Developing a dictionary culture through integrated dictionary pedagogy in the outer texts of South African school dictionaries: the case of Oxford Bilingual School Dictionary: IsiXhosa and English


The challenges posed by a poor societal dictionary culture and an inability of school curricula or teachers to integrate dictionary pedagogy in the everyday teaching and learning activities compel lexicographers to integrate dictionary pedagogy in the outer texts of school dictionaries. This is done through design features that encourage learners to appreciate the educational value of dictionaries while facilitating efficient and optimum use of the dictionaries. This article discusses the state of societal dictionary culture and dictionary pedagogy in South Africa. In spite of the acknowledged poor dictionary culture, it is shown that the school curriculum provides sufficient space for dictionary use as part of everyday teaching and learning as well as the nurturing of dictionary skills. Without delving deeper into how teachers respond to these educational policy provisions on dictionaries, which warrants a separate comprehensive study, the article demonstrates how the recently published Oxford Bilingual School Dictionary: IsiXhosa and English (De Schryver et al. 2014), typifies school dictionaries in which lexicographers go beyond addressing learners’ educational needs regarding language and other school subjects to integrate dictionary pedagogy that may prove beneficial in the long-term development of dictionary skills and dictionary culture. This is particularly evident in the study of selected outer texts. However, the success of these endeavours depends on whether the target users use dictionaries in the first place, which still makes the role of teachers indispensable.


Outer texts may be understood within the framework of the textual book structure (Wiegand and Hausmann 1989: 330) or the frame structure (Kammerer and Wiegand 1998), which Hartmann and James (1998) refer to as megastructure. Such a structure recognises that a dictionary is a carrier of different types of texts (Kammerer and Wiegand 1998). While the word list is a compulsory text in any dictionary (Wiegand and Hausmann 1989: 331), it is usually complemented by outer texts, also called outside matter (cf. Hartmann and James 1998; Nielsen 2009). Consisting of the front, middle and back matter texts, outer texts are thus defined as “all those components of a reference work which do not form part of the central word list” (Hartmann and James 1998, s.v. outside matter). The crucial role of such texts in dictionaries is underscored by Gouws (2002, 2004, 2007) as well as Gouws and Steyn (2005). Bergenholtz, Tarp and Wiegand (1999) develop the notion of data distribution structure which offers lexicographers more space and latitude to go beyond the central list in the provision of dictionary data.

The present article examines how outer texts are employed to impart dictionary pedagogy with long-term prospects of developing a dictionary culture among users of school dictionaries in South Africa. It is argued that integrating dictionary pedagogy in school dictionaries is particularly a worthwhile procedure for target users in communities with a patchy dictionary culture. School dictionaries are now a major feature of the upsurge of South African lexicography over the past two decades or so. For example, Oxford University Press Southern Africa has published bilingual school dictionaries pairing English with four of the other ten official languages in order to support the learning of English and those languages as additional languages, while also producing English monolingual school dictionaries (both general language and specialised dictionaries). At the same time, other publishers such as Cambridge University Press, Pharos and Maskew Miller Longman have been equally active. Unfortunately, this tremendous growth in the production of dictionaries has not been matched by the development of a dictionary culture, which still remains low, especially in African language communities. This is regrettable, firstly, given the pedagogical value of dictionaries, which McArthur (1986, 1998) regards as containers of knowledge and, secondly, given the amount of resources that are expended on dictionary making in terms of money, labour and time.

In order to put the discussion into perspective, the article begins by engaging with the notions of dictionary culture and dictionary pedagogy as they have been projected in existing literature. Thereafter, it contextualises the state of these aspects within the South African education system. The focus is mainly on the curriculum documents whose reference to dictionaries has largely been ignored as researchers have tended to focus on testing dictionary skills of the learners. While such studies have attributed the disappointing state of dictionary culture to learners, the responsibilities of teachers have been mentioned in passing, as the studies have not been based on the curriculum on which all learning is supposed to be anchored. What this article suggests then is a gap between the South African curriculum and classroom practices as the curriculum clearly upholds the educational value of dictionaries. A separate and thorough study is needed, however, to investigate how teachers respond to the educational policy provisions regarding dictionaries, including the teachers’ own dictionary culture.

Against this background and in spite of the knowledge gap that is being acknowledged, the article analyses the integration of dictionary pedagogy in the outer texts of the Oxford Bilingual School Dictionary: IsiXhosa and English (henceforth the OXSD). It demonstrates that in addition to its alphabetical sections, the dictionary contains information that is educationally relevant and that such information can potentially win the minds and hearts of the target users. There are outer texts which act as aids to the users of the dictionary and are a useful source of knowledge about dictionaries and dictionary use in general. It is argued that even without instruction or encouragement to use dictionaries by the teacher, the dictionary itself is designed in such a way that it goes some way in educating the target users to be lexicographically cultured. Nevertheless, the role of the teacher remains crucial. For such a role to be positive, teachers themselves may need to be enlightened, for it is probably their own poor dictionary culture, which restricts the role of dictionaries in education. Indeed, some teachers actually prohibit dictionary use in their classrooms.

Dictionary culture and dictionary pedagogy

Contributions on the terms dictionary culture, lexicography and lexicographer in the 22nd volume of Lexikos, a specialised journal of lexicography, by Bergenholtz (2012), Bergenholtz and Gouws (2012) and Gouws (2012) respectively indicate that nothing can be taken for granted even in a discipline that primarily deals with explaining words and concepts. Sometimes metalexicographers also use language and deal with concepts in an assuming manner without taking into account the possibility of divergent perspectives on issues. While divergent perspectives are themselves not problematic, the problem arises when it comes to metalexicographic discussions around such concepts as one attempts to determine the best approach. The term dictionary culture is one good example. The concept is alluded to in several publications in metalexicography (cf. Carstens, ibid. ; Gouws 2013; Gouws and Prinsloo 2005; Hadebe 2004; Hartmann 1999, 2001; Hartmann and James 1998; Klein 2007) while many other scholars discuss anecdotally various aspects of dictionary culture. Hartmann (2001: 86) observes that the results of most research around dictionary culture “have often been inconclusive, raising questions about the appropriateness of various observational methods”. Sweeping statements which are not sufficiently informative regarding the dictionary culture of certain communities have been made because of failure to unpack the elements of a dictionary culture, starting with its definition.

