professor Emeritus, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Giving back to English: how Nigerian words made it into the Oxford English Dictionary



Photo by Bruce Milton Miller/Fairfax Media via Getty Images.

Kingsley Ugwuanyi, Northumbria University, Newcastle

Nigeria was recently in the spotlight when the Oxford English Dictionary announced that its January 2020 update included 29 Nigerian English words.

The reception, in both the traditional and new media, was nothing short of sensational. Most Nigerians expressed a great sense of pride in the fact that the unique ways in which they use English were being acknowledged internationally.

The Oxford English Dictionary said in the release note:

By taking ownership of English and using it as their own medium of expression, Nigerians have made, and are continuing to make, a unique and distinctive contribution to English as a global language.

Interestingly, the idea of Nigerians owning English is the fulcrum of my doctoral research. In it, I found that increasingly Nigerians are demonstrating a strong sense of ownership of the English language, and in particular their use of it.

The inclusion of Nigerian English words in the Oxford English Dictionary is, in a sense, a recognition of the tremendous efforts by scholars of Nigerian English many of whom have produced discipline-shaping research. This has included four published dictionaries of Nigerian English.

These developments indicate that Nigerian English has indeed come of age. They also validate the concentric circle model developed by Professor Braj Kachru, the father of world Englishes research. This avers that the ‘outer-circle’ varieties of English (where Nigerian English belongs) is ‘norm-developing’. In other words, that Nigerian English is adding to the norms of English.

I think the English, indeed the English-speaking world, should be thankful to Nigeria for this historic gift.

So how were the words chosen?

As the Nigerian consultant to the project which saw the inclusion of the words, I have insights into the process the team underwent in adding them. These include the rationale for adding them, and the enormous significance the inclusion holds for the English language.

How, and why, new words are added

The Oxford English Dictionary has a wide variety of resources to track the emergence of new words and new senses of already existing words.

The Oxford English Corpus is one. This is an electronic database of different types of written and spoken texts specifically designed for linguistic research. In the case of Nigerian English and other World English varieties, for instance, suggestions of new words and senses come from the corpus, reading books and magazines written in the English varieties in question as well as looking at previous studies, and the review of existing dictionaries, if any.

Once there is a list of candidates, a team of expert editors at the Oxford English Dictionary looks closely at the databases to ensure that there are several independent instances of the words being used. And how they are being used.

Other factors that are considered include the time period over which words have been used, as well as their frequency and distribution. But there’s no exact time-span and frequency threshold. Some words – such as Brexit – are relatively young but were included quickly because of the huge social impact they had in a short space of time. Others are not used frequently but are included because they are of specific cultural, historical, or linguistic significance to the community of their users. An example is ‘Kannywood’, the word describing the Nigerian Hausa-language film industry, based in the city of Kano.

It’s clear therefore that the editors don’t simply select the words or senses that appeal to them. Instead, they are guided by use, which links in with the prevailing thought in lexicography and linguistics more generally: that the remit of dictionaries and linguistic research is not to prescribe how languages should be used but to describe how languages are being used.

Words are added because the Oxford English Dictionary recognises that English is a universal language. It believes that including words from varieties of English all over the world enables it to tell a more complete story of the language.

These varieties also reflect the unique culture, history, and identity of the various communities that use English across the world. Nigerian English is a good example. Like other English varieties, it is a living ‘being’ with its own unique vocabulary, encompassing all sorts of lexical innovations. These include borrowings from local languages, new abbreviations, blends and compounds.

Failure to capture such words would deny English an opportunity to grow. It would also deny the flavour of what the speakers of these varieties contribute to the development of English.

What does it mean for English?

One of the reasons previous world languages such as Egyptian and Ancient Greek ceased to exert dominance internationally was their inability to keep pace with developments around the world.

Perhaps this is one factor that clearly distinguishes English. It has demonstrated a capacity for growth by keeping its borders open, helping it to develop from a West Germanic dialect spoken in a small island into a world language. English is now spoken by about 1.75 billion people – a quarter of the
world’s population
. This includes first and second language speakers.

One way English grows is by admitting new words and senses not just from other English varieties but from virtually all languages of the world. For instance, English has had the word ‘postpone’ since the late 15th century, but it was through India that its opposite ‘prepone’ entered English in current use during the 20th century.

Similarly, Nigerian English is reintroducing the verb meaning of ‘barb’, which existed in 16th century British English.

This is how English maintains its dominance. In addition, the Internet has given today’s Oxford English Dictionary editors wider access to non-traditional sources of linguistic evidence. This has enabled them to widen and improve the dictionary’s coverage of world varieties of English, affirming Oxford English Dictionary’s claim as “the definitive record of the English language”.The Conversation

Kingsley Ugwuanyi, Lecturer/Doctoral Researcher, Northumbria University, Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.