For one to become a Professor, one must go through an epic journey of hard work, failure and successes in academics.
Professor Thapelo Otlogetswe takes The Voice through such a journey of how from a humble background, he made it to one of the world’s oldest and prestigious university, Oxford University in the United Kingdom.
He also talks about how he manages his life as a father, husband and a Professor and some of his work as a linguist.
Q. Hello Professor. Please tell our readers who you are?
The question is a complex one for I am many things to many people.
I am the youngest son of Gladys Otlogetswe; I am a father to my two boys; I am an Oxon. to those who were with me at Lincoln College, Oxford.
In academic circles I am an Associate Professor of Linguistics and Lexicography.
To my wife Shinie, I am just a husband and daddy to Lobopo and Popo.
So who am I? It depends on where I am.
Q. Thank God its Friday. How do you unwind during the weekend?
Mostly I do photography. That’s one of my hobbies.
Besides that, I watch documentaries. Thereafter I relax with family.
On Sundays I go to Pentacostal Holiness Church (PHC) in Extension 12 for church services.
Q. I see! Tell us about your days as a boy.
I was born and raised in the green and magnificent village of Kanye with its rolling hills and caldera-like formations. My roots may be traced to Goo-Ruele amongst the Otlogetswes. Ke gone gaetshomogolo.
I had a very humble upbringing; growing up in the hostile poverty and vagaries of the 80s drought.
But I was brought up well in a God-fearing household.
Q. When growing up, in those days at Goo-Ruele, did you think you’d ever be a Linguist?
Not really; have more certificates from winning art competitions than from winning essay competitions.
But I did love English while at Seepapitso Senior.
In particular, I was exposed to the eloquence of Martin Luther King Jr around the time.
Q. How did you discover the Linguist in you?
It was probably at the University of Botswana where I flourished as an undergraduate reading for an English degree.
I must confess that I also had outstanding lecturers who shaped my future in many ways.
I studied single major English and graduated top of my class; the top student in the Faculty of Humanities.
I also admired the likes of Dr. Joseph Tsonope who wrote Thanodi ya Setswana with MLA Kgasa. Prof Andy Chebanne also made a great impression in my life. Since I worked as his research assistant.
I was also a research assistant to the French Linguist Denis Creissels. At the time I was a good friend to the controversial British Linguist, Prof. John Honey, who insisted that I should go to the University of Oxford.
Q. Oh Ok! So Professor Honey inspired you to be an Oxon? What levels did you trudge through to achieve this dream?
Foundational education is important. Sometimes people focus on graduate degrees such as a PhD forgetting that there are other important levels such as primary, secondary and an initial degree.
My senior school education probably prepared me well for university.
At the University of Botswana I was very well trained. I read extensively and sharpened my focus on language and literature issues.
I went to Oxford and read for an M.Phil in Comparative Linguistics and Philology.
I then went to the University of Brighton to work with the outstanding computational linguist, Adam Kilgarriff on corpus linguistics and computational lexicography; a study I later transferred to the University of Pretoria.
Q. So you also went to University of Pretoria. Tell us about how you made it to Oxford.
Yes I am a graduate of the University of Oxford. I ended up at the University of Oxford because a British, Professor John Honey, believed I was Oxford material.
I applied and I was accepted.
While studying at prestigious institutions like Oxford is important, it is what people do with their Oxford education that is more significant.
Q. What is your job description at the University of Botswana?
I am a UB academic; but my job is fairly broad; probably broader than many people are aware.
I teach English linguistics to first years right up to masters students.
I do a lot of research, mostly on Setswana lexicography and corpus linguistics.
I am also in a number of committees in the university as well as a number of boards outside the university.
Q. What materials have you developed so far as a Professor?
I have with the help of the St Louis Mathematician, Kevin Scannell developed a Setswana spellchecker for OpenOffice.
I have also worked on the translation of Google Search into Setswana.
I have written a Setswana standard orthography book with some of my colleagues called Mokwalo o o lolameng wa Setswana.
I recently published a Setswana monolingual dictionary Tlhalosi ya Medi ya Setswana.
I work on various research projects on the Setswana language.
I am a commissioner in the African Union established ACALAN, Setswana Commission.
There is a lot that I do to draw attention to the need to develop and promote the Setswana language.
It was while at Oxford that I came to the decision to dedicate much of my academic life to the development and promotion of the Setswana language.
Q. What about the books you published?
I have published quite a few since I finished my PhD five years ago:
(1) Tlhalosi ya Medi ya Setswana,
(2) Text Variability Measures in Corpus Design for Setswana Lexicography,
(3) Poeletso-medumo ya Setswana: the Setswana Rhyming dictionary,
(4) MLA Kgasa: A pioneer Setswana lexicographer.
(5) English-Setswana dictionary, (6) Mokwalo o o lolameng wa Setswana and (6) Dreams of enduring joy.
Q. You are the first Motswana to publish a Setswana dictionary. How did you achieve that?
The dictionary benefitted much from advances in computational lexicography such as frequency analysis, concordances and collocations; multiword extractions and others.
We compiled a 12 million-word corpus for the dictionary project.
That work on the dictionary hasn’t stopped; it is continuing and we are using smarter computing to produce better, smarter and more useful dictionaries of the future.
Q. Will Batswana benefit from this dictionary?
The dictionary demonstrates and explains the complexities of the Setswana language.
It is a document which many years from now will be used to bring sheer pride to the Setswana speaking communities wherever they may be.
It is also an important documentation of the language. Language grows and changes and dictionaries are important in the preservation and recording of shades of meanings that come and fade away in a language.
Q. Interesting stuff! I hear your homeboy, the former president Sir Ketumile Masire launched it for you?
Yes, it was launched by Botswana’s Second President His Excellency, Sir Ketumile Masire at the University of Botswana on the 12th of July 2012. The dictionary was launched both in Botswana and in South Africa.
The second launch happened on October 26th, 2012 at the North West University in Mahikeng at the request of the rector, Professor Dan Kgwadi.
Q. How has it been received locally?
The reception has been overwhelming both in Botswana and South Africa.
I am glad that many publishing houses, media houses, MPs, artists, teachers, students and members of the public have gone out to buy this dictionary in droves.
I am also satisfied that some schools in the North West and some local private schools have started using it in their classrooms.
Q. Any future plans?
There are many. Soon we will be launching an English-Setswana Setswana-English dictionary published by Oxford University Press, UK.
There is a lot of research that I am working on all sorts of language and cultural matters around the Setswana language.
While I work on the Setswana language, it is critical that other people should research and promote their own languages.
Language should not be used to divide us as Batswana; instead we must use language to develop a modern and unified republic.
Name: Prof. Thapelo Joseph Otlogetswe
DOB: 28 December 1973
QUALIFICATION: M.Phil, PhD
MARITAL STATUS: Married to Shinie Oarabile Otlogetswe with two lovely boys
CAR DRIVING: 2.7 Toyota Raider
FAVOURITE FOOD: Fish