The Dictionary in Examinations at a South African University: A Linguistic or a Pedagogic Intervention?

Dion Nkomo


This paper interrogates students' use of dictionaries for examination purposes at Rhodes University in South Africa. The practice, which is provided for by the university's language policy, is widely seen as a linguistic intervention particularly aimed at assisting English additional language students, the majority of whom speak African languages, with purely linguistic information. Such a view is misconceived as it ignores the fact that the practice predates the present institutional language policy which was adopted in 2006. Although it was difficult to establish the real motivation prior to the language policy, this study indicates that both English mother-tongue and English additional language students use the dictionary in examinations for assistance that may be considered to be broadly pedagogic rather than purely linguistic. This then invites academics to reconsider the manner in which they teach and assess, cognisant of the pedagogic value of the dictionary which transcends linguistic assistance.


dictionary use; dictionary assistance; pedagogical lexicography; open-book examinations; linguistic intervention; pedagogic intervention

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

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