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Rhodes > English Language and Linguistics > Latest News

Mzansi jumps into the dictionary

Date Released: Wed, 10 August 2011 11:00 +0200

The department's first Departmental Research Seminar (DRS) for the term on Tuesday 2 August, featured Richard Bowker, associate editor from the Dictionary Unit for South African English (DSAE).

Bowker presented on the use of online tools, such as Google Scholar and Google Books, in the compiling of the second edition of the Dictionary of South African English on Historical Principles (DSAEHist). He briefly explained the process involved in compiling a dictionary, in the form of ‘intake’, which is the collection of quotes showing the use of words for inclusion in the database. This includes new words and phrases, changes in items, and updating of words. From then on, further evidence of the use of these words and phrases in different contexts and from reliable sources needs to be found. Which is where the help of Google steps in. Google tools such as Google Scholar and Google Books assist DSAE personnel to efficiently find instances of the words and phrases from as far back as possible in archives. However, even with the emergence of Google, Bowker emphasised that the online tools do not in any way replace traditional methods such as going into a library and physically looking up instances of words and phrases. “The online search tools are a way of augmenting and supplementing the traditional reading programme, rather than displacing it,” said Bowker.

Bowker used the well-known example of the word ‘Mzansi’, which he says has its origins in the isiXhosa word ‘Mzantsi,’ as found in ‘Mzantsi Afrika’ (South Africa). The online tools have showed up instances where ‘Mzantsi’ has evolved into ‘Mzansi’ and has been used in a variety of different ways and contexts, from Mzansi as a geographical place, to a sense of a united ‘South Africanness’, to the inhabitants of the country. Google Books and Google Scholar showed 67 instances of the use of the word between 1997 and 2010, while Google search showed up to 593 instances in 322 quotes between 1999 and 2010. This has enabled Bowker to see what category ‘Mzansi’ fits into, such as whether it is used as a noun or is used attributively . The online tools help speed up the research process because of the large sample sizes that DSAE personnel deal with.   “But the Internet is only a sample, it is only a map and not the territory,” concluded Bowker.

Article by Babongile Zulu