Lexikos (Dec 2013)

The Afrikaans Orthographic Rules as Guide for Other South African Languages

  • Mariëtta Alberts

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 23
pp. 1 – 28


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The spelling and orthographic rules of a language are very important for compilers of general and technical dictionaries. When compiling a dictionary, the lexicographers and termi­no­graphers should adhere to these rules. The word-forming principles of a language form part of these rules, and new terms can only be coined in a given language if the spelling and orthographic rules of the language are followed. In this article work on the rules of Afrikaans spelling and orthography, by and large, is reported. It is hoped that some of the lessons learned in the process could serve as guidelines for parallel processes of the standardisation of the spelling and orthographies of the other South Afri­can languages. With the establishment of the National Language Body for Afrikaans (NLBA) of the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB), it was decided that the members of the Taalkommissie (Lan­guage Commission) of the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns (SAAWK) (South African Acad­emy for Science and the Arts) would become members of the NLBA. These mem­bers then became the Technical Committee for Standardisation (TC Standardisation). Since its establishment, the members of the Taalkommissie cum TC for Standardisation (Commission) con­tinued with their work on the standardisation of the spelling and orthographic rules for Afrikaans. Along with work on spelling and orthography, the long-term objectives set by the Commission are, inter alia, the conver­sion and adaptation of the Afrikaanse Woordelys en Spelreëls (AWS) to an elec­tronic format to be made available in an electronic version (e-book) and online, as well as a stan­dard grammar for Afrikaans to be compiled for international access on the Internet. The AWS is a resource compiled by the Commission to assist users of Afrikaans in writing the standard variety of the language. The AWS explains the ground rules of the Afri­kaans spelling and orthographic conventions. The basic rules are provided in simplified language. No language is static, and there are always language changes to be taken into account. The vocabulary and pronunciation of a dynamic language could change over a period of time. These changes should be reflected in the spelling and orthographic system of the language. The article addresses issues such as the front matter of the AWS, spelling and orthographic principles and rules, and the back matter (i.e. a list of abbreviations, a list of international place names, transliteration table, etc.). Although the AWS is not a dictionary, it also contains a word list. Words which present spelling problems, neologisms and items requiring recognition as part of the Afri­kaans vocabulary are some of the categories considered for inclusion in this list. In 2004 the NLBs of the other nine official African languages started with the revision of the spelling and orthographic rules of these languages. The first editions were published by PanSALB in 2008. No revisions have been compiled since. The AWS could serve as example of what could be done for the other African languages and even the Khoe and San languages.