Dictionary culture has been defined as “[t]he critical awareness of the value and limitations of dictionaries and other reference works in a particular community” (Hartmann and James 1998: 41). Above everything else, such critical awareness would entail recognising dictionaries as containers of knowledge (McArthur 1986, 1998). Following the wise words of the Father of English lexicography, Samuel Johnson, “Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information on it” (Johnson, quoted by Boswell 1791). Users should be aware of the potential of the dictionary in improving their knowledge as well as solving communication problems. This awareness should be backed up by society or its individual members “becoming familiar with dictionary using skills and knowledge” (Gouws 2013: 51) regarding various aspects of dictionaries. These aspects would include dictionary typology, dictionary contents, dictionary structures, etc., whose awareness would enable specific users to use appropriate dictionaries in an optimal way. As Gouws (ibid.) puts it, when using dictionaries as practical tools, users or members of a society with an established dictionary culture should not only know how but also when to use a specific tool. To that end, a valid distinction is made between a societal or collective dictionary culture and an individual or idiolectal dictionary culture, whereby the former refers to “the dictionary culture of a specific society or speech community” while the latter refers to “the dictionary culture of an individual” (Gouws, ibid.). Such a distinction is vital in that the dictionary culture of one individual or a section of the community may not be an accurate reflection of the general dictionary culture of the entire community. Hartmann and James (1998: 41) state that dictionary culture would vary according to the status of the language used, the availability of dictionaries and the standards of dictionary making, dictionary criticism and dictionary use. As it will be shown later on, the educational environment within which one is socialised may have definite implications for the individual’s dictionary culture. Therefore, studies dealing with dictionary culture of individuals who belong to a particular society should take into consideration such factors, as well as the appropriateness of the research methods used in order to avoid questionable conclusions.

No form of culture can thrive without being inculcated or nurtured by means of education, be it formal or informal. The same applies to dictionary culture for which a more formal approach or one that is purposefully integrated within what Tarp (2008) calls ‘situations of dictionary use’ is preferred (cf. Carstens, ibid.). All efforts that are geared towards developing dictionary skills and, in the long term, a dictionary culture, of an individual or community are hereby referred to as dictionary pedagogy (cf. Carstens, ibid.), which is simply called user education by Hartmann and James (1998: 152). In stressing the need for dictionary pedagogy, Landau (2001: 26) states that “if the skills to use [a dictionary] are neglected, the student may never be comfortable using dictionaries”. Users who do not derive satisfaction from using dictionaries would have an aversion to them, leading to a poor dictionary culture. Dictionary pedagogy is, therefore, a form of lexicographic training that is directed at the potential dictionary users (cf. Carstens 1995), as opposed to the professional training of lexicographers or prospective lexicographers (cf. Gouws 2001, Hartmann and James 1998: 145–6). The challenges of a low dictionary culture imply that dictionary pedagogy is fundamental for lexicography, especially in the modern age when not only knowledge is being produced at a rapid rate but also when lexicographic products of different types, sizes and media are being produced en masse thanks to technological developments. Therefore, dictionary pedagogy is that important link between lexicographic practice, i.e. the compilation of dictionaries, and “the cultural practice of dictionary use” (Wiegand 1989, cited in Gouws and Prinsloo 2005: 4) that should ensue once a dictionary has been published.

Dictionary pedagogy should be understood in the sense of pedagogy in general, which is expressed by the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English Online as “the practice of teaching or the study of teaching”. It should consider both teaching practices of teachers and teaching materials/resources as well as their educational impacts on those who are taught. Whether pedagogy is facilitated by teachers or independently of the teacher, for example, when students use books or other technological resources for guidance, it would be explicit. What is important is having a clear intention from the teacher or teaching resource. This means that whoever wants to learn enrols for a particular programme or acquires the relevant material knowing well that one would get the guidance and achieve some of the specific learning outcomes in that specific area. A dictionary may then be studied from the point of language pedagogy, considering how it enhances language learning or how it complements the practices of both language teachers and learners (cf. Carstens 1995). Inversely, studies of language pedagogy may focus on how language teachers interact with their learners using a variety of resources, including dictionaries.

Explicit dictionary pedagogy may be identified in general school syllabi or language syllabi which enlist the acquisition of dictionary or reference skills as a learning outcome that the learners should be equipped with by the end of a particular course. The South African curriculum documents provide good examples (cf. Sect. 3 below). Studying the relevant curriculum documents indicates, in line with Hadebe (2004: 91), that dictionary pedagogy should be the primary solution to the problem of a low dictionary culture. By positing dictionary pedagogy and dictionary culture as opposite sides of the same coin, i.e. dictionary user research, this article advances an important dimension that has not emerged strongly in previous studies, with a few exceptions such as Hadebe (2004) and McKean (2000). While it is now acknowledged that dictionary culture is generally a problem of various communities, not so much is being published about the ongoing pedagogies that either result in or try to mitigate such state of affairs.

Dictionary pedagogy in South African school curriculum documents

For dictionary pedagogy to thrive, it is important to have guiding statements as part of educational policies or curriculum documents on the educational role of dictionaries and how these roles can be integrated in the daily teaching and learning activities. Such statements would constitute what is referred to in this article as the educational policy on dictionaries. However, having an educational policy on dictionaries on its own is not enough. Such a policy should be pedagogically sound and practically implementable. In order for teachers to integrate dictionary use in their teaching activities, they need to be equipped with the relevant expertise. Ultimately, dictionary-related activities in the curriculum and in the classroom should contribute towards the achievement of learning outcomes and life-long learning of the learners. Therefore, an enquiry on dictionary pedagogy and the state of dictionary culture of a particular community should consider the relevant, if any, policies regarding dictionary use, the opportunities presented by such policies and possible implementation challenges.

In the context of South Africa, Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) documents (Department of Basic Education 2011) for the entire education system make different statements, sometimes repeatedly, regarding the importance of dictionaries and dictionary skills. The documents also provide dictionary activities for teachers and learners. Collectively, these statements constitute South Africa’s educational policy on dictionary use, and they should provide a point of departure for studies about dictionary pedagogy and dictionary culture.

For this article, English as subject curricula and English versions of the curricula of all non-language subjects for all the school grades were studied. The aim was to identify curriculum documents that refer to dictionary activities, dictionary skills or dictionaries as educational tools. This was done by searching for the word dictionary or its plural (dictionaries) in each curriculum document. It was found that the word dictionary or dictionaries appears in sixteen of the studied documents. The sixteen documents are listed below where “FP” stands for “Foundation Phase” (Grades 1–3), “IP” for “Intermediate Phase” (Grades 4–6), “SP” for “Senior Phase” (Grades 7–9) and “FET” for “Further Education and Training” (Grades 10–12) with respect to educational levels. With respect to language learning levels, “HL” stands for “Home Language”, “FAL” for “First Additional Language” and “SAL” for “Second Additional Language” within South African education:

  • FP English HL

  • FP English FAL

  • IP English HL

  • IP English FAL

  • IP English SAL

  • SP English HL

  • SP English FAL

  • SP English SAL

  • FET English HL

  • FET English FAL

  • FET English SAL

  • FET Religion Studies

  • IP Life Skills

  • IP Social Science

  • SP Social Science

  • FET Dance Studies

As it may be seen, the curriculum documents pertain to both language and non-language (content subjects) for all the school grades. Of the above-listed documents, eleven deal with English as a subject; i.e. as HL and FAL at FP, and as HL, FAL and SAL from IP to FET. In addition to studying languages at the levels of HL and FAL, languages are also studied at the level of SAL. Even though not listed here, documents for the other language subjects were also scanned through for comparison and it was noted that they also make reference to monolingual dictionaries in the respective languages and bilingual ones which pair each language with English. However, those documents seem to be no more than translated versions of the English language curricula. For instance, the word isichazi-magama (dictionary) in the isiXhosa language curricula appears in the same context as its English equivalent in the equivalent English curricula.

