Dictionary of South African English

Read more about the project Corrected Edition
Visual Edition image

Visual Edition

This dictionary gives full textual histories of 4600 South African English words including compounds, derivatives and evidential quotations, resulting in a total of 1.5 million words of running text. To make this unparalleled textual coverage of South African English accessible in graphical form, leveraging new data visualisation and data aggregation techniques, the DSAE published a parallel Visual Edition.

The Visual Edition offers new insights into the evolution of South African English from its earliest sources in the late 1600s, before the concept of “South Africa” as a country existed.

The dictionary is rendered visually through macro- and micro-visualisations including graphical overviews, visual navigation (via Language of Origin, Register, Part-of-Speech and Subject Category), plus infographics comparing the contributions of prominent authors to the documentation of South African English. Visit the Visual Edition at visual.dsae.co.za.

South African flag image

Words for Small Things

The South African English word smallanyana was first recorded in 2016 in a New York interview with the former South African Minister of Social Development, Bathabile Dlamini. In the interview she famously suggested that many politicians had “smallanyana skeletons” in their closets. In late 2022 the word resurfaced in popular media in the context of allegations of state corruption. The adjective combines English small and the diminutive suffix -nyana (‘little’, ‘a small portion of something’), producing the meaning ‘a tiny little’ (skeleton). The suffix -nyana was first recorded in the Dictionary of South African English in 1968 under the word nipinyana, denoting a small measure or ‘nip’ of an alcoholic beverage, a term which is still current in South African English.

In similarly informal contexts, some South Africans playfully use the diminutive connotations of nyana as a noun to downplay a perceived vice, e.g. “two nyana” meaning two alcoholic drinks. Others attempt no mitigation of their consumption and refer to their tipple simply as a dop (see sense 3).

audio icon image

Audio Pronunciation

South African English pronunciation cannot be automated due to the extensive influence of South African Indigenous Languages via borrowings or loan words. The dictionary’s current pronunciation guidance is based on phonetic transcriptions using the International Phonetic Alphabet.

In 2022, however, the Dictionary of South African English (DSAE) received a grant from the Pan South African Language Board to produce an Audio Pronunciation database of South African English.

We have since produced over 13 000 recordings of the pronunciation of over 6000 South African English words using authentic, real-life South African voice actors. Some sample recordings from the database are: aardvark, eina, mashonisa, bokbaai vygie, goggatjie.

The DSAE will retain phonetic transcriptions in the dictionary for scholarly readers, but digital renderings of South African English in audio format will be included in a future revision.