In March 1926 the then Nasionale Boekhandel and the South African government agreed to establish a monolingual, explanatory dictionary, with a similar extent to that of the Dutch Van Dale of the time, which was comprised of one volume. Dr J.J. Smith, professor of Afrikaans at the University of Stellenbosch, was appointed as editor and he undertook to complete this task within three years.
However, it was soon apparent that three years would be far too short for a task of such giant proportions. When the University of Stellenbosch realised it would be impossible to complete the dictionary on time, it took over from the Nasionale Boekhandel its part of the contract and posed an equally unrealistic target of five years for the completion of the dictionary. Again this failed to happen.
Eventually Prof Smith worked on the dictionary for 20 years before retiring. He was succeeded in 1947 as chief editor by Dr P.C. Schoonees, a school principal from Vryheid. The idea of compiling a desk dictionary was abandoned. Instead the goal became a comprehensive source that, like The Oxford English Dictionary for English and the Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal for Dutch, would record and define the “complete” vocabulary of Afrikaans.
Under the guidance of Schoonees the first volume of the new Woordeboek van die Afrikaans Taal (the WAT) (A–C) was published in 1951, the second volume (D–F) in 1955 and the third volume (G) in 1957. By this time it became clear that although the dictionary was progressing, it would take several decades to complete it up to Z.
The outcome was a decision in the Fifties to tackle afresh, concurrently with the comprehensive work, a “desk” or “standard” dictionary, the Verklarende Handwoordeboek van die Afrikaanse Taal (the HAT).
Schoonees accepted the challenge to undertake this task as well, in his own time. However, in spite of his enthusiasm it became clear once again that for a single person to compile a desk dictionary in a short time from scratch is very difficult, if not impossible! With the help of C.J. Swanepoel, a member of the WAT editorial team, the work progressed somewhat quicker; another member of the WAT editorial team, Dr. S.J. du Toit, was added as a third editor; and later still, a teacher of Afrikaans, C. Murray Booysen.
With this quadrumvirate at the helm the first edition of the Verklarende Handwoordeboek van die Afrikaanse Taal (the HAT) saw the light of day in 1965, forty years after the first little seed was planted.
The publisher of HAT1 was Voortrekkerpers, which some years later joined with the Afrikaanse Pers Boekhandel to become Perskor. Perskor published the second and third editions of the HAT. HAT4 (still with the Perskor imprint) and HAT5 were published by Pearson Education South Africa, a division of Maskew Miller Longman, into which Perskor was incorporated in the late Nineties.
In 1971 Perskor requested Francois F. Odendal, professor of Afrikaans and Dutch linguistics at the then Rand Afrikaans University and chairperson of the Language Commission of the South African Academy for Science and Art, to take over the editorship of the HAT. Odendal accepted the challenge and for the following eight years, from 1972 to 1979, he worked on a thorough revision of the dictionary.
For the second edition, which Perskor published in 1979, Odendal expanded the dictionary by about 50%, achieving a truly revised edition. Apart from additions, definitions were revised and archaic words and meanings deleted especially words and meanings that were Dutch rather than Afrikaans. The expansion and improvement of example sentences was another aspect that received special attention, since words show their meaning better in the context of a sentence than in a mere definition.
It soon became clear that the HAT had conquered the market and was accepted by users of Afrikaans as authoritative. In the Eighties the HAT started being used in homes, schools and universities, as well as in government offices and businesses. That both magistrate’s and high courts accepted the HAT as the authority on the definition of a word was of particular importance. So too that newspapers and the writers of letters to newspapers regularly quoted the HAT as authoritative source when referring to the meaning of a word.
HAT had become a household name.
When HAT3 was published in 1993 it got an even better reception than HAT2. Furthermore, the electronic version of HAT3 published in the late Nineties made it the first Afrikaans dictionary on CD-ROM.
The extent of the dictionary was increased by a further 30%. More archaic words were deleted and labels received special attention (with the result that words without labels were taken to be Standard Afrikaans). Usage examples were increased and supplemented with citations from the works of Afrikaans authors. This acknowledged the high standard of Afrikaans literature and the important contribution of Afrikaans authors to the development of Afrikaans. As in previous editions fixed expressions and idioms were treated with particular care.
HAT3 was also the first Afrikaans dictionary of which the compiler attempted to give a proper explanation of the methods employed and the theoretical principles on which the dictionary was based.
To ensure that the HAT stayed in competent hands, Perskor appointed a second editor after the publication of the third edition, namely Rufus H. Gouws, professor of Afrikaans linguistics at the Universiteit of Stellenbosch, whose status as theoretical and practical lexicographer made of him an irrefutable leader in the field of lexicography.
The availabale time precluded an incisive edit of HAT3. Thus the two editors for HAT4 devided the alphabet in equal parts between them: Odendal would work on the the first part and Gouws on the second. Archaisms were deleted, many new words, including more computer terms, and more quotations were added, and labels were refined. A diagram illustrating the structure of the dictionary articles was added as part of the front matter.
HAT4 was published in 2000 by Pearson Education South Africa.
For HAT5 the editors again each tackled one half of the dictionary, Gouws the first part and Odendal the second. Of the aspects to receive attention were the expansion of the etymologies, an improved entry layout, expansion of the abbreviations and moving them to a special section at the back of the book, addition of a section with geographical names and their derivatives, further refining of the labels, an introduction with usage guidance and continued attention to suitable quotations. Moreover, further commonplace “foreign” words were included, as well as words from varieties other than Standard Afrikaans.
In addition, HAT5 was the first edition of which the choice of words was based on a representative, comprehensive and balanced electronic corpus.
The launch of HAT5, on 14 September 2005 at the Spier Estate outside Stellenbosch, coincided with the fortieth celebration of the first publication of the HAT in 1965. The occasion was also Odendal’s farewell, at which he was honoured for his more than 30 years of commitment and dedication to the dictionary.
Gouws stayed on to help with the sixth edition.
In October 2007 Pearson appointed the editor to succeed Odendal. Jana Luther would become the publisher of the HAT and its first in-house editor. Luther was previously the senior editor of the Pharos Afrikaans-English-English-Afrikaans Dictionary and coeditor of the Pharos Afrikaans-English-English-Afrikaans Concise Dictionary.
A CD-ROM – e-HAT 2009 – was launched with the third print of HAT5 in March 2009. This electronic dictionary contains the complete alphabetical list, list of abbreviations and list of geographical names with their derivations from the fifth edition of the Verklarende Handwoordeboek van die Afrikaanse Taal. From this third print onward the dictionary featured a new cover and its title was shortened to Handwoordeboek van die Afrikaanse Taal.
In August 2012 Pearson appointed Fred Pheiffer as the second in-house editor for the HAT. Previously he was co-editor of the Pharos Afrikaans-English-English-Afrikaans Dictionary and main editor of the Pharos Afrikaans-English-English-Afrikaans Concise Dictionary. More recently he worked as project manager on the Oxford Bilingual School Dictionary: isiZulu and English and as co-editor on the Oxford South African School Dictionary and the Oxford Afrikaanse Skoolwoordeboek.
The new, sixth edition of the HAT, improved, comprehensively revised and reflecting Afrikaans of today, was published in July 2015.