The sixteen documents were then treated as a small corpus through which the South African educational policy on dictionary use could be understood. The documents were converted into plain text format and queried using the AntConc concordance and file view tools (Anthony 2014) to search for the word dictionary or its plural. The contexts in which the words appeared were studied in order to understand the curriculum statements regarding dictionaries in South African education. "Appendix" summarises curriculum requirements regarding dictionaries (from either teachers or learners or even both), and the information types in connection with which learners are encouraged to use dictionaries and dictionary activities/work (by either teachers or learners or even both). It is on the basis of the results of the study of CAPS documents that the South African educational policy on dictionaries could be understood in order to provide a context for studies on dictionary use pedagogy and dictionary use in the schools.

That most of the documents that make reference to dictionary use in the South African education system are language subjects is a clear indicator that the dictionary is essentially regarded as a language learning tool. For example, learners are encouraged from FP to consult dictionaries in order to expand their vocabulary and for meaning and spelling information. As one goes up the educational ladder, dictionaries are consulted for information types such as pronunciation, parts of speech, synonyms, antonyms, homonyms, etc. For the so-called non-language subjects, dictionaries are considered for IP Life Skills, IP Social Studies, SP Social Studies, FET Dance Studies and FET Religion Studies. The recognition of the value of dictionaries in these content subjects suggests an acknowledgement of the importance of language as a medium of communication in learning situations and the fact that dictionaries can support both communicative and cognitive activities. However, not much clarity is given regarding the use of dictionaries in such subjects except maybe in IP Life Skills where learners are required to use a dictionary for reading with understanding and in FET Dance Studies where each learner is expected to develop his/her own dance dictionary. It seems conceptual meaning is central to dictionary use in the content subjects.

Although there could be questions regarding the application of the educational policy on dictionary use to some but not all subjects, or to some but not all grades for the same subject, it is apparent from the covered subjects that dictionaries are highly regarded as teaching and learning aids; for example, they are either identified as core texts or called information texts (cf. Appendix). Hence learners are encouraged to use them, while teachers are required to encourage and train the learners regarding dictionary use in the form of dictionary activities that range from creating and maintaining personal dictionaries (word books) in FP to dictionary games/work such as quizzes etc., in the higher grades. Both teachers and learners are required to own or have grade-appropriate dictionaries for certain subjects (cf. Appendix). All of this could be seen as a solid foundation for the establishment of a dictionary culture in South Africa. Learners who come through this system would be expected to have a fairly established dictionary culture, especially those who come to university. Unfortunately, this is not the case (cf. Beyer and Faul 2010; Nkomo 2014a, b; Taljard et al. 2011).

Carstens (1995), Gouws (2013), Klein (2007), Van der Merwe (2012), Taljard et al. (2011) all concur that dictionary culture is a serious concern for lexicographers in South Africa. This sentiment is shared by lexicographers who have conducted related work in Namibia, Zimbabwe and other African countries (Beyer and Faul 2010; Hadebe 2004; Maphosa and Nkomo 2009; Nabirye and De Schryver 2010, 2013; Nkomo 2014a, b). Beyer and Faul (2010) and Nkomo (2014a, b), respectively, indicate that not all university entrants in Namibia and South Africa have a basic awareness about various aspects of dictionaries, even in their own languages. From the existing literature, the lion’s share of responsibility regarding this worrying state of affairs is generally apportioned to the education systems of the communities concerned and their teachers (Hadebe 2004; McKean 2000; Van der Merwe 2012). Yet not much is known regarding what teachers do in response to dictionary requirements in the curriculum where such requirements are specified. With the exception of a few studies such as Carstens (1995), Hadebe (2004) and Van der Merwe (2012), studies of dictionary use in African communities have largely focused on what the learners can do or claim to do with dictionaries. As teachers are often regarded as walking dictionaries by learners and the community at large, an ongoing research whose results shall be reported in the near future, considers how teachers in a small South African town of Grahamstown understand and respond to the responsibility that CAPS places on them regarding dictionary pedagogy.

Dictionaries as tools for dictionary pedagogy

While regarding teachers as walking dictionaries acknowledges the wealth of knowledge they possess and the enormous role they play in the reproduction of such knowledge across communities and generations, it is counter-productive when it marginalises the role of real dictionaries. There is a need for substitute teachers, the idea of which is not to undermine the role of teachers who are indeed indispensable in the broader learning set-up but to ensure that learning is not put on abrupt or extended halt in the absence of teachers. Dictionaries can make up for challenges related to teachers sometimes experiencing knowledge gaps or being unavailable to solve learners’ problems punctually. Presenting a dictionary as a tool for dictionary pedagogy and pedagogy in general only illustrates how the dictionary itself may potentially complement the vital role of educators. In the context of this article, the need arises from the concern that dictionary users across many communities lack the skills required to unlock and navigate the conventions and structures that are used to present relevant information in dictionaries. In South Africa in particular, this remains the case in spite of the curriculum that embraces the vital educational role of dictionaries and provides guidance regarding its integration in the day-to-day curriculum activities.

Besides the explicit teaching of dictionary skills through the curriculum, using teachers and textbooks, dictionary pedagogy may be integrated within dictionaries themselves. In addition to the teaching of dictionary skills, Dolezal and McCreary (1999: xviii) suggested that lexicographers “make a more so-called ‘user-friendly’ dictionary (which in positive connotations must mean to develop a more readable format, better examples, better organization, etc., and in negative connotations must mean to dumb-it-down)”.

Here we would rather gravitate towards the positive connotations. This means that instead of being frustrated by a lack of a critical awareness of the value of dictionaries and prerequisite knowledge of using them optimally in a community, the lexicographer uses the primary product of his/her practice in order to establish the dictionary culture. Firstly, the lexicographer can assume such agency by seducing any user who happens to use particular dictionaries to realise their value and keep on using them. This can be achieved by taking cognisance of Gouws (2013: 52) when he writes:

An important aspect of the early phases of a dictionary culture is to make users aware of the fact that dictionaries should not be seen as isolated tools but that they are part of a bigger family of reference tools. Learning how to use a dictionary should go hand in hand with learning how to use other reference tools – from telephone directories to advanced academic text books.

