Short description

Encouraging the preservation of Afrikaans primarily through the compellation of a comprehensive defining dictionary.


Dictionaries are seen as a mirror of a country’s social, cultural, economic, scientific and technological development. Furthermore, dictionaries are perceived to aid in improving understanding the diversity and culture of a language particularly through research, advocacy and public education. National Dictionary Units, such as Woordeboek Van Die Afrikaanse Taal (WAT), therefore play a critical role in this space.


Established in 2000 as a non-profit company and founded in 1926, WAT set out to promote lexicography and the Afrikaans language by documenting the language in its entirety. This entailed documenting all Afrikaans including varieties such as Kaaps and Namakwalands. As such, the organisation’s primary audience is the both diverse and multiracial Afrikaans community. Fourteen of the envisaged 20 volumes of the WAT have been published to date. WAT is based in Stellenbosch and works closely with the University of Stellenbosch. The organisation is one of eleven national lexicography units that have published numerous monolingual and bilingual dictionaries.

In addition, WAT works to ensure the development of lexicographers working in Afrikaans, as well as other South African languages, by providing training to these individuals. WAT believes that it is imperative that in the multilingual context of South Africa, all languages should be documented in the form of comprehensive dictionaries. On average, six training sessions are held every year in the Western Cape and Gauteng. WAT also provides training to commercial publishing houses such as Oxford and Pharos.

WAT ensures that their dictionary is available electronically to students at seven universities across the country. The purpose in making the online dictionary resource available to students is twofold: students enhance the quality of their writing and also improve their understanding of text materials.

In 2003, the organisation began engaging with learners through workshops at both primary and secondary schools, mostly in disadvantaged schools in the Western Cape. The workshops aim to train learners to use WAT’s electronic dictionary. To support this initiative, lesson plans were designed and are provided to teachers to equip them with the skills and knowledge to effectively use the electronic WAT dictionary in their teaching of Afrikaans. Through the dictionary usage skills instilled through WAT’s programme, the organisation believes that the skills are transferable and can improve dictionary usage skills across other languages.

To further engage with its community, WAT participates in two radio programmes hosted by Radio sonder Grense. The station has an estimated reach of 1 million people.

As part of the organisation’s income generation strategy, WAT started the Borg ‘n Woord (Sponsor a Word) initiative. Sponsors can choose to sponsor any Afrikaans word for R100 or exclusively for R5000. Over the past three years the organisation has been able to raise R1, 5 million through this initiative.

WAT works closely with PanSALB, an arm of the Department of Arts and Culture, which governs all National Lexicography Units. All of the National Units belong to the LexiEditors’ Forum.

What we like about this organisation

While the organisation’s contribution to the education field is acknowledged, it is difficult to make a direct link to its impact as this data is not closely tracked. The organisation has however been able to track the number of searches by tertiary students using WAT’s online dictionary.

What difference can your money make?

  • R10 000 will contribute towards the organisation’s annual software costs
  • R250 000 will contribute to the annual increase in running costs
  • R750 000 will cover the printing cost of the next volume of the WAT

Volunteering opportunities

  • As one of WAT’s activities  is to record the Afrikaans language in its entirety they require volunteers to extract the following from books and magazines:
    • New words
    • Words used in new senses
    • Quotable use of words