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History and Development of the DSAE

The Dictionary Unit for South African English was founded by Professor William Branford in 1969, as a project of the Institute for the Study of English in Africa at Rhodes University. It received ad hoc grants from the Human Sciences Research Council and the Department of National Education until 1985 when an annual grant was allocated. In June 1991 the DSAE became a Section 21 non-profit company, controlled by a Board of Directors and funded largely by the Department of National Education. Subsequently, funding was taken over by the then Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, which later passed on the responsibility to the Pan South African Language Board. Penny Silva was Director of the DSAE from 1991-1998 and Kathryn Kavanagh held this post between June 1999 and January 2004. The current director, Jill Wolvaardt, took over in July 2004.

The DSAE is housed in the St Peter’s Building (formerly a convent, built in 1893) at Rhodes University, together with the Institute for the Study of English in Africa, the Shakespeare Society of Southern Africa, and RUMEP (Rhodes University Mathematics Education Project).

Main object

Initially the main object of the company was

The continuous and comprehensive collecting, arranging and storing in a lexicographically workable form of the vocabulary of the English language as used in Southern Africa and the editing and publication of the collected materials in the form of a Dictionary of South African English on Historical Principles, as well as periodical revision and updating of the text thereof and other research and publications associated therewith.

This was amended in 1995 to include the compilation of other dictionaries, both by the DSAE itself and in collaboration with others, as well as a commitment to become involved with lexicographical training in South Africa.

Activities and achievements

The DSAE has been collecting examples of South African English since its foundation. Staff were fortunate to have access to the Cory Library at Rhodes University, which has extensive holdings of southern African books, diaries, and periodicals. Much of this information was recorded in a card index system. More recently material has been stored on computer. The DSAE is currently undertaking a major project to extend and upgrade its database and to transfer some of the wealth of material stored on index cards to the computer. In addition, the Unit plans to research and add many more examples of current South African English.

Several dictionaries have been produced for South Africa by the DSAE, including Jean Branford’s Dictionary of South African English, A Dictionary of South African English on Historical Principles, and most recently the South African Concise Oxford Dictionary. Details of these and other works can be found in the list of the Unit’s publications.

The DSAE regularly answers enquiries on South African English from other lexicographers and members of the public. Staff also attend conferences and seminars and write papers for journals such as Lexikos (the official publication of the African Association for Lexicography).

National Lexicography Units have now been established by the Pan South African Language Board for all South Africa’s official languages. Each is located at a tertiary institution in an area where there are many speakers of the particular language. The DSAE is collaborating with these units on practical training for staff and is looking forward to undertaking joint projects with them in due course.

The Board of Directors

Prof. Vivian de Klerk (chair), Ms Sarah Driver, Mr Malcolm Hacksley, Prof. Russell Kaschula, Ms Jill Wolvaardt (Executive Director).