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Southern African Languages & Literatures Library Guide: Home

Southern African Languages & Literatures Guide

Shelf Numbers for Books

The main shelf numbers for South African Languages and Literatures are:

496 for Language

896 for Literature

More specifically, the Language and Literature subdivisions are:


496.392       Swahili language

496.3976     Venda (Tshivenda) language

496.39771   Northern Sotho language

496.39772   Southern Sotho language

496.39775   Tswana language

496.3978     Tsonga language

496.3985     Xhosa language

496.3986     Zulu language

496.3987     Swazi (siSwati) language

496.3988     Ndebele (South Africa) language


896.392       Swahili literature

896.3976     Venda (Tshivenda) literature

896.39771   Northern Sotho literature

896.39772   Southern Sotho literature

896.39775   Tswana literature

896.3978     Tsonga literature

896.3985     Xhosa literature

896.3986     Zulu literature

896.3987     Swazi (siSwati) literature

896.3988     Ndebele (South Africa) literature

African Language and Literatures Journals

 Although many of our journals are electronic nowadays, you may still find yourself needing a printed journal.

These are some of our print journals in African Languages and Literatures.

  1. NAWA : journal of language and communication. -- Windhoek, Namibia : Dept. of Communication, Polytechnic of Namibia, 2007     BA 302.205 NAW
  2. African writing. -- Oxford : Fonthouse, [2007]- BA 820.5 AFR
  3. Kwani? -- Nairobi : Kwani Trust, 2003- BA 809.8805 KWA
  4. LEAP news : newsletter of the Language in Education in Africa Project. -- Rondebosch, South Africa : PRAESA, 2003- BA 306.44605 LEA
  5. Chimurenga. -- [Cape Town] : Pan African Market, [2002- BA 820.5 CHI
  6. Journal of African cultural studies. -- [Abingdon, Oxfordshire] : Carfax, 1998-. BA 496.05 AFR
  7. Matatu : journal for African culture and society -- Gottingen : Matatu, 1987- BA 820.5 MAT      
  8. Suid-Afrikaanse tydskrif vir Afrikatale : tydskrif van die Afrikatale-Vereniging van Suider-Afrika (AVSA) = South African journal of African languages : journal of the African Language Association of Southern Africa (ALASA). -- Pretoria : AVSA, {1981-  BA 496.05 SOU
  9. English in Africa. -- Grahamstown, South Africa : Institute for the Study of English in Africa, Rhodes University  BA 820.5 ENG







PRIMO: the Basics of Survival

PRIMO is a tool for searching across the UCT library book catalogue as well as a selection of our databases of full text journal articles, all with one query.

You can find it on the library homepage at

In this example I am looking for a particular book – Hard Times, by Charles Dickens

This quick and dirty search brings up the print and online copies that we have of Hard Times, as well as books about Hard Times. 

Clicking on the TITLE of the top record takes me to the records for the printed books and gives me the shelf number so I can find them on the shelves:

The shelf number works like a street address – just follow the numbers up or down until you get to the address you want.  Shelf numbers keep related books together, so once you have found your book, it is often useful to browse the books on either side of it as well.

In fact, you don’t even have to physically be in the library to do it… If you again click on the title of one of the results, you will be taken to the full record for the book – which has a virtual browse option – so you can see all its neighbouring books…. You never know what you will discover that way.

On the search screen you can use a drop-down arrow to search only for electronic journal articles or electronic books or reference works.

In this example, the top three results are for an electronic encyclopaedia entry, an electronic book, and an electronic journal article:

If I click on the title of the article, I will be taken to a full record for the article, and a link to the database on which it lives:

And so to download the article:

The record also shows me how to cite the book or article – which I will need to do if I am going to use it in an essay:

Or, even better, it allows me to send the record to a program like RefWorks or Endnote, which does my citing for me, automatically, at the touch of a button….

