The 16th Annual International AFRILEX Conference
UNAM, Windhoek, Namibia, 5-7 July 2011

[Abstract:] Klein, J.:  Comparing two African language online dictionaries from a non-native speaker’s perspective

This presentation compares two online dictionaries from a learner’s perspective. The focus is mainly on non-native speakers from overseas who have little competence in both languages. Online dictionaries were selected because most of the newer African language hardcopy dictionaries are not available in German university libraries, which implies that students either work with very old dictionaries or have to work with free online resources.

The first dictionary is an isiXhosa-English online dictionary from the US (Xhosa-English dictionary) the other is an isiZulu-English dictionary ( from Germany.

Both dictionaries were selected because they are bilingual, general, user-friendly, online dictionaries from related languages and are available for free. As user-friendliness is an important factor for language learners, the main focus was on how useful those dictionaries are for language learners.

In a first step, the outer-texts of the dictionaries were compared. Both dictionaries offer a short user-guide in English, which provides the user with instructions and illustrates the lemmatization and ordering principle of the dictionary.

The isiXhosa dictionary offers information on isiXhosa grammar, including: noun-classes, verbs, consonant changes, numbers, and demonstratives. Other information includes: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in isiXhosa and English, as well as a short basic introduction to the language family. Another important part of the outer texts is the forum. This forum is available as a face book application and allows face book users to ask questions about missing words or to discuss about the dictionary entries.

The offers a very short basic introduction on isiZulu grammar, which shows the most important features at a glance. A pronunciation guide provides pronunciation examples for every isiZulu IPA symbol. The user can either listen to a MP3 file or read the IPA pronunciation. This dictionary also offers a forum where users can discuss missing/wrong dictionary entries or provide new/additional translations.

In the second step, several dictionary entries are compared. Here, the focus is not only on the translation but also on the entry structure, i.e. the other information that is provided together with the translation.

A typical entry of an isiXhosa noun in the dictionary consists of the English (or isiXhosa) search word, the translation and its lemmatized form in the isiXhosa lemma list, i.e. the noun and plural form according to the noun class and the stem in the lemma list.

A typical noun entry in the isiZulu dictionary consists of the English (or isiZulu) search word and the direct matches. The direct matches offer a direct translation and the singular and plural forms according to the noun class, as well as the lemmatized stem form and the pronunciation in IPA.

 Both dictionaries are quite straight-forward: the user enters a word in either English or isiXhosa/isiZulu, clicks on search and gets a translation or the link to the respective forum, if the word is not in the lemma list.

Both dictionaries are clearly designed for non-native users who are computer literate and have at least a basic knowledge about internet applications and dictionaries and want a free, quick and easy translation. Having online dictionaries that also provide information about the language might also generate a deeper interest in the language and might encourage users to buy larger (printed) dictionaries of the respective language. Providing a forum where users can discuss and give feedback helps to keep the dictionaries up-to-date and user-friendly. As the users can participate in the compilation through providing new entries, the dictionaries will also grow and provide more entries and will therefore be more helpful in the future. Those two dictionaries are not only useful quick references for learners but they also promote the use of the language internationally and are a visible proof that the languages have arrived in the internet age and can be used with “cool” applications like face book.



Xhosa-English dictionary: