Lexicographic practice in Southern Africa has been making rapid strides in the direction of multifunctionality of databases through the advent of generic lexicographic software with powerful retrieval facilities. Yet a considerable number of projects – especially in Khoesaan languages – still use or have recently used a word processor with the sole objective of compiling a dictionary. Most of these projects suffer from a long standing legacy of having been started single-handedly as byproducts of fieldwork in a language, at a time when affordable dedicated lexicographic software was not available yet.
In view of this situation, a case study of the Khoekhoegowab Dictionary Project (formerly Nama Dictionary Project) is presented. This venture started in the early 1980s with handwritten index cards but has, since the early 1990s, advanced to custom-made software based on an off-the-shelf database manager using a now obsolete DOS platform and other proprietary software. In 2010, the database was transferred to customised open-source spreadsheet software in order to ensure its continuous utility for future publications and research.
The intention of the project was to compile a bilingual and bidirectional Khoekhoegowab-English / English-Khoekhoegowab dictionary that is marked for (and sorted according to) lexical tone. Hence the software was designed with these and other specific aims in mind. The concept provides for two strictly distinct stages: Firstly, a pre-dictionary stage in which the data would be entered into a relational database by means of a commercially available database management programme, File Express; secondly, a dictionary compilation stage in which these data eventually are converted into a print-ready presentation lay-out format by means of custom-made compilation and editing software.
The paper demonstrates how the database was configured for particular purposes, mainly to serve both, as template for the lemma and article format in the printed Khoekhoegowab-English dictionary, and as multipurpose retrieval tool for extra-lexicographic purposes. It is emphasised by exemplification that the design of the database configuration is of pivotal importance for the extent of potential data utilisation. The present database provides, for instance, for a set-up that specifies input and output data for lexical tone and therewith has supplied the data for the analysis of the tonology of Khoekhoegowab. This analysis in turn, was a prerequisite for systematically marking the dictionary for tone.
Further advantages and spin-offs of using a relational database are briefly enumerated for the particular case, as well as facilities that the software design does not offer. Finally it is reported how, after the actual experience of imminent software failure because of obsolescence, the existing database file recently was exported into an OpenOffice CALC spreadsheet. New software was written to eventually produce a print-ready page lay-out of the dictionary. Before the dictionary compilation will be done for a second edition, further dialect data will be added to the database for some years of ongoing fieldwork. The fact that open-source software is used ensures that the database can survive indefinitely.
It is ultimately suggested that the time, cost and effort spent on converting lexical data that have been compiled in a word processor document into a structured database with fully fledged retrieval facilities, is – in the long run – amply compensated for by the far-reaching elimination of human error in the dictionary, by the automatisation of processes like language reversal and sorting, and, finally, the significantly enhanced usability of the data for purposes other than dictionary compilation.
Books that have emanated from the database:
1999a. Haacke, W. & E. Eiseb. Khoekhoegowab-English / English-Khoekhoegowab Glossary/ Mîdi Saogub. Windhoek: Gamsberg-Macmillan. 278p.
1999b. The Tonology of Khoekhoe (Nama/Damara), Quellen zur Khoisan-Forschung No. 16. Cologne: Rüdiger Köppe. 245p.
2002. Haacke, W. & E. Eiseb. A KHOEKHOEGOWAB DICTIONARY with an English-Khoekhoegowab Index. Windhoek: Gamsberg-Macmillan. 754p.
2010. Haacke, W., E. Eiseb & C. Gericke Khoekhoegowab-Afrikaans Afrikaans-Khoekhoegowab Glossarium/Mîdi Saogub. Windhoek: Macmillan. 407p.