One of the most frequently asked questions I’ve received since releasing my online spellchecker is how to download the software so that it can be used offline. Although the online spellchecker was not designed for this purpose, the Afrikaans dictionary that drives the spellchecker allows for an offline configuration. Having figured out how this can be done, I’ve decided to document the process. This would allow you to use both the online and offline spellcheckers, depending on your requirements in any specific scenario.
Now, before we begin with the real work, let’s first have a look at the free software and data that would make all of this possible. A popular alternative to Microsoft Office is the free office suite by OpenOffice.org (or OOo for short). This suite runs on various operating systems, such as Microsoft Windows and GNU Linux, and includes applications similar to Microsoft’s Word, Excel and PowerPoint. To create your text documents, spreadsheets and presentations, OpenOffice.org features Writer, Calc and Impress. The free offline Afrikaans spellchecker can be integrated with this suite of applications. As a side note, OpenOffice.org version 1.1.4 is the current stable version used for this discussion, but a new version 2.0 should be available soon and hopefully this would not change the process of installing the offline Afrikaans spellchecker too much (feel free to add your comments below when the time comes).
Having identified the program to use, the other ingredient for creating your offline Afrikaans spellchecker is the actual dictionary (i.e., the lexicon or word list). For this we have to thank Translate.org.za for releasing a free Afrikaans dictionary under a rather liberal license (that is, the “Lesser GPL” or LGPL, for the technically inclined), which made my online Afrikaans spellchecker a possibility. The tricky part here is just to figure out what files to use, but more about this later.
So, at last we get to the actual process of creating your own “free” offline Afrikaans spellchecker. I shall assume that you’ve already downloaded and installed OpenOffice.org (but be warned that this can take a while on a slow Internet connection, being over 64MB in size for the installer of version 1.1.4 – perhaps consider upgrading your Internet connection to something like iBurst first). Installing a custom spelling dictionary can be an automated process, but I found the manual process easy enough without introducing additional uncertainties. It boils down to the following.
- The Afrikaans dictionary for OpenOffice.org actually only consists of the following two files that need to be installed:
Using the convention suggested by OpenOffice.org, these files would typically be packaged in another file called
af_ZA.zip from where they need to be extracted. However, finding this file (or rather, the latest compatible version of it) turns out to be the most difficult task. (Please post comments if you know how this works, since I still don’t know for sure.) You could try to download this file from Translate.org.za, either by itself (named
af_ZA-1.99.1.zip, or similar) or contained in another file called something like
af_ZA-pack.zip (for example,
pack-af-ZA-1.99.1.zip). I actually used a different version (apparently newer) from the ones published at the link above, which I initially found at SunSITE.dk (the precursor of dotsrc.org).
- Once you’ve extracted the two files (
af_ZA.dic), copy these inside the ...
\share\dict\ooo subdirectory to be found where you installed OpenOffice.org (for example, look under
- In the same folder where you copy these two files you would find another file called
dictionary.lst, to which you need to append the following line using your favorite text editor.
DICT af ZA af_ZA
- Unless OpenOffice.org is restarted completely, including the memory-resident QuickStarter (that is, the icon in your taskbar), the new dictionary would not be recognized. The easiest for most people would simply be to reboot the machine.
The instructions above assume that you’re running on Microsoft Windows, but it seems that this applies pretty much the same to Linux, except that the installation directory would be different (see the instructions by Garry Knight for more Linux installation details).
Of course, there’s always my online spellchecker if you don’t want to go through all this trouble of installing an offline spellchecker. But at least you now have another alternative for when you’re working on your own computer and cannot easily connect to the Internet.