'This will transform lives': First-ever trilingual Kaaps dictionary in development

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"The success of this project will help Kaaps speakers fully participate in South Africa's economy." Photo: Supplied/CMDR
"The success of this project will help Kaaps speakers fully participate in South Africa's economy." Photo: Supplied/CMDR

Compiling a dictionary usually takes many years to complete. The famous Oxford dictionary took 71 years to assemble, and now it's celebrating over 90 years since it was developed. 

The Kaaps language has been widely spoken since the 1500s in the Western Cape and beyond, and now, finally, the Centre for Multilingualism and Diversities Research (CMDR) is developing its first-ever trilingual dictionary for the language. 

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Kaaps has been marginalised for centuries, and it is hoped that by developing this dictionary its dignity will be restored and the language will be preserved for generations to come.

Parent24 interviewed Prof Quentin Williams, Director of the Centre for Multilingualism and Diversities Research (CMDR) and Associate Professor of Linguistics at the University of the Western Cape, to share some details about the trilingual Kaaps Dictionary launch.

"We hope this will have a profound impact on Kaaps as a language of teaching and learning at school and university, as a language for literacy development, and a language that could be learnt by non-Kaaps speakers in South Africa and across the world," he tells us.

The CMDR seeks to eventually institutionalize a Kaaps dictionary unit at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), equivalent to the Woordeboek van die Afrikaanse Taal (WAT) at Stellenbosch, Williams adds.

He mentioned that above all this, this project aims to break down and erode negative attitudes towards the language.

Specifically, the idea that Kaaps is not a language, that Kaaps is not good enough to be used as a language of teaching and learning in schools and universities, he clarifies.  

"Or even worse remarks such as "the speakers of Kaaps sound like gangsters" because it just so happens that their bilingualism and multilingualism have words from the register of the Number gangs," Williams says.

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The success of this project will help Kaaps speakers fully participate in South Africa's economy, he says. 

He shares that this project "will help Kaaps speakers to reap the benefits of it becoming a language that is taught at school and university, a language that is used in the economic domains, that is seen across the linguistic landscape of communities."

"It is incumbent on linguists, academics, government, parents, and communities to ensure that we develop curricula, language policies and laws to develop the use of Kaaps in the economy. This will transform the lives of Kaaps speakers," Williams says.

There is a dedicated editorial team for this project which includes a local and international advisory board. 

Williams says that the core editorial team will do the bulk of the work, including researching and identifying new Kaaps words in common usage for inclusion in the dictionary. 

"This will involve a process of creating, defining old and new Kaaps words and determining and assessing the accuracy of meanings of those words and translating the words and meanings from Kaaps to standard Afrikaans and English," says Williams.

"The advisory board provides us with Kaaps words from texts and documents to include in the corpus, assesses the quality of the lexicography work produced by the core editorial staff, assesses the quality of our Kaaps word entries into the corpus, assesses the meanings of Kaaps words, especially the meanings that are most in use and which are secondary or used less commonly, and comments on our editorial process," explains Williams.

However, one of the biggest challenges for this project included attracting sponsors to expand the core editorial board. Williams says that they have managed to secure start-up funding, but more financial support is needed for the project to be implemented.

This project is a long-term one set to complete in the next five years, says Williams. His concern, for now, is the corpus-lexicography training of the core editorial board.

He says that the plan is, to begin with, the corpus development to publishing the online version of the dictionary by the fifth year.

William says that once they have reached a sizeable corpus to design and produce the dictionary, they will publish the dictionary. He hopes that an online and offline version of about 240 pages will be available for publication in five years.  

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