The left hand side of the screen has all sorts of options for refining or restricting your results:

The most useful are probably Peer-reviewed Journals (the most respectable journals, I which every article is vetted by other academics), Subject or Resource type:

If you are getting too many results – and PRIMO can bring up a lot of results – you can use an Advanced Search to search more precisely:

And if you are looking for a very specific book, journal or article – for example from a reading list - PRIMO has a Find By Citation form which can help you find exactly that reference:

Just put in as much information as you have on the reference:

Shaffer, P., 1998. Gender, poverty and deprivation: evidence from the Republic of Guinea. World Development, 26(12), pp.2119-2135.

And this will bring it up in both print and electronic versions:

And clicking on the full text or database link will take you to it.

PRIMO: some advanced tricks

It is possible to create very precise searches just using keywords.

The trick is to combine them with Boolean Operators, wildcards and brackets. Most of our databases, including our library catalogue, take Boolean operators.

Consider this search string:

(child* OR wom?n OR gender) AND poverty AND Africa* NOT “African American”

The * is a wildcard – it calls up anything that follows the root “child” – so it will being up child and children or childhood……

The ? is a mid-word wildcard – calls up women and woman…

The OR expands you options – women or gender must come up in the results, it doesn’t matter which….

The (brackets) keep the OR words together and relate them to the AND which follows – otherwise the search would call up anything to do with women, regardless of whether it had to do with poverty and Africa….

Any words linked with AND must be included in the search results - OR broadens a search, AND tightens it.

NOT excludes a term. Be careful of this. First search without it, to get an idea of what you are missing.

“Inverted commas” enclose a precise phrase.

To use Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) in PRIMO, you must enter them in CAPITAL LETTERS, otherwise PRIMO ignores them.

You can restrict the search to electronic journal articles or electronic books only, using the drop down arrow – useful if you are off-campus.

South African Languages & Literatures Guide

Where are your Books?

The African Literature books (Poetry and Novels) are located on Level 3 of the Chancellor Oppenheimer Library, down a spiral staircase near the Information Desk. They begin with the shelf numbers 896. These books may be borrowed.

The African Language books (Linguistics, Teaching and Learning) are located on level 5, at the North end of the Library. They begin with shelf number 496. These books may be borrowed.

Our books are given shelf numbers according to the Dewey Decimal System - these shelf numbers keep related books together by subject. You can follow the numbers like a street address to find a family of related books all together on the shelf. At the end of each shelf number there are a few letters, for example, 896.398532 NGEW.  These are the first letters of the author's name, and keep books by that author together on the shelf.

There is a list of the main shelf numbers for African languages and Literatures in the left-hand column.

Some copies - typically rare, irreplaceable or fragile works, or copies that are being kept as a legacy for future generations - are kept in the African Studies collection in the Special Collections wing. Their shelf numbers begin with the letters BA. These books may be read in the Special Collections Reading Room, but may not be borrowed. 

African Language and Literature Journals

Journals are published every few weeks or months. They are academic magazines that contain articles on different topics. Journals are important for finding very up-to-date information, or very specific information on narrow topics. The great thing about journals nowadays is that so many of them are available electronically as well as in print, although that is not always the case in this field.

Printed Journals

The latest unbound journals are kept on level 5. The bound copies since 1965 are located in the basement. Pre-1965 journals are kept in an off-campus store and can be requested from the Loans Desk.

Electronic Journals

Many of our journals can also be found full text in electronic format on our databases. These databases contain thousands of journals, all searchable by keywords, like chunk of Google.

Most of the journals are full text nowadays. In some cases, though, the databases may just give a reference to the journal article, rather than the whole thing. This will tell you which year and volume and pages of a particular print journal to look at to find the article.

You can get to our databases from and mousing over Search & Find and selecting Databases.

Databases for your subject

The main database of specific interest to African Languages and Literatures is Africa-Wide Information- via EBSCOhost.

The main database for language and literature in general is MLA International Bibliography - via EBSCOhost

 These are some other very popular databases which might interest you:

· Academic Search Premier - via EBSCOhost (Full Text)

· Academic OneFile

·SA ePublications (now African Journals)

· Humanities International Complete - via EBSCOhost

· Arts & Humanities Citation Index (A&HCI) on Web of Science