In 2017 the Afrikaanse Woordelys en Spelreëls (AWS) celebrates its centenary year. Our
contribution commemorates this milestone with a (re)evaluation of this standard and wellknown
reference work – in particular of the wordlist sections of the AWS.
This article – the first of two – offers a historical overview of the function, nature and
scope of the wordlist as revealed in the ten different editions of the AWS. For the overview we
used the different editions (from 1917 to 2009) of the AWS as primary source texts. An evaluation
of the Afrikaans spelling rules falls outside the scope of the artichave an impact on which lemmas are included in the wordlist (one of the main functions of
the wordlist being to help people with their spelling problems), we looked briefly at the way
in which they have been defined since 1917.
The fundamental principles of the Afrikaans spelling system have essentially not changed,
although they have periodically been reformulated. From 1917 to 1964 commonly used
pronunciation and tradition (by which is also meant the ways in which the Afrikaans spelling
system still reflects its history and relationship with Dutch spelling) remained two key criteria
for the inclusion of words in the wordlist. In addition, the visible illustration and application
of the spelling rules are important reasons for the inclusion (or elimination) of certain words.
In the 2009 edition the main criterion for inclusion seems to be that the list must reflect
contemporary written standard Afrikaans. No mention is made any longer of the commonly
used pronunciation as guiding principle.
With respect to its nature, the question was raised whether the wordlist can be regarded
as a special kind of dictionary – one with a limited lemma list and minimal microstructural
information. Within the context of how best to describe this source, problematic or unclear
aspects that were investigated were the basis for lemma selection – in other words, how exactly
did the various language commissions determine what can or should be regarded as standard
Afrikaans? This is arguably the most important criterion for inclusion.
Other issues that remained throughout the past 100 years were the treatment of two
different spelling forms (so-called variant forms or “wisselvorme”) like “more” and “môre” (“morning”) and words of foreign origin (“krusifiks”, “guillotine”, “zero”/”sero”). In the
treatment of these problematic cases the interaction between the three fundamental principles
that inform the spelling rules are clearly illustrated.
The main purpose – to help with spelling problems and to set certain norms and standards
– and the size and complexity of the wordlist were explored.
That the wordlist occupies a very important place in every AWS is not disputed, and we
conclude that the wordlist is a very valuable reference work. Nevertheless, users’ expectations
when consulting the wordlist as an information source have to be realistic:
– The wordlist serves as an illustration and application of the spelling rules and as
such is very valuable as a guideline for all users.
– The list is of course, due to various reasons, not comprehensive and it does not contain
nearly as many standard Afrikaans words as do standard monolingual and bilingual
– It does not give guidance on the spelling of non-standard Afrikaans words. It is not
clear whether all users are aware of this.
– By its very nature it is prescriptive and it provides a clear norm for language users.
– The 2009 wordlist is much more user-friendly than its predecessors, but the hard
copies are in essence static documents that have not been updated frequently enough
to satisfy all the information needs of its users. Users are therefore often forced to look for other sources of information on spelling issues.
With these characteristics in mind, we evaluate the electronic version of the wordlist in Part
2. This is done against the background of the current rapid development of theoretical
lexicography and the increasing need of users to find the information that they need as quickly
as possible. In Part 2 the focus is very clearly on the user and his or her needs.