International Dictionary Day: Applause for lexicographers as unsung language heroes


By Sarita Blignaut

International Dictionary Day is celebrated annually on 16 October. Historically, this date is connected to the birthday of the American lexicographer (also called dictionary maker), Noah Webster, who is known as the father of the dictionary. On its own soil, this day represents a language celebration without equal and the importance of dictionaries, and the compilers of these sources, is placed in the foreground.

There are as many dictionaries as there are languages ​​and Afrikaans is no exception. The Afrikaans language boasts a variety of quality dictionaries that, like a treasure chest from the past, preserve our language treasure for future generations. These dictionaries perform different functions. The Afrikaans Vocabulary and Game Rules (AWS) is used for the standardization of Afrikaans spelling and language rules. The Handbook of the Afrikaans Language (HAT) in turn serves as a concise explanatory dictionary that contains the meaning of words that everyone sometimes wonders about. The Dictionary for the Afrikaans Language (WAT) is a comprehensive explanatory dictionary that tries to capture the scope of the Afrikaans language. Pharos’s Bilingual Dictionary is an extensive dictionary that contains the translations of words in English and Afrikaans respectively. In addition to this fulfill sources such as Proverbs and where they come from, collocation dictionaries and a large collection of technical dictionaries play an important role in the preservation and development of the language. The most important characteristic of such sources is that they represent the pulse of the language and are therefore constantly expanded and adapted.

How exactly does a word or a saying find its way into a dictionary? Lexicographers play a key role here as unsung language heroes. Lexicographers concern themselves with aspects such as the scientific study of words, the frequency of use of words, word information (such as meaning, spelling, pronunciation and usage) as well as theoretical and practical applications. Afrikaans Today is a dynamic example of an online dictionary that attempts to collect and record contemporary language usage – new words, meanings and expressions – in real time. The creator of this dictionary is Jana Luther, a well-known South African lexicographer.

It is a misconception that dictionaries are only important for scholars. These valuable language resources can be used in every aspect of life, whether you are making an entry on Facebook, making a presentation at work or sending an email to a client. Thanks to dictionaries, it is within each of us’s reach to polish our use of language and proudly put our best foot forward.

Today, Akademia raises its hat to the lexicographers who work daily to expand our language and add new words.

  • Sarita Blignaut is a language practitioner at Akademia.