10 June 2005
It’s official: there are now bilingual dictionaries for all of South Africa’s 11 official languages.
The chief executive officer of the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB), Cynthia Marivate, told Parliament’s portfolio committee on arts and culture on Tuesday that the “minority languages” of isiNdebele, siSwati, Xitsonga and Tshivenda now had their own bilingual dictionaries.
“Ten years down the line, all official languages have a formal dictionary,” Marivate said.
Previously, only the more widely spoken indigenous languages of isiZulu, isiXhosa, Sepedi, Sesotho and Setswana had bilingual dictionaries. English and Afrikaans have long had both monolingual and bilingual dictionaries.
Marivate said that producing comprehensive monolingual dictionaries, a key aim of PanSALB’s national lexicography units, remains an ambition for the department, but added that by 2050 multilingual dictionaries for the indigenous languages would have doubled in size.
She also said that electronic dictionaries – or e-dictionaries – of South Africa’s indigenous languages will soon be available for schools to download.
Khoe and San languages
Marivate told the parliamentary committee that, due to capacity problems, the Khoe and San languages were under-represented on PanSALB’s national language bodies – but said one key achievement was the recording of the N|u language of the Khomani San.
According to PanSALB’s Angie Netshiheni, Khoe speakers insisted, during research conducted in 2001-2002, that the word be spelt “Khoe” and not “Khoi” as was previously the case.
One of the world’s most endangered languages, N|u was recorded from one of the last surviving N|u speakers in the Northern Cape.
Marivate said the related Khoe and San languages of !Xam and Koranna still needed to be recorded.
No to tsotsitaal
Finally, Marivate responded to a concern raised by a committee member that some young South Africans, encouraged by a popular radio station, were touting for a youthful slang known as tsotsitaal (gangster language) or isicamto to be recognised as an official language.
Marivate said there was “no way” that PanSALB would ever approve of tsotsitaal becoming South Africa’s 12th official language.