Staff members in the Department of African Languages at the University of Pretoria have developed new methods for preparing electronic dictionaries, as part of an exciting project funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), called Scientific e-Lexicography for Africa (SeLA).
South Africa's multilingual society is the ideal breeding ground for innovative approaches to electronic lexicography. Prof Danie Prinsloo, Prof Elsabé Taljard and Dr Refilwe Ramagoshi provided their expertise for this project, which ran from 2012 to 2015. The project used a multi-disciplinary approach, involving not only research on lexicography, but also incorporating advances in human language technology and information science. Research on intercultural scientific communication also formed part of the scope of the research.
One of the most exciting outcomes of this project is the development of lexicographic support tools. It represents a new direction in electronic lexicography, linking electronic dictionaries with different types of processed and unprocessed corpus data. Support systems for difficult aspects of especially African languages, such as complex language constructions, were also linked, mostly using decision tree strategies or in the form of writing tools.
The latter included Prof Danie Prinsloo – in collaboration with his two sons Daniel, a programmer, and Jacobus, a computer engineer – compiling a writing tool for Sepedi verbal moods. Their research results were presented as a paper during the eLex 2015 conference, held in August 2015 in the UK.
Since the start of the project, no less than ten journal articles and three book chapters have been published under the shared authorship of the UP staff members involved.
The project formed part of a larger co-operation programme that establishes new contacts between German and African universities. The German partner university was the University of Hildesheim, with Prof Ulrich Heid leading the project.