In the case of school learners, purposefully linking school dictionaries to textbooks and workbooks may go some way in proving to the learners that, just like the latter, dictionaries are pedagogical tools that contain the same knowledge data but packaged according to dictionary conventions and innovations for more punctual data access and information retrieval. The point of departure in this direction would be to use relevant curriculum materials in the establishment of a dictionary basis for a particular dictionary. Beyond this, some outer texts may directly address or interact with certain skills that the learners should acquire from curriculum activities that are covered by textbooks and consciously taught in class. Such an undertaking constitutes the preaching of the dictionary gospel which is not loud in its voice projection but rich and fulfilling as far as the learner’s lexicographic (educational) needs are concerned. Rather, the gospel may thrive upon the testimony of the target user, i.e. the learner, that the dictionary offers much more practical help beyond spontaneous consultation after stumbling upon a word whose meaning or spelling the learner is unfamiliar with or unsure of. Although such practice would be consistent with the inclusion and distribution of data by means of integrated and function-adhering outer texts (Gouws 2004, 2007), to the target user dictionary pedagogy would be quite implicit because it is acquired from dictionary use rather than being explicitly told that dictionaries are important and can be used for this and that beyond looking up words for their meanings. The dictionary just markets itself as a real solution to the user’s primary needs for information.

A rather more explicit form of dictionary pedagogy that one finds in dictionaries themselves pertains to those integrated outer texts that are primarily conceived and used to offer guidance in order for the dictionary user to consult a particular dictionary and retrieve the required information with efficiency. This would work with a dictionary user who already regards dictionaries as containers of knowledge, communication instruments and utility tools in general. However, the user may not be familiar with a particular dictionary either because the dictionary is new or because he/she has never used it before, even if the dictionary has been in use for quite some time. Explicit guides to dictionary use addressing issues of lemmatisation, typographical indicators, pronunciation, cross-referencing and a description of a variety of dictionary features would orient the user regarding a dictionary that has been chosen for use. In this case, dictionary pedagogy is provided to address some of the potential dictionary user’s secondary needs, i.e. maps and tips which would enable the user to navigate the dictionary texts and structures towards a successful and efficient dictionary consultation procedure. In the remainder of this article, the OXSD is presented as an example of how such ideas may be implemented.

Dictionary pedagogy in the OXSD

On the backdrop of a patchy societal dictionary culture in South Africa and African communities in general, including the target users of the OXSD, the main focus of this section is to identify and analyse several aspects of dictionary pedagogy in the outer texts of this school dictionary. Before examining such aspects, an overview of the dictionary in question is offered in order to put the discussion into perspective.

A brief overview of the OXSD

The OXSD is a school dictionary that pairs English with isiXhosa, one of the South Africa’s official languages that is mainly spoken in the Eastern and Western Cape provinces. Nationally, isiXhosa was reported to be spoken by 8, 154, 258 mother tongue speakers, which amounted to over 16 % of the country’s total population of 50, 961, 443 according to the 2011 census report (Statistics South Africa 2012: 23). This dictionary was published in July 2014 as an addition to the steadily growing series of bilingual school dictionaries that feature English and other official languages of South Africa, with more or less similar dictionaries covering Afrikaans, isiZulu and Northern Sotho that had been published earlier. It is hoped that the rest of the official languages that are taught and should be used at school will be covered. Like its predecessors in the series, the OXSD is targeted at learners ranging from the intermediate to the FET phases (Grades 4–12) within the South African school system. The Oxford bilingual dictionary series is meant to provide pedagogical support that builds on the Oxford Elementary Dictionaries.

Although it is a part of the Oxford Bilingual School Dictionary series and school dictionaries in general, the dictionary under review was mainly publicised and received as an isiXhosa dictionary following its launch in September 2014. Seen this way, it was an addition to an old and modest inventory of isiXhosa dictionaries that have been published over two centuries (Mtuze 1992). This inventory contains different types of dictionaries which are described by Nkomo and Wababa (2013). Although some of the dictionaries in this inventory have been used within the context of the school or were even approved for use within the education system by the Department of Education, they are not school dictionaries per se or user-friendly for learners at any school level. A good example is The Greater Dictionary of (isi)Xhosa (Mini et al. 2001, Pahl et al. 1989 and Tshabe et al. 2006), a trilingual three-volume dictionary covering isiXhosa, Afrikaans and English that was recommended for use in schools by the Eastern Cape Department of Education in 2014. This dictionary totals over 5 000 pages excluding extensive outer texts. Rich as it is in linguistic and encyclopaedic/cultural information, the dictionary is not only inconvenient for school learners because of its voluminous size but also impenetrable due to the inaccessible dictionary conventions, such as the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbols to provide pronunciation. Its recommendation for educational use is a clear indication of limited dictionary culture on the part of policy makers and even lexicographers who negotiated with the department. In contrast, the OXSD presents a real modern effort of providing support to learners in connection with the learning and use of both isiXhosa and English within the education system. Before the publication of the OXSD, Oxford English-Xhosa Dictionary, Fischer et al. (1985) had been the most popular dictionary within the education fraternity, as indicated by being reprinted for the 21st time in 2011, sadly without a single revision or update to align it with the current curriculum. Furthermore, as shown in Nkomo and Wababa (2013), the main limitation of the dictionary by Fischer et al. has been the fact that it is uni-directional, despite the compiler claiming that it could be used by speakers of both featured languages. The dictionary has been useful to learners of isiXhosa as an additional language, but not really to learners of English, who are mother-tongue speakers of isiXhosa. This was a major feature of earlier bilingual dictionaries in African languages, i.e. African languages were supposed to be learned by outsiders in order to understand Africans and dictionaries were designed to support this prejudicial treatment of languages during colonialism. The bi-directionality of the dictionary under review is, therefore, a new dimension in isiXhosa lexicography since the dictionary can be of equal value to both English and isiXhosa-speaking learners. This is particularly important in post-Apartheid South Africa where dictionaries are expected to play an integral role in promoting and supporting both multilingualism and multiculturalism. The realisation of this value will, however, depend on how the education sector receives and makes use of such a dictionary as part of learners’ and teachers’ toolkits. A critical engagement with the dictionary and observations of how it is practically used in classrooms is also an important undertaking for the future. Here the focus shall be limited to the dictionary’s potential in educating its users to be dictionary wise.

