Treatment of Spelling Variants in Setswana Monolingual Dictionaries

Thapelo J. Otlogetswe


This paper argues that the Setswana language is characterised by spelling variants which are a consequence of multiple factors. It considers spelling variants found amongst individual words as well as those found in multi-word expressions (MWEs). It argues that spelling variation may be a result of historical fissions and amalgamations of the Batswana groups as well as borrowings from adjacent languages such as Afrikaans and English. The paper considers how three monolingual Setswana dictionaries of the past twenty years, Thanodi ya Setswana (Kgasa and Tsonope 1995), Thanodi ya Setswana (Mareme 2007) and Tlhalosi ya Medi ya Setswana (Otlogetswe 2012) have lemmatised spelling variants. The paper argues that spelling variants must be included in a general monolingual dictionary and that how such variants are handled must be informed by frequency information from corpus data. The paper concludes by proposing three strategies for addressing variation in MWEs where a difference between the two or more MWEs occurs because of a single word in the MWE or where variation is caused by the presence or absence of a word in a MWE. The third solution applies to cases where the variants differ in too many places such that it would be much more elegant to treat them as separate entries.


spelling variation; dialect; Setswana corpus; multi-word expression; borrowing; history; monolingual dictionary; lemmatisation; cross-referencing

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ISSN 2224-0039 (online); ISSN 1684-4904 (print)

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