It is a discussion we had with friends about a week ago. The question was: What should we call a Setswana dictionary? The question was not: What do we call a dictionary in Setswana? The question therefore required a more prescriptive response. The question is a bit strange because we have had Setswana dictionaries since 1875.
The first bilingual dictionary (that is a dictionary that uses two languages, in this case English and Setswana), Lokwalo loa Mahuku a Secwana le Seeneles, was compiled by John Brown (1875) of the London Missionary Society. An enlarged and revised version was published in 1895 and was reprinted in 1914 and 1921. In 1925 John Tom Brown produced the third edition of this dictionary based on A.J. Wookey’s research. However, since the 1925 dictionary version of Tom Brown to mid 1970s, the Setswana speaking world went through an inactive period of dictionary production. It was not until 1976 that Morulaganyi Kgasa published his 134-page monolingual dictionary ÔÇô Thanodi ya Setswana ya Dikole whose main target group was primary school pupils. The dictionary had taken MLA Kgasa ten years to compile. Kgasa’s dictionary was the first monolingual Setswana dictionary (that is, a dictionary that is writing in one language) from Botswana. In 1998, in collaboration with Joseph Tsonope, Kgasa produced the second monolingual dictionary Thanodi ya Setswana which up to date remains the definitive monolingual Setswana dictionary from Botswana. A smaller, but detailed, trilingual dictionary (that is a dictionary that is written in three languages) -Setswana, English and Afrikaans ÔÇô was produced by Snyman et al (1990) in South Africa, whose target was the secondary and university reader. It is called Dikisinare ya Setswana English Afrikaans Dictionary Woordeboek.
Another unique dictionary from Botswana is Creissels and Chebanne’s (2000) Dictionaaire Francais-Setswana Thanodi Sefora Setswana, which is the first French/Setswana bilingual dictionary. Its primary target group is students of French at secondary and university level. It stands out as the first and only dictionary from Botswana with phonemic transcriptions and a large amount of pictorial illustrations. In 2008 a fairly large Setswana .dictionary of about 600 pages was compiled by Mareme with the aid of the Setswana National Lexicographic Unit (NLU) based in Mafikeng. Sadly this dictionary hasn’t been popular in Botswana. Like the Kgasa and Tsonope dictionary, it is called Thanodi ya Setswana.
So far the previous dictionaries I have discussed have either chosen the borrowed term dikishinari or the term thanodi to refer to a dictionary. It is fair to say credit MLA Kgasa with the coining of the term thanodi since before his 1976 the term did not exist as meaning dictionary. But is thanodi the right term? Thanodi is a noun which comes from the verb go ranola. The verb ranola means to reveal, to unravel or to untangle hidden information. Recently the meaning of the verb ranola has changed. It is now almost exclusively used to mean to translate. This makes the noun thanodi to appear to mean the entity that translates. The term thanodi doesn’t appear appropriate to refer to a monolingual dictionary. Thanodi is therefore better reserved for a bilingual dictionary such as the Matumo (1993) dictionary called Setswana English Setswana Dictionary since it deals with equivalents across languages or translations from one language to another. Should we therefore settle for the term dikishinari to mean dictionary? Is a borrowed term the best option? Is there no indigenous term to mean a dictionary? There is yet one more unexplored proposition in the Setswana language and that is to call a monolingual Setswana dictionary tlhalosi. The noun tlhalosi is derived from the verb tlhalosa. Go tlhalosa is to explain or to make things clear. So it is really semantically related to ranola except that it doesn’t carry the extra meaning of translating that is in ranola. There is another reason why tlhalosi is appropriate. The dictionary’s principal function is to define, a word whose equivalent in Setswana is tlhalosa.
However, tlhalosa is more than explain or defining. In a dictionary sense it includes explaining the word class of a word (setlhopha sa maina), its collocations or words which co-occur with a dictionary headword. Go tlhalosa includes showing the contextual occurrence of a word, that is, how a word functions in a sentence, as it is done in many good dictionaries. I am therefore convinced that the word tlhalosi is the best term for a monolingual Setswana dictionary. There is additional evidence why tlhalosi may be a preferred term to mean dictionary in the Setswana language. We first need to travel to other languages which are related to Setswana to find out what the word dictionary means. The first example comes from Sesotho sa Leboa. V. Mojela (2007) has written Pukunt┼íutlhalosi ya Sesotho sa Leboa. As part of the name of this publication is ÔÇô tlhalosi which identifies a dictionary as a tlhalosi. The second example is Lenanentswe-hlalosi: Seafrikaans-Seisemane-Sesotho sa Leboa written by P.J. Joubert. This publication also uses the term hlalosi to identify a dictionary. For the final example we turn to Lozi, a language spoken in Zambia. This language is close to Setswana and Sesotho. In Silozi a dictionary is called sitalusa-manzwi or in Setswana orthography: setlhalosa mantswe which means an explainer of words. We are therefore compelled that the right term for a monolingual dictionary is tlhalosi and not thanodi. The first monolingual Setswana dictionary which uses the term tlhalosi has already been written and will be launched on July 12th at the University of Botswana. It is called Tlhalosi ya Medi ya Setswana published by Medi Publishing ÔÇô a locally owned publishing company. When it is launched it will be the largest monolingual Setswana dictionary ever written at close to a thousand pages. From its publication tlhalosi will henceforth denote a monolingual dictionary while thanodi will be used for bilingual or multilingual dictionaries. Dikishinari is a borrowed term which is fine in informal spoken language and shouldn’t be used in formal discourse.