Growing Xhosa for 50 years

Fort Hare’s lexicography unit to host International Dictionary Day

The isiXhosa National Lexicography Unit at the University of Fort Hare, which aims to preserve and grow the isiXhosa language, turns 50 this year.
To commemorate this milestone, the unit, in collaboration with the Pan South African Language Board, will host this year’s International Dictionary Day celebration on Tuesday, which other lexicography units for each of the official languages from around SA are expected to attend. Established in 1968, the unit has defined and translated about 40,000 isiXhosa words, squashing the false belief that isiXhosa asitolikwa (isiXhosa cannot be translated).
Publications include three volumes of a trilingual (isiXhosa, English and Afrikaans) dictionary.
The unit has also published the Isichazi-magama sesiXhosa, a first of its kind dictionary that defines Xhosa words in isiXhosa, and a maths and science dictionary for primary school pupils published in 2014.
A new chapter is currently being written as plans to launch an online isiXhosa dictionary are afoot.
The XLNU, formerly known as the Xhosa Dictionary Project, is the culmination of a project of UFH under the late Professor WH Pahl as the founding director and editor-in-chief.
According to current director and chief editor Zola Wababa, the project was a response to the need of isiXhosa speaking students for a modern, definitive, scientific and standard dictionary.
“Most textbooks are written in English with highly specialised technical language being used, and this becomes a challenge to many isiXhosa-speaking students,” said Wababa.
According to Wababa, the compilation of the dictionary started with a typewriter and a piece of paper, where a word would be typed, defined and translated.
The pieces of paper would then be filed alphabetically in a wooden box and sent for proofreading.
Professor Buyiswa Mini, the longest-serving director and chief editor of the unit after Pahl, said she was pleased with how far the unit had come in preserving and growing the isiXhosa language.
Mini, 69, joined the unit in 1976 as a consultant and in 1988 was appointed editor-in-chief, a position she held until 2002.
Mini’s role was to ensure the authenticity, accuracy and quality of volumes 1 and 2 of the dictionary. Wababa said the monumental work represents a giant step toward providing members of the isiXhosa community with a major reference text that will enable them to make use of their language to the maximum, whilst simultaneously making it possible for them to actively partake in a multilingual environment.
The celebrations will be held at UFH’s agriculture auditorium in Alice...

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