Dictionary of South African English

Read more about the project Corrected Edition
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Corrected Edition

Following a design phase which transformed a compressed printed dictionary text into a layered, graphical Web Application for multiple platforms, the current Corrected Edition was published in March 2023. (Read more about our previous dictionary releases.) Design and usability imperatives having been met, the current edition introduces content updates across a 1.5-million-word dictionary text.

Terms originally flagged as unassimilated into South African English (igqira, tata) now reflect as current usage based on updated linguistic evidence. Language names which had changed in the post-democracy officialisation of South African languages (Zulu to IsiZulu, Tswana to Setswana) now display as such.

In addition to updates to pronunciations, place names across the dictionary now reflect official names disseminated by the South African Geographical Names Council, e.g. Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown, Eastern Cape, South Africa), the home of the Dictionary of South African English.

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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).

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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.