Aspects of dictionary pedagogy in the outer texts of the OXSD

Chabata and Nkomo (2010) provide a critical appraisal of the utilisation of outer texts in the Oxford Bilingual School Dictionary: Northern Sotho and English (De Schryver et al. 2007), a predecessor and sister dictionary in the Oxford Bilingual School Dictionary series. While they pay attention to the role of the outer texts of that dictionary in terms of providing alternative venues for information retrieval and facilitating access to the different access positions, their focus was not on how the dictionary also serves as a tool for dictionary pedagogy. Therefore, unlike Chabata and Nkomo (2010), the focus of the present appraisal is mainly on the pedagogical nature of the outer texts in relation to dictionary skills and dictionary culture. The idea that the outer texts of the OXSD constitute a form of dictionary pedagogy was initially suggested in the review of the dictionary by Nkomo (2014a: 421) when he wrote regarding its outer texts:

Such information has the potential to provide the much needed dictionary pedagogy, especially among speakers of African languages, such as the isiXhosa-speaking target users of this dictionary. Users are oriented on the use of this dictionary, the experience of which may be useful in their search for knowledge in other lexicographic products.

This article explores that idea by examining the tables of contents, dictionary features, dictionary activities, guide to dictionary use and other function-adhering outer texts of the OXSD.

Tables of contents

Tables of contents in books provide the reader with a preview and quick access to its specific contents. This makes them particularly important to first-time users of a text who need an exposition of that text and even to repeat users in order to access whatever is being sought without too much back and forth paging. The function of the table of contents is primarily informative to the extent that the prospective reader or user of a text can make a fair judgement about the relevance to their needs and then facilitative in that the table helps the users access that relevant section of the text without unnecessarily wasting time. The same would apply to a table of contents when included as outer texts in dictionaries. Tables of contents are functional texts whose inclusion should be treated as a matter of necessity, especially in school dictionaries. Consider the contents page of OXSD in Fig. 1 below.

Fig. 1

Table of contents of the OXSD

From Fig. 1, it may be seen that the table of contents of the OXSD will guide the user to Pages 1 and 237 where the IsiXhosa-English and English-IsiXhosa alphabetical sections, respectively, begin. In fact, it is not even that difficult to get to those pages because of the shade of grey that is used for all the outer texts, beyond which the knowledge of the alphabet generally and the access alphabet of the dictionary becomes important. However, it would be the exposition of the texts such as Iimpawu zesichazi-magama (Dictionary features) (see Sect. 5.2.2 below), English pronunciation and a variety of others listed under Icandelo lenkxaso (Study section) (see Sect. 5.2.3 below) that can offer enlightenment to the user (particularly learners) regarding the pedagogical value of this dictionary while taking the user to those texts. The repetition of the table of contents for the study section at the end of the IsiXhosa-English section goes further to facilitate a rapid access to the different texts that constitute the middle matter of the OXSD.

Dictionary features

Although the table of contents in the OXSD provides an overview of the text types from which the user may obtain linguistically and educationally relevant information, a more nuanced exposition is provided in the texts entitled Iimpawu zesichazi-magama (Dictionary features). Many dictionaries now include the ‘dictionary features’ texts to highlight not only dictionary contents but also the structural aspects of dictionary articles, particularly at the level of macrostructure, microstructure and mediostructure. That way, the ‘dictionary features’ texts are alternative narrative guides to dictionary use which are preferred in some dictionaries. Instead of telling the user how to use the dictionary, dictionary features show the user the way. Consider the OXSD ‘dictionary features’ text in Fig. 2 below.

Fig. 2

Dictionary features in the OXSD

Although not representing an actual page from the dictionary, the OXSD dictionary-features text is made up of entries that have been selected from the dictionary. That way, the text provides a commentary on most of the features in order to make the user aware of those features and understand how the main text may be navigated for both comfortable and successful data access. Comments are made upon a variety of features, most of which are common to other dictionaries. For the sake of discussion, the following are considered:

  • Lemmatisation of isiXhosa words

  • English pronunciation

  • 500 words that are important for schoolwork

  • Synonyms and antonyms

We shall touch briefly on each of the above features. Others will be discussed in Sect. 5.2.5.

Lemmatisation of isiXhosa words: Given the complexities of lemmatisation in Bantu and Nguni languages in particular (cf. De Schryver 2003, 2008, 2010; Gouws and Prinsloo 2005; Gouws and Steyn 2005; Kropf 1899), and the fact that the editorial team decided to depart from the stem-based approach that has been in use for over two centuries in isiXhosa lexicography, highlighting the fact that “Xhosa nouns and plural nouns include their prefixes so they are easy to find alphabetically” (De Schryver et al. 2014: vi) is of practical importance to the dictionary user. The introduction of the dictionary elaborates on this as follows:

“Briefly, the following are some of the features that make this dictionary different from others, and easy to use. Nouns with their prefixes attached are listed alphabetically according to the first letter of the prefix. So you will find the word umntu listed under U and not listed in the traditional way under N (the first letter of its stem). Our research has shown that learners find the traditional method difficult to use, and are often discouraged by it. Plurals of nouns that occur frequently are also listed in the same way (so you can look up abantu under A), with cross-references to their singular forms. In many other cases, complete meaningful words have been entered as headwords rather than parts of words. Among these are frequently occurring locatives (e.g. edolophini [in town], emlanjeni [in the river] and possessives (e.g. lam [mine], lakhe [his/hers].” (De Schryver et al. 2014: x).

However, breaking away from tradition is not always embraced with unanimity. For example, having critiqued the traditional method used in older isiXhosa dictionaries in a Dictionary Criticism Course that the author offers to the second-year students of isiXhosa at a South African university and with general approval, the same students indicated that they struggled to find words in the new dictionary because they have been accustomed to the old, albeit less user-friendly method. This serves to underline the importance of user education which the dictionary offers by highlighting this new development under dictionary features. Otherwise some prospective users who have been discouraged by the traditional system would shun the new dictionary assuming that it continues the tradition established through earlier dictionaries.

English pronunciation: Highlighting the guide to English pronunciation under dictionary features of the OXSD is particularly important given that one of the functions of the dictionary is to assist the learners to speak English. The learners need to be able to “[s]ay English words correctly” (De Schryver et al. 2014: vii) in order to be understood. Therefore, highlighting the method that is used under dictionary features and explaining it in the ‘English pronunciation’ text is useful. The English pronunciation guide explains and demonstrates that a simple respelling system was used. However, Nkomo (2014a: 420) contends that:

With respect to the word acquire, the user is told to “say uh-kwy-uh” (p. 239). While this could be seen as a worthwhile departure from the use of the IPA symbols, whether the non-mother-tongue learners of English, who have isiXhosa as their mother-tongue in this case, will not pronounce uh- in the same way as they pronounce u in their mother-tongue is an issue that could be determined through dictionary user-research.

