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Oxford Afrikaanse Skoolwoordeboek

Published by: Oxford University Press
ISBN: 978-0-19-599795-8
Reviewed by: Fiona de Villiers

Paraphrasing the famous avant-garde writer Gertrude Stein, one may often say, “A dictionary is a dictionary is a dictionary.”

However, one of Oxford University Press’s (OUP) specialities is the consistent adaptation of key resources like dictionaries to suit the needs of new curricula and changing global education demands. Many students admit to finding Afrikaans challenging, and old-fashioned dictionaries often left them in the lurch, simply listing word options. I’ve often heard Afrikaans teachers relate amusing stories of pupils who provide inappropriate translations simply because they didn’t know how to use the dictionary properly.

Perhaps, then, the detailed and impressive introductory instructions given by the OUP creators of their new Afrikaanse Skoolwoordeboek should have been in English, but these authors and editors aren’t letting students off the hook. After all, they say, “This dictionary is designed to help you speak and write better Afrikaans” (my translation). Going through the instructions will most certainly benefit students.

Reproducing a page from the resource, this introductory section of the dictionary uses arrows to point students to critically important elements. For example, say the collators, “modern, natural ‘example sentences or phrases’ appear next to the key word or description of its meaning. They can help learners understand context better and offer a model for speaking or writing.” Students (and teachers) are also provided with guidance with regard to pronunciation.

Words that are spelled the same way but that have different meanings in different contexts are clearly differentiated, and each word’s grammatical purpose and degrees of comparison are provided. Other instructions warn students about common mistakes made with frequently used words, and the inclusion of both synonyms and antonyms will help them enrich their writing. Cross-references will steer them away from clichés and towards useful idioms and phrases to “help them write and speak more naturally”.

Other features are just as helpful. The frequent use of simple pictures with descriptive labels will help to simplify difficult concepts and expand vocabularies; a clear ‘thumb index’ makes it easy to find the right page fast; and words with more than one grammatical function are clearly explained, as is the skill of matching words with registers. I liked finding out about the historical origins of words, and thought that teachers and students alike will appreciate that key curriculum terms are emphasised throughout.

Indicating to students how and when to use verb tenses – another feature of this great dictionary – will reinforce good teaching and, of course, most importantly of all, comprehensive explanations of the meanings of words will feed the imaginations of all those budding 21st-century Gertrude Steins itching to break forth onto the new Afrikaans literary scene.

Category: Book Reviews, Winter 2013

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