Dictionaries and the Standardization of Spelling in Swahili

  • James S. Mdee Institute for Kiswahili Research, University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Keywords: standardization of spelling, spelling conventions, standard orthography, swahili alphabet, dialectical variations, catchwords, phonetic transcriptions, standard language, spelling system, nonstandard orthography, standardization process, word-list, lexico


The paper discusses the role of the dictionary in standardizing the spelling of Swahili. The discussion begins by defining key terms in this paper: spelling and standardization of spelling. It surveys lexicons written in Swahili between 1811–1990 and records the efforts made to establish spelling conventions for Swahili words in Roman characters, pointing out variant spellings of words written by different authors. The paper focuses on the role played by different lexicons in setting orthography for Swahili words, viz. Steere (1870), Krapf (1882), Nettelbladt (1891), Madan (1903), Sacleux (1939), etc. It observes how the lexicons established norms for words of a language which was hitherto not written in Roman characters. It also shows how lexicons helped to standardize the spelling of words to its current form especially after a standard dialect had been selected, pointing out lexicons which exclusively recorded words of the standard language with minimal variants. Finally the paper emphasizes the significance of the dictionary to adhere to the standard orthography.<b>Keywords:</b> standardization of spelling; spelling conventions; standard orthography; swahili alphabet; dialectical variations; catchwords; phonetic transcriptions; standard language; spelling system; nonstandard orthography; standardization process; word-list; lexicon and dictionary 
How to Cite
Mdee, J. S. (2012). Dictionaries and the Standardization of Spelling in Swahili. Lexikos, 9(1). https://doi.org/10.5788/9-1-918
Beskouende artikels / Contemplative Articles