There is a possibility that some learners who did not master their phonics very well in the foundation phase may struggle with the letters that are pronounced differently between the two languages that are covered in the dictionary and are mostly likely to be studied as the HL and the FAL. Perhaps a respelling method that leans towards isiXhosa would have been beneficial to isiXhosa-speaking students who are learning English. This indicates an instance where the dictionary may not do it alone, where the language instructor’s role is crucial. Furthermore, a cross-reference from the ‘Dictionary features’ text to the text that provides more detail and illustration would explicitly encourage some users to visit the text and read it as a whole. Otherwise some users may become aware of pronunciation guidance as an important feature but then remain uneducated about how this dictionary has presented it until they read it.

Words that are important for schoolwork: In the OXSD, lemmata that represent curriculum words are marked as “important for schoolwork”. This is illustrated in the dictionary-features text (Fig. 3).

It goes without saying that including and explaining such words in a school dictionary is of vital importance since the dictionary users are bound to encounter them frequently. Mastering such words could be key in the learners’ academic achievement in the respective subjects. That the dictionary further highlights such words provides signposts for the learners to give them special attention. It should act as a reminder to the user that the dictionary should be used alongside school textbooks in which the learners will encounter such words. However, the marking of such words is done only on the English-isiXhosa side of the dictionary. IsiXhosa translation equivalents of such educationally relevant words are not marked as such in the isiXhosa-English alphabetical section. Not much information is provided about the selection of those words in the English-isiXhosa alphabetical section nor the decision of excluding such labelling in the other isiXhosa-English section. Most probably, this indicates the dominance of English as the default medium of instruction and official language in virtually all public domains.

While acknowledging the value of the labelling of such words in the OXSD, the potential of the dictionary regarding such words could be increased by isolating those words and listing them as an index in an outer text. Translation equivalents could be provided as well so that the user could only proceed to the main text for more comprehensive data, such as pronunciation indication and exemplification. This would provide users with a more explicit indication and encouragement to consciously learn the words rather than waiting to see the label first as and when one looks up a particular word. Nevertheless, a highlight of such information in the dictionary-features text is a vital component of dictionary pedagogy.

Mediostructural features: The dictionary-features text also points to aspects of a mediostructural nature. The mediostructure is employed in dictionaries to enhance data distribution and to guide the user to related or even more comprehensive treatment of the item that prompted the consultation procedure (cf. Gouws and Prinsloo 1998, 2005). Drawing the user’s attention to mediostructural features is, therefore, a form of dictionary pedagogy that equips them to benefit optimally in situations where access to relevant data has to be achieved through navigating the mediostructure.

In the OXSD, the dictionary-features text refers to synonyms and opposites of words which are indicated in some articles to “clarify meaning and build vocabulary” (De Schryver et al. 2014: vii). Following such a comment, a user who is motivated to build their vocabulary in the target language would always take note of mediostructural guides pertaining to synonyms or opposites and even follow them to their respective cross-reference addresses.

Another feature of a mediostructural nature that is highlighted involves moving from the alphabetical sections of the dictionary to the study section where the user finds a variety of texts that include dictionary activities, a guide to dictionary use and others that will be discussed in the next three subsections (see Fig. 1). The highlight in the dictionary-features text relates to the article of the lemma their where the user is advised “Get real help with finding the right word: Vital grammar support enables learners to choose words correctly in a wide range of contexts” (De Schryver et al. 2014: vii). This advice is pointed at a mediostructural comment within the article where the user is encouraged to “[s]ee the guide to using possessives on Study page 34” (ibid.). Such a comment is widely used as part of articles in both alphabetical sections of the dictionary, e.g. at isibaluli (relative), isibandawo (locative demonstrative copulative), isibizo (noun), isikhombisi (demonstrative), etc. in the isiXhosa-English section, and at chameleon, eight, either, her, here, of, etc. in the English-isiXhosa section. A user who heeds such comments whenever necessary will not only benefit immensely from the dictionary, but they will also come to appreciate the integral role of the dictionary as a pedagogic tool. Given the efforts of the lexicographers to provide such guidance, the user would have been lexicographically schooled, not by the teacher, but by the dictionary itself.

Dictionary activities

Another outer text that constitutes an essential part of dictionary pedagogy in the OXSD is the dictionary-activities text that is found in the middle matter entitled Icandelo lenkxaso (Study section). The components of this section are captured in Fig. 2. The ‘Dictionary activities’ (Imisebenzi yesichazi-magama) are presented in both isiXhosa and English. The activities are intended for the dictionary users to do the following:

  • Put words into alphabetical order

  • Find words quickly

  • Find the correct noun plurals

  • Translate sentences

  • A quiz

The introduction of this outer text states that these “activities help to give you the skills that you need to use a dictionary well” (De Schryver et al. 2014: SP5). The emphasis placed on a dictionary in this excerpt indicates that the lexicographers are not only concerned with the use of this particular dictionary but dictionaries in general. Putting words into alphabetical order and finding words quickly and finding correct plurals are reference skills that learners ought to have in order to access dictionary data at the level of outer access structure (and macrostructure) (cf. Gouws and Prinsloo 2005, Louw 1999). These activities may prove to be of critical importance especially in the isiXhosa-English alphabetical section given the lemmatisation challenges in Nguni languages. Because the users’ task is mainly to find words that have been selected by the lexicographers, these activities may be considered as training sessions and the acquired skills will have to be put to practice when users look up their own words to solve real problems in their educational or communicative situations (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3

A highlight of words that are important for schoolwork in the OXSD

The other activities put the users in some typical situations in which the users may experience lexicographic needs that can be satisfied by consulting the dictionary. Although the use of the dictionary is recommended, perhaps strongly, the users are required to complete sentences (Activity 3), translate sentences (Activity 4) while the quiz in Activity 5 includes other language learning or usage tasks. The real difference between these activities and the first two is that users may simply provide the required answers without consulting the dictionary if they are confident that they know them and only consult the dictionary if they are clueless or doubtful. In cases where the users have consulted the dictionary for the tasks, they would have demonstrated reference skills that go beyond the outer access structure (and macrostructure) to the level of the microstructure or inner access structure (cf. Gouws and Prinsloo 2005, Louw 1999), including the mediostructure (where synonyms and antonyms are sought).

Altogether, these skills that are being cultivated are fundamental to efficient dictionary use as they facilitate a successful navigation of different dictionary structures at different levels. It is noteworthy that the activities that are meant to develop these skills are similar to some of the activities that were suggested in the CAPS documents and the school workbooks in Sect. 3. While the curriculum accommodates these activities with a view to developing dictionary skills, cognisance of the vital educational role of dictionaries, that the lexicographers are explicitly nurturing these skills in the dictionary should be commended as an important aspect of dictionary pedagogy that is integrated in the dictionary-making process. The inclusion of the answers to these activities (De Schryver et al. 2014: SP 54–55) in the middle matter means that the learners may also acquire the resultant skills independent of the teacher.

Guide to dictionary use

The guide to dictionary use, entitled Indlela yokusebenzisa isichazi-magama (How to use your dictionary), elaborates on several dictionary features (see Sect. 5.2.2 above). In particular, the guide makes comments about certain aspects of the OXSD in a manner that educates the user about the dictionary and dictionary use in general, as has been demonstrated in the preceding subsections. Of particular importance to the present discussion are the following aspects:

  • Dictionary-features text which “give[s] a useful introduction to how the dictionary is arranged” (De Schryver et al. 2014: SP18).

  • Dictionary-activities text which “gives valuable practice in actually using it” (De Schryver et al. 2014: SP18).

  • Lemmatisation of nouns, verbs, possessives, etc. which departs from the tradition established and upheld in earlier isiXhosa dictionaries.

  • Word-formation processes regarding locatives, verbal extensions, possessives, etc. whose mastery may equip the user with decoding and encoding skills. (For example, since locatives and possessives are built on other parts of speech, such as nouns and pronouns, it is important for the user to master the prefixes and formatives of such types of words not only for the sake of successful dictionary consultation but also appropriate language usage in different contexts.)

The lexicographers make their pedagogical goal regarding dictionary skills explicit when they advise:

To get the most out of your dictionary, we recommend that you work through these [dictionary features and activities]. Some entries include grammatical abbreviations, often with a reference to a table where you can find guidance on how to use the grammatical form (De Schryver et al. 2014: SP18).

While going through the guidelines offered in the ‘How to use your dictionary’ section regarding the lemmatisation of words which fall under different word-classes, e.g. nouns, verbs, pronouns, adverbs, conjunctions, etc., as well as the different types of data that are provided, the user is also recommended to look up a couple of examples in order to apply the guidelines. If the user can do just that, there is no doubt that the dictionary would have provided a practical lesson on dictionary use. Such a lesson would prove useful when it comes to the actual use of the dictionary. Dictionary pedagogy is goal-oriented and the goal is to ensure that one uses dictionaries productively once provided with the education.

Function-adhering outer texts

According to Gouws (2002), the outer texts discussed thus far may simply be understood as integrated outer texts:

The different texts included in a dictionary can individually contribute to the successful achievement of the genuine purpose of a dictionary. These texts belong either to the class of so-called “help texts” with the function to assist the user with a more successful dictionary consultation procedure or, in as far as they contain a part of the lexicographic data presented in the dictionary, they are integrated texts from which the user can retrieve information regarding the subject matter of the dictionary. Both these types of outer texts stand in a relation with the genuine purpose of the dictionary. They either serve (as help texts) to explain the use of the dictionary to the user or they are, as a result of an integration into the dictionary internal data distribution, directly integrated into the genuine purpose of the dictionary (Gouws 2002, quoted in Gouws 2004: 71).

This is in contradistinction to the unintegrated outer texts such as the imprint, the list of participants in the dictionary project and the acknowledgements of people and organisations who helped the dictionary team in one way or another. Such texts do not support the user’s efforts of accessing data and retrieving information, but they have their own importance which is not related to the functions of the dictionary. The outer texts discussed in the previous subsections are meant to facilitate access to data and the retrieval of information in the OXSD. That way, they are seen as sources of dictionary pedagogy which may also be applied in the use of other dictionaries.

We now turn our attention to the type of outer texts that Gouws (2007) terms function-adhering, distinguishing them from the so-called non-function-adhering outer texts, which in terms of his earlier categorisation (Gouws 2002, 2004) would be the unintegrated outer texts. Function-adhering outer texts refer to those “by means of which a given lexicographic function can be achieved” (Gouws 2007: 82) as they contain data from which information may be obtained to fulfil a certain lexicographic function. Such outer texts are further divided into integrated and unintegrated function-adhering outer texts which should be understood as follows:

The integrated function-adhering outer texts are integrated into the lexicographic functions of the central list of the given dictionary. This implies that the functions identified for the specific dictionary are not restricted to the central list, but go beyond the borders of this text to allow a transtextual function approach. The distinction between integrated and non-integrated function-adhering outer texts allows the lexicographer to include outer texts that assist users in achieving a well identified lexicographic function, albeit that this function has not been identified as having to prevail in the central list of the dictionary. Such an approach adds a new dimension to the notion of polyfunctional dictionaries, i.e. that all the functions do not have to be achieved in the central list of such a dictionary and that the central list is not the only venue for the realisation of functions (Gouws 2007: 82–83).

Therefore, whether integrated or unintegrated, all function-adhering outer texts contain data from which the user may draw information that provides answers to the questions that prompt dictionary use. The difference lies in whether a function that is realised by this data prevails in the main text(s) of the dictionary, which would be the isiXhosa-English and the English-isiXhosa alphabetical sections of the OXSD. The functions of the dictionary, which are presented as an introduction to the dictionary-features text of this dictionary are “to help people learning isiXhosa to understand and use it better, and to help people learning English to understand and use English better” (De Schryver et al. 2014: vi). Clearly linked to these functions are the following outer texts:

  • Incwadi yoshishino (Formal letter)

  • Incwadi yobuhlobo (Informal letter)

  • I-imeyili yoshishino (Formal email)

  • Upelo lweSMS (Text messages or SMSes)

  • Iimpawu zokubhala (Punctuation)

  • A short guide to pronunciation of isiXhosa

  • Iziqwengana zentetho nezisetyenziswa kwincoko (Conversational phrases)

As such, these outer texts may be considered to be integrated function-adhering. They contribute to lexicographic functions of the dictionary that are associated with speaking, writing, listening and reading. While the other texts that deal with the grammar of both languages, e.g. Izigaba zentetho (Parts of speech), Amahlelo ezibizo esiXhoseni (Noun classes in isiXhosa), Izenzi zesiNgesi (Verbs in English), Iziphawuli zesiNgesi (Adjectives in English), etc. contribute to the learning and use of English, they also fulfil functions that are a little beyond those prevailing in the alphabetical sections. They border on the scientific study of the language that may be beyond the interest of the majority of learners of English as an additional language. They exhibit a cognitive function that does not prevail strongly in the main texts. The same applies to Iimephu: UMzantsi Afrika neMpuma Koloni (Maps: South Africa and Eastern Cape). While an additional English learner may learn the isiXhosa place names of Eastern Cape towns, the learner also gets knowledge about the Eastern Cape Province and South Africa as a whole. Therefore, these texts are partly integrated function-adhering outer texts which, however, usher in a function that is not integrated in the main text.

A dictionary user who spares some time to go through these texts will benefit immensely regarding the learning of either English or isiXhosa and even more. Most of the information that the user can gain from these outer texts will definitely contribute to the topics that the learners deal with at different levels of studying the language subjects while at the same time contributing towards their ability to communicate in and use the respective languages they are learning. Since the principal aim of dictionary pedagogy is to create a critical awareness about the value of dictionaries, there is no better way to do that than through the inclusion of data that are relevant to the user and their situations. The OXSD has provided such data not only through the main texts but also through its outer texts. This has the potential to project the dictionary as more than an alphabetical list of words.


Establishing a dictionary culture through explicit teaching of dictionary skills as part of educational curricula is as important as dictionaries themselves. A dictionary culture has more meaning that is fundamental to lexicography as a discipline, i.e. the satisfaction of lexicographically relevant needs of a specific group of potential dictionary users in a specific community. This article has demonstrated that while the level of dictionary culture is a concern in South Africa, as it is also the case in other African countries, the school curriculum has opened up spaces that promote not only dictionary use but also the cultivation of dictionary skills within everyday classroom activities. That is commendable, although the concern remains that teachers are probably not doing a good job due to a variety of reasons. Consequently, integrating dictionary pedagogy in the production of school dictionaries is considered a worthwhile complementary alternative to teachers. By examining several aspects of integrated dictionary pedagogy in the OXSD, this article even indicated that dictionaries can be super substitutes for teachers, who are themselves regarded as walking dictionaries. It was demonstrated that this dictionary contains useful outer texts that contain data from which information may be retrieved to answer educationally relevant queries for learners while also developing skills that can be used beyond the consultation of the dictionary concerned. Although the focus has been on one particular dictionary, it has to be acknowledged that this dictionary continues the practice that is adopted in other dictionaries in the series, such as the Oxford Bilingual School Dictionary: Northern Sotho and English (De Schryver et al. 2007). This integration of dictionary pedagogy does not mean that dictionaries can do it all by themselves, as cautioned by Carstens (1995: 114) and also in the light of Busane’s (1990) concern about dictionary users allocating little or no time to outer texts. Teachers still need to be trained and encouraged to play their role, first by getting the students to appreciate the educational role of dictionaries in complementing their invaluable work.


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Correspondence to Dion Nkomo.

Appendix: Dictionaries in the South African education curricula

Appendix: Dictionaries in the South African education curricula

Subject Level Dictionaries to be used Purposes of dictionary use Activities
English FP
Personal dictionaries
Simple children’s dictionaries
New vocabulary
  Introduces a personal dictionary
  Gives each child an A5 book to use as a personal dictionary
  Explains how to use a simple dictionary, explaining alphabetical order
Learners build own word banks and personal dictionaries (to develop dictionary skills)
IP Dictionaries (listed under teaching and learning support materials) Meanings of unknown words
Teacher’s role not indicated
  Create a personal dictionary
  Record words and their meanings in a personal dictionary
SP Dictionaries (listed as core texts) Effective and precise vocabulary
Meanings, spellings, pronunciations and parts of speech of unfamiliar words
Dictionary work mentioned for learners but teacher’s role not spelt out
FET Learners should have: a dictionary
Teacher should have: dictionaries
Effective and precise vocabulary
Meanings, spellings, pronunciations, syllabication, and parts of speech of unfamiliar words
Dictionary work mentioned for learners but teacher’s role not spelt out
English FP
Dictionaries (listed as information texts under teaching and learning support materials) Meanings of unknown words
Revising alphabetical order
  Encourages learners to keep personal dictionaries (or vocabulary books)
  Encourages learners to use simple children’s dictionaries
  Encourages them (learners) to write new words they encounter in a personal dictionary
  Build own word bank and personal dictionary
  IP Teacher should have: dictionaries and reference books (monolingual, bilingual and multilingual dictionaries; a thesaurus; encyclopaedia, a good grammar reference book, etc.) Use personal dictionary to: spell confusing words, e.g. dairy vs diary correctly spell familiar words correctly
Use the dictionary to: check spellings and meanings of words
Teacher’s role not spelt out
  Use knowledge of alphabetical order and first letters of a word to find words in a dictionary
  Create a personal dictionary
  Record words and their meanings in a personal dictionary
SP Dictionaries listed (under core resources)
Teacher should have: dictionaries (monolingual, bilingual, multilingual, thesaurus)
Effective and precise vocabulary meanings, spellings, pronunciations and parts of speech of unfamiliar words Dictionary work mentioned for learners but teacher’s role not spelt out
FET Teacher should have: Dictionaries, both monolingual and bilingual, and a thesaurus
Learners should have: A dictionary which also provides information and guidance on language
A bilingual dictionary (e.g. isiZulu/English)
Expand vocabulary (mono- and bilingual dictionaries) Teacher should encourage learners to:
  Use monolingual and bilingual dictionaries
  Write new words they encounter in a vocabulary book
  Memorise their spellings and meanings
  Regularly revise vocabulary and spellings in the form of tests, quizzes and spelling bees
Learners should: Keep a personal dictionary or vocabulary book
  Engage in dictionary work or practices
English IP
A dictionary or word list
Teacher should have: Dictionaries and reference books (monolingual, bilingual and multilingual dictionaries; thesaurus; encyclopaedia, a good grammar reference book, etc.)
Meanings of unknown words spellings, meanings, syllables, phonics, structures, synonyms, antonyms, homonyms, prefixes, suffixes and parts of speech, (e.g. nouns, determiners, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, connectors)
Verb tenses
Teacher’s responsibilities regarding dictionary work not spelt out
  Record words and their meanings in a personal dictionary
  SP Teacher should have: Dictionaries (monolingual, bilingual, multilingual, thesaurus)
Learners should have:
Meanings, spellings, pronunciation and parts of speech of unfamiliar words expand vocabulary (for new words) Dictionary work mentioned for learners but teacher’s role not spelt out
Learners should:
  Keep a personal dictionary or vocabulary book
  Update personal dictionary by writing in new nouns and verbs
FET Learners should have: A dictionary which also provides information and guidance on language usage
A bilingual dictionary (e.g. isiZulu/English)
Teacher should have: Dictionaries, both monolingual and bilingual, and a thesaurus
Meanings, spellings, pronunciations and parts of speech of unfamiliar words
Expand vocabulary
Teacher should encourage learners to:
  Use monolingual and bilingual dictionaries
Learners should:
  Keep a personal vocabulary book
FET    Learners should:
  develop own dance dictionary
Life Skills IP Reading with
  understanding and using a dictionary
Religion Studies FET Dictionaries (listed as recommended resources)   
IP Every class should have dictionaries   
SP Every class should have dictionaries   

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Nkomo, D. Developing a dictionary culture through integrated dictionary pedagogy in the outer texts of South African school dictionaries: the case of Oxford Bilingual School Dictionary: IsiXhosa and English . Lexicography ASIALEX 2, 71–99 (2015).

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  • Outer texts
  • Dictionary pedagogy
  • Dictionary culture
  • Educational policy on dictionary use
  • Integrated dictionary pedagogy